Tohoku's Winter Festivals Part 3

The Tohoku region, situated in the northern part of Japan's Honshu island, is a profoundly fascinating area of Japan. A few hours from Tokyo, by bullet train, it is worthy of any visitor's time in order to delve deeper into real Japan. Not the Japan you know from YouTube or magazines but the Japan in which real people live and are proud to call home. A region which plays host to superb local cuisine, outstanding sake and festivals which have been celebrated for centuries. It's not Tokyo or Kyoto but it can be infinitely more rewarding — the people are warmer and more generous and the age-old culture comes alive through rigorous preservation and care.

Osaki Hachimangu Donto Festival

From public baths to hot springs, the Japanese love nothing more than getting naked for a dip! There are also plenty of festivals throughout the country which involve half-naked people prancing about local streets. Step forward Miyagi’s Osaki Hachimangu Donto Festival. After the good townsfolk gather to rid themselves of bad luck and pray for good luck, they then parade through the town half-naked towards the Hachimangu Shrine to complete the cleansing ritual. It sounds a touch eccentric but it’s a bustling and vibrant festival which attracts people from all over Japan and overseas. Oh, and there’s a myriad of great food on offer too from takoyaki and yakisoba to snacks and hot sake to warm you up. It’s an absolute winner of a festival and one which you’ll, almost certainly, never forget.

Odate Amekko Market Festival

This colourful festival sees Akita prefecture celebrating all things sweets as the Odate Amekko Fair takes place on every second weekend each February, at Omachi Hachiko Street. Explore the many sweet shops under the colourful ‘candy trees’, while learning some local dialect (‘Amekko’ is local form of ‘ame’, or sweets) Expect truckloads of candy (of every possible variation imaginable), parades, folk bands and plenty of dancing. Main events include the Shirahige God Parade and the Akita Dog Parade, making this festival a sweet addition to your travels in northern Japan.

Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival

A 450-year long tradition, the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival is an annual festival featuring hundreds of illuminated snow domes. Held in Yokote City in Akita, the Kamakura (snow domes) are symbols of the winter festival. The practice of building Kamakura originated from the worship of Suijin, the Shinto water god. Inside each Kamakura, a small space inside is dedicated to honor Suijin and pray for a good year’s harvest. Now, the Yokote Kamakura Festival is a vibrant two-day event where visitors can enjoy snow sculptures, specialty food stalls, and illuminations. After the sun sets, the hundreds of lit up snow igloo lanterns along the Yokote River is a sight to behold.

Sendai Pageant of Starlight

Sendai’s winter illumination event of the year, the Sendai Pageant of Starlight is an annual light-up held at the Jozenji-dori avenue. Over a hundred Zelkova trees are decorated with beautiful lights, giving the entire area a magical winter glow. The event is also known as Sendai Hikari no Pageant, aptly named after the impressive light display along the long pedestrian street. Compared to other illumination events in Tokyo, the Sendai Pageant of Starlight is much more spacious and less crowded. So if you’re looking for ample photo-taking space, or just to enjoy an evening stroll amongst the lights — visit Sendai City this winter.

Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival

Aomori is especially beautiful in wintertime due to the abundance of snow and wintry views offered throughout the prefecture. The whole area around the stunning Hirosaki Castle is illuminated and the myriad of lanterns create a truly majestic winter wonderland which is enjoyed by the thousands of visitors who attend every year. The festival also makes use of projection mapping and music which tops off this amazing winter experience in northern Japan.

  • Osaki Hachimangu Donto Festival
  • Odate Amekko Market Festival
  • Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival
  • Sendai Pageant of Starlight
  • Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival

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