The Snow Festivals of Japan
The winters in the north of Japan are long and full of snow. From November to the end of April the land is covered with meters of snow: in some places the average seasonal snow fall is around 15 meters! How are people coping with the long and harsh winters? Half way in the season traditional snow festivals pop up all around the north of Japan. And we were lucky enough to encounter a few of them!
Our favorite was the Kamakura festival in Yokote: a tradition that stands for over 400 years. In the week before the festival the villagers come together to build Kamakuras (snow domes, similar to igloos). All around the town the Kamakuras pop up, and along the river hundreds of mini versions are made. The evening of the festival they are all lit up by candles. The big ones are shrines to pray to the water gods for a good harvest season.
A boy and a girl in one of the Kamakuras invite us inside and we take a seat on the pillows on the snow. Over a fire the boy grills a mochi (rice cake) for us, and the girl pours two cups of warm amazake (sweet sake). The candle light gives the snow altar a warm glow. In a few words of English we have a chat with them. When we continue our walk through the town, we encounter so many warm and friendly people. Further on we are amazed by the thousands of candles lighting up the mini Kamakuras along the river. The same way the candles gave a warm glow to the white snow, we feel about the atmosphere that evening: so gentle, warm and welcoming!
The next morning it is time for a different face of the tradition: in a procession all the men of the town show their muscles and perseverance by carrying up huge ornaments to the Shinto shrine on the nearby mountain. Sake is the way to get their fire started. While shouting mantras they make their way through the streets and up the hill over the slippery snow… impressive!
These winter festivals are a great way to get together and enjoy the beauty that winter in Japan has to offer!