3 Unusual Winter Festivals In Japan You Can't Miss | CoolJapan

Winter in Japan isn’t just about snowfall and skiing — there's also the snow festival. While there are various classic winter and snow festivals all across Japan — Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido is probably the most popular  — here are some of the more unusual snow festivals in Japan.

Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival 

Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival

Photo from: U-ichiro Murakami via Flickr

The Nozowa Onsen Fire Festival or the Nozowa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri is a way to pray for good harvest, health and fortune in the coming year by paying tribute to the Dosojin, a folk god believed to ward off danger at borders and crossroads. Part of the ceremony involves quite an elaborate set up where the local villagers first build a wooden shrine out of sacred trees, and later reenact an hour-long scene where two groups of people try to burn down or protect the shrine accordingly. Eventually, the shrine is lit on fire as an offering marking the end of the ceremony.

Nozawa is located in northern Nagano prefecture — make sure to enjoy the free traditional public onsen and excellent ski facilities when visiting this village. The Nozowa Onsen Fire Festival usually takes place annually on 15th January.

Saidaiji Temple Naked Festival

Naked Festival

Photo by Mstysla Cherno/CC BA-SA 3.0

One of the odder winter festivals in Japan is the Hadaka Matsuri or Naked Festival that takes place at the 1,200-year-old Saidaiji temple annually. On one of the coldest nights in the year, thousands of men wear only traditional fundoshi loincloths (not quite naked) and take to the streets en masse. They are doused in cold water for good luck and spend most of their time grappling with each other to pick up a set of two bamboo sticks called Shingi. These bamboo sticks represent good fortune for the year and are tossed randomly into the crowd.

Saidaiji Temple is located in eastern Okayama City in the Okayama prefecture of the Chugoku region. The Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri takes place on the third Saturday night in the month of February. Okayama is famous for their fruits during summer, but in winter make sure to enjoy their oysters, especially when cooked local-style into the okonomiyaki pancake.

Rokugo no Kamakura / Takeuchi (Bamboo Fight)

Every winter over the past 700 years, people in the town of Rokugo pray for good harvest through the Rokugo no Kamakura. The highlight on the last day is the bamboo fight or Takeuchi, where the townsmen are split into North and South teams and try to beat each other with 5m long bamboo sticks. The outcome of this fight is key – if the North wins, it signals good harvest whereas a South victory means that prices are likely to rise. The poles are later burnt as a part of the festivities.

Rokugo can be found in Misato, a part of Akita prefecture in Northwestern Japan. Rokugo no Kamakura takes place from 11-15 February with Takeuchi taking place on the 15th. If you prefer something a little more serene, the Yokote Kamakura snow festival features thousands of traditional snow-covered dome huts that are specially illuminated at night.

  1. 1.Nozawa Onsen
  2. 2.Saidaiji Kannonin Temple
  3. 3.Rokugo no Kamakura
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