Winter in Japan is a magical season, in part due to the country’s long tradition of winter festivals that lift the spirits of everyone amid the chilly weather and frozen landscape. All across the country, numerous festivals are staged in the early months of the year with massive ice sculptures, gigantic snow monsters, fireworks displays, and more.
Here are six spectacular ice festivals in Japan to celebrate when you’re in the country during the winter months.
Chitose Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival (January 24 – February 16, 2020)
Found in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park in Chitose, Hokkaido, Lake Shikotsu is famous for clearest, most pristine waters in the whole country. During the annual Chitose Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, the entire landscape transforms into a frozen fairytale world with a massive collection of dazzling ice sculptures. When night falls, the sight is even more spectacular with colorful lights illuminating the frozen creations.
From Sapporo, book a KKday day tour to Lake Shikotsu to get a glimpse of the amazing Chitose Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival. Other attractions during this Hokkaido snow festival include ice skating, musical performances, and fireworks.
Saiko Ice Festival (January 25 – February 16, 2020)
Another picturesque ice festival in Japan is the Saiko Ice Festival in Yamanashi. Be in awe of towering frost-covered trees known as “juhyou,” which looms over the landscape like ice monsters. Strong winds, snow, and ice shape these majestic natural sculptures.
With Mt. Fuji rising gloriously in the background and the icy juhyou illuminated at night, there are very few more stunning winter festivals in Japan. Locals sell food and souvenirs during the event as well. Book a trip to Mt. Zao with KKday to get a glimpse of the frozen monsters and revel in festival fun in winter!
Zao Snow Monster Festival (January 31 – February 2, 2020)
The Zao Snow Monster Festival in Yamagata is another Japanese festival that travelers can attend to marvel at majestic juhyou. Ice sculptures and fireworks add to the spectacle of the festival, while the frosty giant trees are lit up at night. Skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes to show off their skills winding through the juhyou. There’s also a great selection of onsen in the area for those who want a good soak in the wintertime.
Sapporo Snow Festival (February 4 – 11, 2020)
If you only have time for one winter festival, opt for the Sapporo Snow Festival, which is one of the most famous winter festivals in the world. It’s staged in Sapporo, Hokkaido with three different sites: the main site Odori, Susukino, and Tsu Dome.
Massive ice sculptures, hundreds of smaller snow statues, musical performances, and about two million visitors annually combine to make the event an unforgettable one for anyone passing through. The glittering sculptures are lit up every night during the festival from sunset to about 10:00 pm.
Iwate Snow Festival (February 7 – 11, 2020)
Explore intricate ice sculptures at the Iwate Snow Festival, one of the 5 Great Snow Festivals of Tohoku. It’s held at Koiwai Farm, which is known for its dairy and meat products, so it’s no surprise that the food and drinks choices at the festival are excellent.
Families enjoy taking part in this festival with endless activities for children and adults to enjoy, from riding a horse sleigh to sledding to tubing. Those who prefer to chill out can roam the food stalls and sample various traditional cuisine, then go on to admire the light-up displays and fireworks at night.
Yokote Kamakura Festival (February 15 – 16, 2020)
With a history extending back more than 450 years, the Yokote Kamakura Festival is one of the most beautiful and significant ice festivals in Japan. The main feature are dozens and dozens of igloo-like snow huts called “kamakura” scattered throughout the city of Yokote in Akita Prefecture. Each kamakura houses a snow alter where people pray to the water deity.
Most of the kamakura are found in the Kamakurakan Hall, where ice sculptures and food stalls are also set up for the festival. Miniature kamakura are also set up across the city, illuminated at night to look like tiny twinkling stars in the distance.
If you’re looking to skip the festival atmosphere, but want an amazing Japanese winter experience for your vacation, join the 2020 Shirakawago Winter Light-Up Day Tour and witness a charming storybook village light up at night.