When it comes to Japan, there is no shortage of events taking place. Compared to many other countries around the world that are known for their seasonal activities, Japan has something to offer, no matter the time of year. Below I will highlight seven of the most popular winter festivals known for their unique and exciting activities.
Ojiya Hot Air Balloon Festival
Feb 25th—Feb 26th
If you're looking for something relaxing and truly spectacular, we recommend catching the Ojiya Hot Air Balloon Festival. Here you can watch as balloons compete in exciting races all the while enjoying some of Japan's most delicious food from any one of the numerous food stalls that will be in attendance. If that's not enough for you, well then, my adventurous friend, why not try your hand at riding in one of the balloons. Be careful though, lines can be quite long for attractions like these, so be prepared. Finally, things will wrap up with beautiful and explosive fireworks displays, once the sun goes down of course.
Lake Towada Winter Story
Early December—Late February
In the central mountains of Aomori, you will find Lake Towada which during the year is absolutely breathtaking. However, it is only during the winter you will find intricate ice sculptures, fantastic lights and amazing food during Lake Towada's Winter Story, a popular event among many locals and tourists alike. Enjoy traditional music and dances performed by local high school and college students or even take advantage of some of the sledding hills and other winter themed attractions. There is truly no end to fun here at Lake Towada. For more information check out the official Lake Towada's Winter Story page.
Night of The Stars
Jan 22nd/29th & Feb 5th/12th/19th
Once a year in Hanamaki tourists and locals alike release lanterns with their wishes into the night sky all at once. The stark contrast between the blackened night sky, the snow-covered ground and the warmth of hundreds of lanterns floating above you is truly magical. By staying at one of several accommodations in Hanamaki Onsen Village you can not only enjoy this wonderful experience but, you can also enjoy a relaxing overnight experience that the Hanamaki hot springs tend to provide. More information can be found on the Hanamaki Night of The Stars' website.
Also located in the region of Iwate is the Tono Dobekko festival, for all you sake lovers out there, this one's for you! For only 1,500 yen you can enjoy a unique home brewed sake which can only ever be made with special permission. For a special admittance ticket, you can even enjoy all you can drink sake, if that's more your style. There will also be local delicacies, Kagura and traditional Tono folklore for you to enjoy while you stay. Festivals like this really give you an opportunity to get in touch with traditional Japanese culture, something not all activities in Japan will always do. This event only occurs for a couple days in November, January and February, so don't miss out. More information can be found at their official website.
Ouchi-juku Snow Festival
Feb 6th—Feb 10th
Located in Fukushima prefecture is the Ouchi-juku Village. Ouchi-juku has several events throughout the year but by far the most popular one is the snow festival. During this time of year, the snow piles on the surrounding region and creates a scene that seems to have popped straight out of a Hallmark movie. The festival is most famous for how beautiful the town becomes at night when residents hang glowing lanterns from the buildings. While you are there you have to try the famous Negi-soba (a unique dish to Ouchi-juku). More Info can be found on the Ouchi-juku Snow festival Webpage.
Uesugi Snow Festival
Feb 11th—Feb 12th
Held in Yonezawa is the Uesugi Snow Festival. Thousands of lanterns and hundreds of snow lanterns are lit up at night and everyone comes together to celebrate their ancestors. This festival is relatively calm compared to others, most people enjoy their time taking in the lights, visiting the local shrines and enjoying some of the more traditional food that is served during the event. A huge Requiem Tower is often built of snow during this time which is truly remarkable. More information can be found on the Uesugi Snow Festival Website.
Tsunan Snow Festival
Tsunan city in Niigata holds a festival that boasts all kinds of fun activities that you can only enjoy in the winter. There will be intense snowboard straight jump competitions as well as lots of snow lanterns. There will be Kamakura, which are giant snow domes built from the immense snowfall the city sees this time of year. In the evening things will wrap up with a lantern lighting and release. This will also be the first festival in four years after returning from the effects from the pandemic. More information can be found at the Tsunan Snow Festival webpage.
Winter in Japan offers a lot to experience and see. These Japan events will give you the most out of your trip to Tokyo and definitely give you something to talk about when you return home to friends and family. No matter the time or place, there is always something to do in Japan.