"Snow Festival" - the word in Japan reminds most people of the Sapporo Snow Festival held in the Hokkaido region. However, there are other snow festivals across the island nation and one which is quite near toTokyo (a couple of hours drive by car) is the Tokamachi Snow Festival held every February.
In its 67th year, I visited this festival and although had planned for a couple of hours, I stayed for a whole day watching the sculptures, participating in activities and ending the day with fireworks.
Snow in this part of Japan is very heavy and it causes many hardships for residents. I have been witness to this often in my stay in Niigata. It is enjoyable for a day, but five months under snow is an altogether different challenge. The Snow Festival in Tokamachi is based on the idea shared by the residents of this area who wanted to “befriend and enjoy the snow".
Attending the festival after a gap of nearly 12 years, it was quite a nostalgic feel, viewing the snow sculptures handmade by local residents. Students from IUJ (International University of Japan) in the neighborhood also participate in building the snow sculptures, along with the locals. The warm hospitality of the town was a welcome change from the regular busy salaryman's life in Tokyo.
After a long day enjoying snow sculptures around the city, I headed to the main stage for the Snow Carnival which features live music, fireworks, and also a kimono show. It gets quite freezing on the hill slopes of the main stage and I had to keep myself warm by spending some time in the school auditorium.
This past year of 2017, the JPOP group DA PUMP performed here along with the NGT48, a sister group of the popular AKB48. All in all, it is a great time to spend a day in the snow country with a "no so crowded" snow festival compared to the Sapporo version. The Sapporo festival is no doubt "grand" in its execution, but Tokamachi is a much more personal and warm experience, if you like to connect with local people and enjoy with them.