Useful Information

Yuki-Matsuri: Fukushima’s Snow Festivals

Yuki-Matsuri: Fukushima’s Snow Festivals

In the Aizu region located in the mountainous part of Fukushima, many festivals are held weaving together the beautiful contrasts of fire and snow during the coldest part of the winter season. The snow serves as a pure white molding material that projects the feelings of the people of Aizu, themselves shaped by the beauty and severity of winter. The shimmering flames that decorate the tranquil frozen towns gently warm hearts and bodies while bringing a deep sense of mystery to the wintery night. Together with the crisp winter air, this otherworldly scene of wonder will form an indelible memory for couples for many years to come.

The people of the Aizu region spend much of the winter in a deep layer of snow. While they are snowed in, they wait for the distant arrival of spring engaged in crafts such as basket and textile weaving and candle making. The simplicity of the diverse handiwork speaks of the overflowing vitality of the people. That spirit is very much alive today and deeply colors the mood of the festivals that continue to be celebrated in the towns of Aizu. Through these festivals that pray for good health and abundant harvests, you will experience a sense of the spirit of Japanese culture that has long respected the power of nature and given thanks for the changes of the seasons.

Ouchi-juku Snow Festival

In the second week of February every year, a magical snow festival is held in the town of Ouchi-juku which once prospered as a post station on the road to Edo (Tokyo), and where one can still see traditional thatched roofs lining the streets. Men of the village, adorned in white wraps sanctified at the Shinto shrine, wield torches that burn with flames lit by the chief priest of the shrine as they run through the main street of Ouchi-juku. The village becomes embraced in a gentle light as each of the snow lanterns that line the streets are lit with that same flame. Great fireworks are set off when the last snow lantern is lit, creating an impressive climax as the colorful light of the fireworks is reflected off the snow.

Mishima no Sainokami Festival

In Mishima, a town that often experiences over two meters of snow, a sacred tree is stood in the snow as dwellings for the gods, and then burned as a bonfire, along with the Shinto New Year’s decorations, in the Mishima no Sainokami Festival held on January 15. Trees are prepared especially for the festival. The flames that reach up to great heights serve to light up the charcoal black skies of winter.

Tips

Another thing you will encounter in the snow festivals of this snow-bound country is the many snow huts. The snow huts serve as camping tents constructed by piling up snow thickly and then digging out the interior. While they may look cold, in fact they stop the wind blowing in and can be quite comfortable. The light of the candles within reflects off the snowy walls, filling the interior space with soft luminance. If you discover a snow hut on your journey, please join the other people within. Share a cup of sake or amazake (sweet sake) made at one of the many breweries in this snow country, and enjoy your time together with your family, friends, or partner.

The Oku Aizu region, where many of the snow festivals take place, is an area with limited access. While additional shuttle buses and special trains are operated during the period, make sure to research your journey there and back before leaving. Further, temperatures drop to the freezing point at night in the Aizu region. Make sure to adequately prepare for the cold. It is a good idea to purchase hokkairo (disposable heating pads) in advance and not only put them in your pockets but in the bottom of your shoes as well.

Fukushima's Other Snow Festivals

Aizu Painted Candle Festival (Second Friday & Saturday of February)

Tadami Snow Festival (Second Saturday & Sunday of February)

Nakayama Setsugekka Snow Festival (Third Saturday of February)

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  1. Useful Information

    Persimmon Paradise in Date City!

    Here you can drive though fields of endless persimmons...  At first you might think that someone has hung thousands of lanterns, such a romantic sight might be expected in a town named Date City... but these are actually persimmons! Acres and acres of persimmon trees grow around the Date City area. On top of that nearly every home in the area has hundreds, even thousands, of persimmons hanging from their rafters or in open air pavilions. Dried persimmons are, apparently, a specialty in Date City. These fruits are turned into delicious semi-dried fruits that you’ve got to try! They are so good. The outer skin firms up like fruit leather and the insides sweeten and become gelatinous in texture. If you have ever tried a "gusher," these are like giant gushers that are naturally sweet.  The practice of hanging persimmons at home is still practiced by some Japanese people, however it can be a bit difficult and time consuming. Fortunately for everyday people (who lack both time and skill) the farmers of Date City make and sell plenty of these delicious treats!  Those who hang persimmons for commercial use use a special method that they learned from California raisin makers, this is how they maintain their brilliant color! It was cool to find a connection to my home country in such a cute rural town.

    Persimmon Paradise in Date City!
  2. Useful Information

    Harvest Seasonal Fruit

    Fukushima Prefecture is one of the leading fruit production regions in Japan, to the extent that Fukushima City is often called the 'Fruit Kingdom,' and there is a road within the city limits with the nickname 'Fruit Line.' As hinted at by the name, the road is surrounded by fruit orchards on both sides for a distance of over 14 kilometers. If one looks closely, they will see different fruits growing during the year, with cherries in the springtime (early June to early July), peaches in the summer months (from mid-July to early September), pears (late August through early October) and grapes (early September through early October) in autumn, and finally apples in early winter (early October to early December). During each season, the nearby fruit orchards bustle with activity as families and tourists come to buy the fresh, high quality fruit. Fruit-Picking Experience One pleasant way of enjoying the Fruit Line is to pick some fruit yourself, a popular pastime in Japan known as fruits-kari, meaning 'fruit-picking.' Fruit-picking is a luxury in Japan, available only in fruit-producing regions. In Japan, it's typical to be able to pick as much fruit as you'd like within a set time and enjoy it fresh on the spot. However, unlike some orchards abroad, many Japanese orchards don't allow fruit picked as part of the fruits-kari experience to be taken out of the orchard. Fruit can be bought separately of course. You need not bring or prepare anything to participate. You need but set out on an adventure that promises satisfaction with the deliciousness of the fresh fruit and the instinctive enjoyment of harvesting it. Here we will describe how to go about fruit hunting using the example of an apple orchard. When you arrive at the orchard, sign up for the fruit-picking experience. After signing up, you will be provided with any necessary tools, such as instruments for cutting fruit from the branch or buckets. The staff will then give a brief introduction in Japanese on how to pick the fruit and how to tell the difference between ripe and unripe fruit, but the topic is one that is easy to grasp even just by watching their gestures as they explain, so Japanese language skills are not a requirement. Then, after entering the orchard itself, there will be nothing but apples wherever you look. Your job is now to find the ones that look the tastiest from among all the others. Fukushima’s apples are known for being quite juicy and for a taste with a good balance of sweetness and tartness, the result of Fukushima’s uniquely wide temperature variation in the local climate. Take a bite of the apple and your mouth will be filled with the fresh juice accompanied by the appealing crisp sound. And if you really want to experience the taste, we recommend eating the apple as is without removing the peel first. You can also experience a variety of textures and sweetness levels depending on the variety of apple. Fukushima City's Orchards Many types of fruit are grown within the Fukushima City limits, and the volume of pears in particular is the second highest for Japan. Thus, the local farmers have plenty of opportunity to constantly improve their skills. Whereas the norm is to wrap individual fruits in little bags in Japan when they are still on the tree to protect them against pests, the orchards of Fukushima City more commonly grow fruits without using these bags, ensuring that each fruit receives more direct sunlight giving them a higher natural sugar content and richer taste. There is also a recent and growing trend to design new confections that make use of these high quality fruits. These delicious desserts are possible specifically because the orchard farmers know what they’re doing when it comes to flavorful fruit. So if you have the time, we recommend combining your fruit-picking with a culinary tour of the available confections as well. The production of jams and juices using the fruits is also quite popular at Fukushima orchards, and those products make great gifts to take home with you. The Fruit Line provides numerous ways to enjoy yourself depending on the season. When visiting, we recommend coming by car. That way you can enjoy the surrounding scenery as you drive, and the ability to stop by at any local farmer’s markets you may come across will further increase the charm of your trip. Enjoy this luxurious experience and the tastes of the season to the fullest at your own pace, surrounded by the bounty of nature. Read here for more.

    Harvest Seasonal Fruit
  3. Access

    JR Tadami Line

    Station list and timetable for the JR Tadami Line (Updated April 2020) ABOUT SERVICE DISRUPTIONS Replacement bus service runs between Aizu-Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station. TIMETABLE (FROM AIZU-WAKAMATSU TO KOIDE, VIA TADAMI) Station name Aizu-Wakamatsu 6:03 7:41 13:09 16:56 17:40 19:40 21:47 Nanuka-machi 6:06 7:44 13:12 16:59 17:43 19:43 21:50 Aizu Hongo 6:16 7:55 13:23 17:13 17:53 19:59 22:00 Aizu Bange 6:47 8:25 13:48 17:36 18:14* 20:24 22:22 Aizu Yanaizu 7:04 8:42 14:05 17:53 20:41 22:39 Aizu Hibara 7:21 8:59 14:21 18:10 20:57 22:55 Aizu Nishikata 7:26 9:04 14:25 18:14 21:01 22:59 Aizu Miyashita 7:38 9:12 14:29 18:18 21:05 23:03 Hayato 7:47 9:21 14:38 18:27 21:15 23:12 Aizu Kawaguchi 8:06 9:40 14:58 18:46 21:34 23:31 *This train stops at Aizu Bange Station. Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Aizu Kawaguchi 8:15 10:25 14:10 15:35 17:25 19:00 Tadami 9:05 11:15 15:00 16:25 18:15 19:50 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Tadami 9:30 15:40 18:35 Koide 10:43 16:53 19:48   TIMETABLE (FROM KOIDE TO AIZU-WAKAMATSU STATION, VIA TADAMI) Station name Koide 7:58 13:11 17:10 Tadami 9:15 14:28 18:27 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Tadami 7:10 9:25 11:25 14:32 16:00 17:45 18:40 Aizu Kawaguchi 8:00 10:15 12:15 15:22 16:50 18:35 19:30 Change to replacement bus service between Aizu Kawaguchi Station and Tadami Station.   Station name Aizu Kawaguchi 5:32 7:06 8:41 12:31 15:29 19:09 Hayato 5:51 7:26 9:00 12:50 15:49 19:28 Aizu Miyashita 6:01 7:36 9:15 13:00 15:59 19:38 Aizu Nishikata 6:04 7:39 9:18 13:03 16:02 19:41 Aizu Hibara 6:08 7:43 9:22 13:07 16:06 19:45 Aizu Yanaizu 6:24 7:59 9:38 13:23 16:22 20:01 Aizu Bange 6:43 8:21 9:58 13:47 16:40 18:25* 20:22 Aizu Hongo 7:05 8:43 10:19 14:08 17:01 18:47 20:43 Nanuka-machi 7:18 8:53 10:32 14:18 17:15 18:58 20:54 Aizu-Wakamatsu 7:22 8:56 10:36 14:21 17:18 19:01 20:58 *Train starts from Aizu Bange   Timetable updated on April 1 2020. Please be aware that a winter timetable goes into effect every year so make sure to check the JR Tadami Line winter timetable if travelling in the winter months.   ALL STATIONS ON THE TADAMI LINE Main stations featured in the timetable above are highlighted in bold below. Underlined station names are stations where passengers must switch between train and replacement bus service. Station names written in italics, are stations where replacement bus services run. Aizu-Wakamatsu Station 会津若松駅 Nanukamachi Station 七日町駅 Nishi-Wakamatsu Station 西若松駅 Aizu-Hongo Station 会津本郷駅 Aizu-Takada Station 会津高田駅 Negishi Station 根岸駅 Niitsuru Station 新鶴駅 Wakamiya Station 若宮駅 Aizu-Bange Station 会津坂下駅 Todera Station 塔寺駅 Aizu-Sakamoto Station 会津坂本駅 Aizu-Yanaizu Station 会津柳津駅 Godo Station 郷戸駅 Takiya Station 滝谷駅 Aizu-Hinohara Station 会津桧原駅 Aizu-Nishikata Station 会津西方駅 Aizu-Miyashita Station 会津宮下駅 Hayato Station 早戸駅 Aizu-Mizunuma Station 会津水沼駅 Aizu-Nakagawa Station 会津中川駅 Aizu-Kawaguchi Station 会津川口駅 Honna Station 本名駅 Aizu-Kosugawa Station 会津越川駅 Aizu-Yokota Station 会津横田駅 Aizu-Oshio Station 会津大塩駅 Aizu-Shiozawa Station 会津塩沢駅 Aizu-Gamo Station 会津蒲生駅 Tadami Station 只見駅 Oshirakawa Station 大白川駅 Irihirose Station 入広瀬駅 Kamijo Station 上条駅 Echigo-Suhara Station 越後須原駅 Uonuma-Tanaka Station 魚沼田中駅 Echigo-Hirose Station 越後広瀬駅 Yabukami Station 藪神駅 Koide Station 小出駅

     JR Tadami Line
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