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

    Information regarding COVID-19 for Foreign Tourists in Fukushima Prefecture

    1. Regarding the entry of foreign tourists to Japan Since October 11 2022, travel restrictions for package tours and individual visitors have been lifted in Japan. Japan Tourism Agency provides guidelines for foreign tourists to refer to during their trip regarding countermeasures against COVID-19 (such as regulations on wearing masks). These guidelines also explain how to proceed in case of contracting COVID-19, as well as in the case of other illnesses or injuries. Useful websites with information about COVID-19 for foreign visitors, as well as the languages they are in, are listed below. Japan Tourism Agency’s Revision of the restrictions on the acceptance of overseas tourists after October 11, 2022 (English) Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)’s [COVID-19: Practical Information for Traveling to Japan] for foreign visitors (English) (Simplified Chinese) (Traditional Chinese – Hong Kong) (Traditional Chinese - Taiwan) (Korean) (Vietnamese)   2. For foreign tourists visiting Fukushima prefecture If you develop symptoms of COVID-19  in Fukushima prefecture, the following consultation services are available: ■Fukushima Prefecture Medical Consultation and Information Center (Interpreting Center for Foreign Visitors to Japan) Telephone number: 092-687-6148 (available 24 hours a day) Available in 21 languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Nepali, Tagalog, Malay, Myanmar, Khmer, Mongolian, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali ■Fukushima Prefecture Consultation Service for Foreign Residents Tel: 024-524-1316 (dedicated phone) Fax: 024-521-8308 〈Languages and available dates/times〉 ・Japanese, Chinese and English: Tuesday - Saturday 9:00 a.m. - 5:15 p.m. ・Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese and Vietnamese: Thursdays, 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. (Appointment required for the 4th and 5th Thursdays of each month) ・Thai, Nepalese, Indonesian, Spanish, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese and Vietnamese: Tuesday-Saturday 9:00 am - 5:15 pm (via a third-party interpreting service) Outside of these hours, please contact the following consultation service: ■Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare COVID-19 Call Center  Phone number: 0120-565-653 Available every day, including Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays. Hours and languages available: English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish: 9:00 - 21:00 Thai: 9:00 - 18:00 Vietnamese: 10:00 - 19:00 For illnesses and injuries other than COVID-19, please contact a medical institution that provides medical services to foreigners. Please refer to the J N T O website for a list of medical institutions with multilingual services. Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) English website Chinese (simplified) website Chinese (Traditional) site Korean site Japanese website    

    Information regarding COVID-19 for Foreign Tourists in Fukushima Prefecture
  2. Useful Information

    A Complete Guide to Visiting Fukushima During Winter

    The coldest months of the year bring beautiful scenery to Fukushima prefecture.  Kaneyama Fureai Hiroba Viewpoint From snow-capped mountains and thatched-roof houses in the Aizu area to the refreshing view of the sunrise over the iconic Bentenjima Shrine in the Hattachi coast, there is a wide variety of attractions and activities to enjoy during winter in Fukushima. We’ve compiled some useful information to make your winter getaway to Fukushima prefecture smoother and more enjoyable! Yanaizu Town Transportation Checking the Status of the Roads Before Departure Especially in the Aizu and Central areas of Fukushima, a snow storm could occasionally block some roads or affect visibility (a phenomenon known as a whiteout). Checking the status of the roads makes your trip safer and can help you foresee potential delays. This webpage shows camera footage of the status of the roads (available only in Japanese). Click or tap on the camera button in the area you’re planning on visiting. Select the road you’d like to see on the new pop-up window. In most rent-a-car facilities, you'll be asked where you’re going and be given a vehicle equipped with what you need (winter tires, chains, etc.). Preparing for Longer Travel Times Because road conditions change unexpectedly, it’s best to expect longer travel times, particularly if you’re traveling by bus or car. As an example, check the following estimates: Aizu-Wakamatsu City to Ouchi-juku: normally takes around 45 min. (90 min on snow-covered roads) Ouchi-juku to Tadami: normally takes around 90 min. (150 min. on snow-covered roads) Tadami to Kaneyama Town: normally takes around 40 min. (90 min. on snow-covered roads) Kaneyama Town to Mishima Town: normally takes around 30 min. (90 min. on snow-covered roads) Mishima Town to Aizu-Wakamatsu City: normally takes around 50 min. (120 min. on snow-covered roads). Finding the Public Transportation Winter Schedule Some buses or trains, like the Saruyuugou loop bus in Ouchi-juku, have different schedules in the winter. The service can either become reduced or extended for special events. If you’ll be relying on public transportation, take a close look at the time schedule for any notations of changes during the winter. If it’s only in Japanese and you can’t read it, inquire at the closest station or local tourist information office (or send us a message and we’ll do our best to assist you). Some hotels and ski resorts offer shuttle bus services to and from the closest station, such as the Minowa Ski Resort free shuttle bus service from Fukushima station. Be sure to make a reservation in advance. Activities Extreme Onsen Experience We’ve been getting many inquiries about the Extreme Onsen Experience recently. For safety reasons, it’s not possible to climb Mount Adatara when it’s covered by snow, so the tour becomes temporarily unavailable until the snow melts in the spring (write us a message if you’d like to be notified once the tour becomes available again!). Alternatively... Soaking in the hot springs while contemplating a snowy landscape is a truly magical experience that you can enjoy in many other onsen towns in Fukushima, like the nostalgic Tsuchiyu Onsen Town. Tsuchiyu Onsen Town Goshiki-numa Ponds If you’d like to visit the Goshiki-numa ponds during winter, we recommend booking a snowshoe tour and going with an experienced guide, as travelers are discouraged from visiting independently. Goshikinuma Ponds Snowshoe Experience If you’re interested in the experience, recommend contacting Aizu Dream Development, which organizes winter tours to Goshikinuma, and has English support. Other Places That Are or May Become Closed for the Winter Here are some sightseeing spots, experiences and tours that are only (or mostly) available from spring to fall (usually April to November) and could thus become unavailable during the winter: Unavailable In the Winter Still available, but... The Bandai-Azuma Skyline Ebisu Circuit could become closed in case of heavy snowfall (check the live camera and contact Ebisu Circuit directly for more information)   Crossing Mugenkyo Ravine by Ferry (Mugenkyo no Watashi)   Goshiki-numa and Oze National Park are closed to individual travelers and some of their facilities become unavailable. For safety reasons, it is advised for travelers to only visit as part of a guided tour organized by a reputable company or with an appropriate permit. Extreme Onsen Experience, Soma City Bamboo Fishing Tour, SUP Experience at Menuma Pond and the Ouchi-juku Time Slip & Soba Making Experience. Experiences that are still available during the winter months: The Ouchi-juku kimono experience,  Kitakata Ramen-Making Experience, Kitakata Organic Vegetable Harvesting Experience & Lodging, Minamiaizu Private Taxi Program and the Minamisoma Coast Trekking.     Finding Winter Destinations While some places and experiences enter an hibernation of sorts, others take center stage. Ski slopes, with powder snow and lots of activities for the entire family, become one of the main attractions in Fukushima (check out our 2-day skiing itinerary here). Winter festivals, illuminations and other events enliven several spots around Fukushima (check our calendar for winter events in Fukushima in 2023). If You’re Planning The Ultimate Winter Road Trip... Bring snacks and drinks with you! Japanese convenience stores and vending machines are spread out in remote rural areas. It’s always safer to bring snacks and drinks with you, particularly if you are traveling with children. If you would like to know where to go for pit stops, roadside stations, known in Japanese as “michi no eki” (道の駅) usually have local specialty foods and souvenirs. Prepare for the Unexpected—and the Beautiful We recently visited the famous No. 1 Tadami River Bridge Viewpoint with my coworker. In the morning, we were told that the JR Tadami Line, which famously runs over the scenic bridge, had canceled operations for the day due to heavy snowfall, but we decided to go anyway. When we arrived at the viewpoint, it was snowing heavily and there was zero visibility—the iconic view was nothing but an indistinguishable mass of white and gray. We decided to drive to another scenic point (Kaneyama Fureai Hiroba Viewpoint) hoping the sky would clear up. It finally did and we were lucky to get beautiful shots of both places. You never know when you can enjoy a snow-covered landscape with clear skies. Winter is a delightful season to travel around Fukushima and take in the views of its many scenic towns, winter festivals, and glistening lakes nested in the mountains. Miyakoji Area in Tamura City The coastal area is also worth a visit during this time; its famous sunshine and tropical feel make it a perfect getaway from the harsher cold inland. If you’re thinking of visiting the sunny city of Iwaki, check out our recent post, 5 Things to Do in Iwaki City This Winter. If you have any questions about traveling in Fukushima, please send it to us using the contact form you can find on our website. We hope you enjoy your stay in Fukushima!

    A Complete Guide to Visiting Fukushima During Winter
  3. Useful Information

    2023 Winter Festivals in Fukushima: Dates and Times

    During the first months of the year, Fukushima prefecture becomes enlivened with colorful festivals and traditional events. Craft displays in Iwaki, snow festivals in Tadami and Ouchi-juku, and one of Japan’s most famous daruma markets in Shirakawa, to name a few, are excellent ways to experience the true folk of Fukushima! Here are the dates and times for some of the winter festivals taking place in Fukushima prefecture in 2023: Tadami Snow Festival (只見雪まつり) The Tadami Snow Festival is scheduled this year after a three-year hiatus. Place: In front of Tadami Station, Tadami Town, Minamiaizu District, Fukushima Pref. 968-0421 Date: Festival eve celebration: February 10 (Friday) February 11 (Saturday) and 12 (Sunday), 2023 Time: All day during the weekend, evening on Friday More information here. Ouchi-juku Snow Festival (大内宿雪まつり) Ouchi-juku’s Snow Festival features traditional Japanese performances, an incredible firework show, and a town that feels like it still exists in the Edo Period, illuminated solely by the light of lanterns made of snow. Place: Ouchi-juku (Yamamoto, Ouchi, Shimogo Town, Minamiaizu District, Fukushima Pref. 969-5207) Time: Varies depending on the event (see event website for details) Date: February 5 (Sunday) to February 11 (Saturday) More information here. Higashiyama Onsen Candle Festival (雪見ろうそく) Every evening from Christmas until around the end of February (depending on the amount of snow), Higashiyama Onsen town is filled with the lights of candles. Place: Higashiyama Onsen, Aizu-Wakamatsu City (map) Date: From December 17, 2022 (Saturday) until February 28, 2023 (Tuesday) Time: In December and January: from 16:30 to 18:00. In February: From 17:00 to 18:30. Aizu Painted Candle Festival (会津絵ろうそくまつり) Aizu Painted Candle Festival is when Oyakuen Garden really comes into its element, as the garden becomes 1 of 2 main stages during the 2 day festival period. The other stage is at Tsuruagajo Castle. Oyakuen Garden often hosts live performances of traditional Japanese music during the evening during the festival. Tens of thousands of candles illuminate the castle and the garden over the 2 day festival period, creating absolutely stunning scenes as the sun sets. Place: Tsurugajo Castle and Oyakuen Garden Date: February 10 (Friday) and 11 (Saturday), 2023. Time: From 17:30 until 20:30 More information here.   Shirakawa Daruma Market (白河だるま市) 700 stalls selling daruma standing along a 1.5km long street in central Shirakawa City during the Shirakawa Daruma Market. There are 18 different varieties of daruma to choose from, all looking for a loving home and an owner to give them a goal or wish to look after!   Place: The main street in front of Shirakawa Station that runs parallel to the train line. Date: February 11 (Saturday), 2023. Time: Not specified. More information here. Iwaki Tsurushi-bina Matsuri (いわきつるしびな祭り) This festival was started in recent years as a way of celebrating the Nakanosaku district of Iwaki City, and rejuvenating the area. During the festival, hundreds of decorative items hand-made by local people from chirimen fabric – the fabric used to create kimonos – are displayed and sold over a period of two days. Place: Nakanosaku, Iwaki City (Map) Date: From January 28 (Saturday) to February 5 (Sunday), 2023. Time: From 10:00 to 16:00. More information here. Nanokado Hadaka Mairi Festival (七日堂裸詣り) During this traditional event - which draws many tourists every year - local men clad in loincloths make the challenging climb to the top of Enzoji Temple, in the hopes of ensuring happiness and protection from disease in the year to come. This event is celebrated every year on January 7th. It was already held in 2023. Place: Enzoji Temple, Jikemachi-ko 176, Yanaizu Town, Kawanuma District, Fukushima Pref. 969-7201 Date: January 7 (Saturday), 2023. Time: From 20:00. More information here.

    2023 Winter Festivals in Fukushima: Dates and Times
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