Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
When you think of snowy winter festivals, Japan probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind. You probably imagine Scandinavia or Canada. But, if you're interested in snow and ice sculptures, you probably know that Japan boasts some of the world's most interesting and unique winter festivals. In the winter in Japan, up in the snowy north, there are winter festivals every year that draw great crowds and offer lots of attractions for everybody.
The big one is the Sapporo Snow Festival, also called "Yuki Matsuri." It is held every year in February on Japan's snow covered northern island, Hokkaido. The Sapporo Snow Festival was the first of its kind held in Japan, and it is still the biggest.
Every year, 2 million snow lovers flock to Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido, to enjoy the Snow Festival in the first 2 weeks of February. At the Festival, there are hundreds of snow sculptures made by artists from all over the world. Some are a couple of building stories high and weigh tons. There are ice sculptures too, and ice bars where you can go inside and have a frosty beer.
The Sapporo Snow Festival was starting in the 1950's by a group of high school kids. Bored and shut-in by the harsh winter, they began to have competetion making snow sculptures. Every year, more kids joined in, and now the festival draws snow artists from 15 different countries.
There are also musical performances, light shows, snow slides and massive snowball fights.
The second biggest city in Hokkaido, Asahikawa, has its own Asahikawa Winter Festival in early February. It's not as big as the Sapporo Snow Festival, but it's good for snow lovers who want a quieter and less crowded winter festival. They have huge ice sculptures and night time illumination. At the Asahikawa Snow Festival, restaurants serve Asahikawa ramen, a type of ramen that is famous all over Japan. The noodles and warm soup are a special winter treat, and visitors from all over Japan go there to taste it.
The northern part of Japan's main island, Honshu, gets dumped on in the winter too. Every major area has its own snow festival. One of the most popular is the Iwate Snow Festival. It's held in the small town of Shizukuishi in early or mid-February. Iwate Snow Festival has giant snow statues, restaurants and bars in igloos, snow slides, and a giant snow maze that's slightly different every year. Iwate is also famous for its yearly fireworks displays, where festival-goers can watch the colors reflect off the snow.
Iwate is a great winter festival for those who want to see a more traditional celebration. The modern snow festival is mixed with traditional yearly festivals that are hundreds of years old. In Iwate, you can see traditional Japanese musicians and dancers perform on floats.
There are snow festivals held all over northern Japan. Even in the smallest villages in Hokkaido, residents have some kind of celebration when the snow piles up. Northern Honshu also has snow festivals in all the major cities. The northern prefectures, like Aomori, are good places to go if you don't want to leave the main island.
If you want a truly unique winter festival experience, northern Japan is a great place to go. Just make sure you're bundled up!
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