Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kamakura snow festival in Yokote

On 15th of February, hubby and me went to see Kamakura snow festival in Yokote city. The festival is held annually on February 15 and 16. Kamakura is the name given to small igloo-like structure made entirely from compacted snow. Yokote city lies in an area of heavy snowfall where 20 to 30 centimeters of snow may fall overnight. Kamakura festival uses this snow in a festival that can only be found in such a snowy place. The Kamakura festival is held during the lunar new year together with other seasonal events such as the festival where pine and rope decorations used at the previous new year celebrations are burned in a sacred bonfire, a ceremony to pay homage to the god of water, and the ‘torioi’ ceremony to pray for an abundant harvest. In the past there have been water shortages in this region and that is why prayers are offered to the god of water, and the water god is enshrined inside the Kamakura. The Kamakura festival was also a way of spending a few simple days in a small hut away from the usual material temptations of life. These days, however, the rites chiefly involve children.
The Kamakura festival has been celebrated for more than four hundred years. Originally, Kamakuras were rectangular and had wooden roofs. Now they are constructed entirely of snow and are more dome-like. Each Kamakura is about 1.5 meters wide and 2 meters tall. They are constructed by piling snow, trampling it, packing it down, and then allowing it to freeze and harden over the course of about a week. The hardened mounds are then hollowed out to make a roomy chamber. A small entrance gives access to the wide space inside. An altar for the water deity is carved into the rear of the room inside the Kamakura. The floors are covered with grass mats and many Kamakuras are equipped with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling to provide illumination. A charcoal brazier at the center of the Kamakura is used to grill mochi (rice cakes) and heat amazake (a fermented rice drink), which are offered to the passerby. Guests are invited in with calls of ‘agattetanse’, which is a word for ‘irasshaimase’ (please come in) in Akita-dialect.
Kamakura snow hut

Water deity alter and a charcoal brazier inside the Kamakura

About 100 full-size Kamakuras are built prior to the festival days. Children participate in the making of mini-Kamakura. Townspeople along with the children decorate the riverbanks and roadsides with about 10000 mini-Kamakuras. At night candles light up the Kamakura and mini-Kamakura, which look very beautiful in the still of the night. There are four main festival locations in Yokote city. Doro koen park (omatsuri hiroba - festival plaza), the area around the Yokote city hall is the main event area. It is about eight minutes walk from JR Yokote station. Haguro-cho and Futaba-cho are the more historical Kamakura sites. The area around Yokote castle is popular for its view. The area in front of the Yokote minami elementary school has hundreds of mini-Kamakura.
To see the Kamakura festival, hubby and me started from our home at about 2 pm. On 15th of February, snow fell heavily and fierce icy winds blew in entire Akita prefecture. Hubby had to drive our car very slowly due to poor visibility and icy road conditions. Yokote snow festival area is located right on the Akita expressway and it took us about one hour and thirty minutes to reach the festival area. It was very difficult to park our car, as almost all the car parking lots near the festival area were full. Eventually, after about 30 min of hunting for a car parking area, hubby could park our car. From there, we had to walk for about fifteen minutes to reach the festival location. This time, hubby and me decided to enjoy viewing the Kamakuras during the day time (evening) itself and skipped watching the night time candle-lit Kamakura festivities. This is because I was a bit worried about the icy roads, and hubby had to again drive back home in such fierce weather conditions.
We visited the main Kamakura festival event area located in Doro koen park near the Yokote city hall. There were many big Kamakuras in this area, which looked absolutely fantastic and marvelous. There were a lot of visitors. We enjoyed viewing the Kamakuras.
Kamakuras in the main festival area

A few more Kamkauras in the festival area

Entrance of a Kamakura

Many Kamakuras

We saw several mini-Kamakuras around the main event area.
Kamakuras and mini-Kamakuras


Hubby posing in front of mini-Kamakuras

We walked around the Kamakuras, went inside a few of them, and sat in front of charcoal brazier and warmed our hands. We had a very nice time.
Me in front of a Kamakura

A lit candle inside a Kamakura

Me standing at the entrance of a Kamakura

Me standing inside a Kamakura

Me sitting inside a Kamakura

Hubby standing at the entrance of a Kamakura

Hubby sitting inside a Kamakura

Hubby sitting inside a Kamakura

In one corner of the main event area, we saw beautiful snow sculpture of a sumo wrestler. There was also a snow sculpture of the gods Ebisu and Daikokuten, which are a pair of gods out of the seven gods shichifukujin of good fortune. The Japanese shichifukujin gods have been a popular group of deities since the Edo period.
Snow sculpture of a sumo wrestler

Snow sculpture of the gods Ebisu and Daikokuten

We enjoyed viewing the Kamakuras for almost an hour. After that we went to the Yokote Fureai Center Kamakura House, which was located very near to the festival event area and was also within a walking distance from the Yokote city hall. Just inside the entrance of this building, there is a vast space where four Bondens were displayed. They looked so beautiful. Every year Bonden festival is held in Yokote city on February 16 and 17. The main attraction of this festival is the Bonden, special shrine decorations atop five-meter poles, serving as sacred wands of Shinto deities. Various private and business associations dressed in festival attire gather at the Yokote city hall in the morning of the 17th, and from there they carry the fifty or so decorated Bonden poles in a stately procession to Asahiokayama shrine. Since the procession was still two days away, we enjoyed viewing the Bondens displayed inside the Yokote Fureai Center building.
Yokote Fureai Center Kamakura House

Four Bondens displayed inside the Yokote Fureai Center building

In the Yokote Fureai Center building, there are exhibition halls and a multimedia display about the origin of Kamakura festival, the process of making Kamakura, etc. In this building, there are a few Kamakuras displayed inside a large walk-in freezer, which is kept at a temperature of -10 degree centigrade. These Kamakuras are displayed inside the glass-sided freezer all year round so that we can experience the Kamakuras even during the summer season.
Multimedia exhibition center

Hubby sitting inside a Kamakura in the walk-in freezer

Finally, we went to several food stalls that were situated around the main festival event area. The stalls served various types of typical Japanese festival food, including the famous Yokote yakisoba. We bought two bento (lunch) boxes of Yokote yakisoba and two kiritanpo (skewers of mashed rice). We ate them inside our car as there were a lot of customers and there was no space left to sit and eat the delicacies in the food stall area.
Entrance of the food stalls area

Food stalls

Yokote yakisoba and kiritanpo

Hubby eating yakisoba sitting in the car

After enjoying the Kamakura festival, we started back for our home at about 6 pm. Near the festival area we saw a beautiful red torii gate of either a temple or a shrine. The magical view of snow everywhere and a few lit candles on the ground in front of the torii gate was simply amazing.

A beautiful torii gate

Although it was an extremely cold day, we enjoyed the Kamakura snow festival very much. We returned back home by 8 pm.


M.Kate said...

Hi, this is a wonderful blog..I'll link you up if you dont mind.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment, M.Kate. I will be glad if you link my blog up.
I will visit your blog too.

Kazuo Nagata said...

Yakisoba and kiritanpo were delicious!

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Yeah Kazuo, I liked yakisoba very much.

Runa said...

The snow huts are simply stunning. How did Kazuo-san managed to sit inside?

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for the comment Runa. Although there was a straw mat on the floor of the snow hut, Kazuo-san felt very cold sitting inside the hut. He sat just for the time it took me to take the photo ;)

Yousei Hime said...

Hidenori-san left a link to your site: I'm so glad he did. Your photos and story is lovely. What a wonderful time you both must have had. Thank you for sharing it.

Magyar said...

__Another visitor from Hidenori's
Akitahaiku blog.
__Some grand photos here of the snow festival, the 'Kamakuras' and sculptures, very interesting. Once
did people live in thes huts as did the Eskimos, in their Igloos?
__I enjoyed traveling through your blog. I'll thank Hidenori San, and I thank you.

a new place
the snow carvings stand
of the old


Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Yousei Hime for the comment. Oh, I was not aware that Hidenori-san linked this post to his blog. Thanks for visiting my blog and hope you liked the photos and the post.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Magyar for visiting my blog. Hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of the kamakuras. I am not sure whether people lived in these kamakuras during ancient times. I can just imagine it. We visited the Kamakura festival three years ago. Hope to visit again next year.