Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Kamakura Snow Festival

On 16th February, hubby and I went to see Kamakura Snow Festival in Yokote City of Akita prefecture. The Snow Festival is held annually on 15th and 16th February. Yokote City lies in an area of heavy snowfall where 20 to 30 centimeters of snow falls overnight during winter. This abundant snow is used to build small igloo-like structures called Kamakura made entirely from compacted snow. About 100 full-size Kamakuras and 10000 mini-Kamakuras are built prior to the festival days. The festival site looks so wonderful during the festival days.


Kamakura Snow Festival has been celebrated for more than four hundred years. The 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 a 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 water deity enshrined inside the Kamakura. 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 and heat Amazake, and the visitors enjoy having them sitting inside the snow hut in the cold winter.


About 100 full-size Kamakuras are built by the townspeople prior to the festival days. In addition, children also participate in making and decorating the riverbanks and roadsides with about 10000 mini-Kamakuras. At night, candles light up the Kamakuras and mini-Kamakuras which produce beautiful spectacle. There are seven main festival locations in Yokote City. Doro Koen Park, the area around Yokote Regional Departments (Yokote Chiiki Kyoku Mae) is the main event area. Haguro-cho and Futaba-cho are the more historical Kamakura sites. The area around Yokote Castle is popular for its view. Hundreds of mini-Kamakuras are built at Janosaki Kawahara as well as at the area in front of Yokote Minami Elementary School. ‘Love Kamakuras’ are built at Yokote East Nigiwai Hiroba area. We visited the snow Kamakuras at Doro Koen Park area.


On 16th February, hubby and I left our home at about 10 am to go to Kamakura Snow Festival. Since it was snowing rather heavily that day, hubby had to drive our car very slowly due to poor visibility and icy road conditions. While driving, we saw blankets of heavy snow all around us. The festival area is located right on the Akita Expressway and it took us about 1.5 hours to reach the site. It took another 30 minutes to find a car parking area as almost all parking lots were full that day because of many visitors to the festival site. From the parking area, we walked for about fifteen minutes to reach the festival location. While walking, we saw huge amount of snow piled up on the sidewalk. But the sidewalk was rather wide and we could walk easily.
While driving, we saw snow piled up on either side of the road

Snow everywhere around

Snow piled up on the sidewalk leading to the festival site

Torii Gate of a temple or a shrine on our way to the festival site


First we went to Yokote Fureai Center Kamakura House, which is located very near to the festival main event area. The lobby of this building has a vast space where several Bonden were displayed that looked so beautiful. Bonden is a sacred wand of Shinto deities measuring about five meters in length, and has ornamental decorations atop the Bonden pole. Every year Bonden Festival is held in Yokote City on 16th and 17th February. On the 16th, various neighborhood associations dressed in festival attire hold a parade in the downtown area. On the 17th, the neighborhood associations carry the Bondens in a stately procession to Asahiokayama Shrine. In fact on the day we visited, that is on 16th, we saw several groups with their Bonden. But we did not see any parade probably because there was a snowstorm in the city that afternoon. Anyway, we enjoyed viewing several Bonden displayed inside Yokote Fureai Center building. From the second floor of the building, we could see Kamakura snow huts at Doro Koen Park area.
I am standing near the entrance of Yokote Fureai Center building

Lobby near the entrance of the building

A Bonden

Another Bonden

Kamakura snow huts at Doro Koen Park area as viewed from the second floor of the building

More Kamakuras at the park area as viewed from the second floor of the building


After coming out of the Yokote Fureai Building, we walked a couple of steps north, crossed a big road at a traffic light junction, and reached the central area of the rectangular Doro Koen Park. First we walked towards the eastern side of the park and then towards the western side. I have drawn a schematic figure that explains the five routes R1 to R5 along which we walked and enjoyed viewing Kamakuras and mini-Kamakuras. Some of the routes are the same but are in the opposite direction. It was snowing heavily on and off and I felt that the snow huts looked different under different weather conditions.
Figure explaining the five routes R1 to R5 in Doro Koen Park along which we walked and enjoyed viewing Kamakuras and mini-Kamakuras


First we walked on Route 1 towards the eastern side of Doro Koen Park. We saw many Kamakura snow huts in a row but the entrance of all of them faced east, and so we saw the back side of the huts as we walked along the route in the park. It was snowing heavily that time, and the snow covered trees and the park looked brilliant. On our way, we entered inside one of the huts and observed the details. We walked leisurely for about 20 minutes, and came to the end section of this route where a huge Kamakura hut was built and a mushroom animation character named Nameko was sculpted.
Kamakuras in Route 1 of the park

I am standing in front of a Kamakura

Hubby standing inside the Kamakura

Snow covered park, trees, and Kamakuras

End section of the route

A huge Kamakura and a sculpture of Nameko at the end section of the route


On reaching the end section of Route 1, we turned around and walked in the opposite direction on the same route. This route towards the west is Route 2 in the park. Again, we enjoyed viewing the Kamakura huts built in a row. But on this route, we saw the front side of the huts as we walked towards the west. It was snowing very heavily that time, and the snow covered trees and the park looked almost surreal in the snowstorm. We entered inside one of the Kamakura huts for a couple of minutes to avoid the strong icy wind. Once the weather improved a bit, we continued our walk along the route.
Snow covered park, trees, and Kamakuras in Route 2 of the park

I am standing in front of a Kamakura when it was snowing very heavily

I am standing inside the Kamakura to avoid strong icy wind

Kamakuras in Route 2 of the park


While walking on Route 2, we saw a wonderful snow structure to our right side towards the northern section of the park. This snow structure was built in an open space which is actually the car parking lot of a real estate company named Top Realtor. The huge sculpture was a roofless shrine with artistically sculpted surrounding snow walls. About 1108 snow-hollowed alcoves were carved throughout the outside as well as the inside of these walls of the shrine. The walls were rather thick and hundreds of mini-Kamakuras were built on the top of the walls. In the night time thousands of lit candles adorned the mini-Kamakuras and alcoves in the wall. Inside the shrine compound, a snow sculpted altar of water deity was located at the center of the complex. In the heavy snowfall, we had some difficulty in seeing the altar properly. This huge snow shrine structure was really beautiful.
The front wall of the roofless shrine structure

I am standing near the entrance of the shrine. Note that the alcoves are carved throughout the snow wall.

Inside the shrine compound

Hubby standing in front of the altar of water deity


Afterwards we continued our walk on Route 2 of the park. We saw many mini-Kamakuras built in the center of the path. We were feeling rather cold due to the heavy snowfall but we continued our walk and enjoyed viewing the Kamakuras built in a row. We loved viewing the picture perfect snow covered park, trees, and Kamakuras. After leisurely walking for about 30 minutes on Route 2, we reached the end section of this route. It was the same point in the park that was the beginning of Route 1. I again entered inside the same Kamakura hut that we had earlier entered at the beginning of our walk on Route 1. Somehow I loved this fantastic yet simple and elegant Kamakura hut.
Mini-Kamakuras in the center of the path

Hubby wondering about the heavy snowfall

Hubby feeling very cold

Snow covered park, trees, and Kamakuras

I am standing in front of the same Kamakura hut that I had earlier entered at the beginning of our walk on Route 1

I am standing at the entrance of the Kamakura

Water deity alter inside the Kamakura

I am standing next to the water deity inside the Kamakura


Next we walked on Route 3 towards the western side of the rectangular park. Here also we saw many Kamakura snow huts in a row. And because the entrance of all of them faced east, we saw the front side of the huts as we walked along the route. In addition, there were three rows of mini-Kamakuras to our right side towards the northern section of the park. All of a sudden it had stopped snowing and we could see the clear sky. The Kamakura huts looked so mystifying with the sunlight shining on them.
Kamakuras and mini-Kamakuras in Route 3 of the park

Kamakuras and mini-Kamakuras further along the way

I am standing next to the mini-Kamakuras

Many Kamakuras along the way


Near the end of Route 3, towards our right side we saw a huge park named Komyoji Koen Park. This park area was dedicated to snow art sculptures. A lot of snow had piled up in the park due to heavy snowing. But there were several wonderful art sculptures in the park that were very impressive. We entered Komyoji Koen Park through the southern end. To our left side towards the western end of this park, we saw an elegant Kamakura hut. Right in front of us towards the northern end of the park, we saw the largest art sculpture of a deity named Daikokuten. Daikokuten is one of the seven gods Shichifukujin of good fortune. We also saw a cute sculpture named Bary-san which is a famous mascot character of Imabari City in Ehime prefecture. We saw yet another cute sculpture of an animation character named Totoro. At the rightmost area towards the eastern end of this park, we saw another Kamakura hut. It had stopped snowing completely and we loved viewing all these fantastic art sculptures in such a beautiful and cold weather.
A Kamakura hut to our left side in Komyoji Koen Park

Hubby standing in front of the Kamakura

Snow sculpture of Daikokuten

I am standing in front of the sculpture of Daikokuten

Snow sculpture of Bary-san

Snow sculpture of Totoro

I am standing in front of a Kamakura hut located at the rightmost area of the park


Afterwards we exited Komyoji Koen Park and walked up to the western end of Doro Koen Park which was also the end section of Route 3. It took us about 45 minutes to view the Kamakuras along Route 3 and the snow sculptures in Komyoji Koen Park. At the end section of Route 3, we turned around and walked in the opposite direction on the same route. This route towards the east is Route 4 in the park. Again, we enjoyed viewing the Kamakura huts built in a row. It had started snowing again, so we hurried a bit and in just 10 minutes reached the end section of Route 4, which was also the starting point of Route 3.
We turned around and faced west to take this photo of Kamakuras while walking on Route 4 of the park


Next we walked on Route 5 towards the eastern side of Doro Koen Park. This Route is exactly the same as Route 1 but I just gave it a different name for simplicity. This time, it was not snowing as heavily as during the Route 1 course, so we wished to enjoy walking on the same route once more. On our way, we entered inside one of the huts and observed the details. I compiled a video of our walk on Route 5 (and Route 1) as well as the details of the outer and inner view of one of the Kamakura huts. It took us about 20 minutes to leisurely walk up to the end section of Route 5. This time we crossed a big road at a traffic light junction at the end section of the route, and took photos of the remarkably big Kamakura hut and the sculpture of animation character Nameko.
Hubby standing in front of a Kamakura hut in Route 5 of the park

Hubby sitting inside the Kamakura

A compiled video of our walk on Route 5 (and Route 1) as well as the details of the outer and inner view of a Kamakura hut

We turned around and faced west to take this photo of Kamakuras while standing at the end section of Route 5 of the park

Hubby standing next to the huge Kamakura hut at the end section of the route

Hubby standing in front of the sculpture of Nameko


Afterwards we left Doro Koen Park and went to the food stalls area located in front of Yokote Fureai Building. The stalls served various kinds of Japanese festival food. We bought two bento (lunch) boxes of Yokote Yakisoba and sausages. 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 stalls area.
Entrance of the food stalls area

Food stalls

Yokote Yakisoba

Hubby eating Yakisoba inside the car


Although it was an extremely cold day, we enjoyed the Kamakura Snow Festival very much and had a nice time. We left the festival site at 4 pm and returned back home in about two hours.

6 comments:

Saru Singhal said...

Quite a detailed and lovely account of the trip with beautiful pictures. It must be really cold out there.

mysay.in said...

beautiful captures !! loved your clicks and video too !! nice post !!

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your nice comment Saru. Yeah, it was really very cold and there was snowstorm on the day of the festival. But the visit to the festival site and seeing so many snow huts was enjoyable...

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks for your comment mysay.in.....Hope you enjoyed the virtual trip to the snow hut festival.

joy said...

Hi! I came across your blog while searching for a foreigner hair-friendly stylist here in Akita. I'm really in need of a trim and I wasn't really sure where to go to. Thanks for your posts! btw, was also there at the Kamakura Festival. Beaitiful ne. :)

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Joy for your comment. Hope you could get a haircut according to your satisfaction. And yeah, Kamakura snow hut festival is really wonderful :)