Myriad Winter Festivals in Tohoku!

Hachinohe Enburi takes place February 17 to 20 in different corners of the city
Hachinohe Enburi takes place February 17 to 20 in different corners of the city

Hachinohe Enburi : Dance Parade for Good Harvest

Aomori’s Hachinohe shi holds an enburi festival every year from February 17 to 20 to celebrate the arrival of spring. The Hachinohe Enburi, with a history of 800 years, is said to have been invented by a farmer named Fujikuro. As the story goes, he promoted the substitution of singing and dancing for excessive drinking and quarrels during the New Year’s holiday.

An enburi parade, led by a dancer representing Fujikuro, features people playing cymbals, drums and flutes and performing dances representing scenes of farm work such as planting, sowing and praying for a good harvest. There is another type of enburi dance, too, which is more bold and lively: Dancers knock the ground with wooden sticks in an effort to wake the Rice God from hibernation.

Hachinohe: Hachinohe Station (JR Tôhoku Shinkansen)

Day: The highlight of the event is the procession of dancers who just paid respects at Chojasanshinra Shrine
Day: The highlight of the event is the procession of dancers who just paid respects at Chojasanshinra Shrine

Night: Oniwa Enburi takes place in a garden at night. Originally, it was performed only for powerful landlords and wealthy businesses owners.

Night: Oniwa Enburi takes place in a garden at night. Originally, it was performed only for powerful landlords and wealthy businesses owners.

Somin-sai : the Spirited Battle of Half-Naked Men

Participants climb the bonfire tower to bathe themselves in smoke to remove bad luck
Participants climb the bonfire tower to bathe themselves in smoke to remove bad luck

The Kokuseki Temple in Iwate’s Oshu city holds the Somin-sai every February. With a history of more than 1,200 years, the festival features enthusiastic men wearing only fundoshi (thin loincloths).
With torches in hand, the group starts from the temple at midnight and treks to the Ruritsubo River for cleansing, shouting “Jasso! Joyasa!” along the way. A bonfire shaped like a pound key is set up in front of the main hall of the temple. Participants can climb the 150-centimetre tall bonfire tower and bathe in the fire’s smoke, which some believe removes bad luck. Enduring harsh winds and ice-cold temperature, the men perform several other rituals to pray for health and a bountiful harvest. The long event ends with a competition for a “somin bag” (hemp sack), which is full of amulets and thought to be sacred. The person who seizes the bag is believed to receive good luck and happiness, and the competition lasts until early in the morning!

Kokuseki-ji Temple: 20 min from Mizusawaesashi Station (JR Tôhoku Shinkansen) by car

Kishu Kasedori : Not Your Ordinary Bird

Kasedori dance around a bonfire while singing
Kasedori dance around a bonfire while singing

On February 11, the annual Kishu Kasedori is celebrated in Kaminoyama (Yamagata ken). This unique and mysterious New Year’s ritual features people strolling through the streets dressed in kendai (plaited clothes made from rice straw, worn over the head and body like a giant conical hat). The costumes are shaped like cones so they grab the curious attention of crowds immediately. Wrapped in the enthusiastic atmosphere of this water-splashing event, the Kishu Kasedori Festival captivates everyone in this freezing area. It is said that Kasedori is the incarnation of the deity of abundant harvest and household safety. This festival has its roots in the beginning of the Edo period when local residents invited the deity down from the mountains to offer prayers for the new year.

Participants acting as Kasedori dance in circles and raise their voices singing “ga-ga!” as they visit local shops and pray for prosperous business and fire protection. While doing so, they are splashed with water from the audience. In addition, locals tie towels around the conical hats and pray for one year of family peace and thriving business.

People think of Kasedori as a bringer of good fortune. In fact, some say that women’s hair will become beautifully black after tying it with a rice straw fallen from the costume of the deity!

Kishu Kasedori is a traditional festival in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture
Kishu Kasedori is a traditional festival in Kaminoyama, Yamagata Prefecture
Don’t miss the chance to take a photo of yourself with the Kasedori!
Don’t miss the chance to take a photo of yourself with the Kasedori!
Splash the Kasedori with water and wish for family peace and prosperous business!
Splash the Kasedori with water and wish for family peace and prosperous business!

Kaminoyama: Kaminoyama Onsen Station (JR Tohoku Shinkansen)

Aizu Erousoku (Painted Candle Festival)

Painting candles, a traditional craft in Fukushima’s Aizu area, boasts a history of over 500 years. This festival is held in early February each year in Aizuwakamatsu shi’s Tsuruga Castle and Oyakuen Garden. A total of 10,000 painted candles decorate the venue and different corners of the city. Seeing them burning in the wind is like watching fireflies dance flittingly through the winter evening.
Tsuruga Castle and painted candles work in harmony
Tsuruga Castle and painted candles work in harmony

Aizuwakamatsu: 65 min from Kôriyama Station (JR Touhoku Shinkansen)to Aizawakamatsu Station by Train (JR Ban-etsu- West Line)

Sendai Pageant of Starlight

Sendai’s winter illumination always attracts throngs of tourists
Sendai’s winter illumination always attracts throngs of tourists
Every December, the beech trees on both sides of Aoba Street in Sendai are decorated with more than 100,000 LED lights, giving the city a soft, warm glow at night. Sendai’s most popular winter festival, it is an absolute treat for the eyes!

Sendai: Sendai Station ( JR Tôhoku Shinkansen)

Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro Festival (Snow Lantern Festival)

The Snow Lantern Festival, held in early February at Hirosaki Castle, is one of the five biggest snow festivals in Tohoku, featuring 300 snow lanterns handcrafted by locals, large snow structures based on historical architecture and gigantic slides. Dim candlelight glowing in miniature igloos adds a tinge of winter romance to the peaceful atmosphere.
Hirosaki Castle is especially atmospheric during the Snow Lantern Festival
Hirosaki Castle is especially atmospheric during the Snow Lantern Festival

Hirosaki: 30 min from Shin-Aomori Station (JR Ôu Line) to JR Hirosaki Station by Tsugara Limited Express

Skiing on the slopes of Mt. Fuji

The ultimate Japanese winter experience

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It’s hard to imagine a better way to experience the Japanese winter than to slide down the slopes of Japan’s most iconic and sacred mountain, Mt. Fuji. Located at an altitude of over 1,300 m on its southern slope, Snowtown Yeti is a ski and snowboarding park that offers visitors four different runs, three lifts and incredible views of the snow-capped mountain.

The park is connected to Shinjuku station’s west exit by the direct Linerbus which takes two hours and half to reach the park. There are also buses from the nearby Mishima, Gotemba and Fuji Stations. Upon arrival, visitors can then rent the necessary equipment and enjoy the thrill of skiing and snowboarding on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. Snowtown Yeti features courses for all levels with an average inclination of 11 degrees and up to 25 degrees for a more challenging experience.

The winter season starts early at Snowtown Yeti, as the park opens in mid October, when man-made snow covers the slopes, and the park even has all-night skiing days where the park remains open until early morning.

Three of our WAttention Ninja got the opportunity to experience a full day of skiing and snowboarding at Snowtown Yeti and this is what they had to say about the trip.

Lucas Vandenbroucke

The trip started off really well, since the bus was confortable and had Wi-Fi connection. When we arrived to Snowtown Yeti, we rented our equipment, which was of a very good quality, and completely water proof. The ski runs where adapted to different levels of skill. The weather that day was great for skiing and snowboarding and we enjoyed a fun day of going down the slopes. We also had time to rest at the restaurant and purchase gear at the shop where you can buy all you need to enjoy a full day out in the snow. I’m glad to have experienced skiing in such a great place, and in the company of my friends.
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I had an amazing day at Snowtown Yeti. The gear we got was comfortable and top notch. There were some restaurants too, where they serve appetizing hot meals. There was also a place where we could buy our own ski equipment like gloves or googles. We had fun enjoying the slopes, which had different levels, for both beginners and advanced skiers. Overall, we had an amazing time and I’m looking forward to come back soon.

Simon Brodard

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Ricard Roddy

The first thing I realized when we arrived is that we were already at the top of the slope, so we didn’t have to wait to get on the ski lift, we were able to start having fun right away. I really liked that you can buy all the equipment you need at the park, since I had forgotten my gloves. That really saved my day! You can find everything you need on site, restaurant, shop, rental gear and changing rooms with lockers. I spent such a good time with my friends, that when we left we wanted to come back again the next day! I would definitely like to recommend this place to anyone who wants to have an amazing day.
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Sample schedule using the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus from Shinjuku Station
schedule

Snowtown Yeti

Open: Weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., weekends and public holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., all-night skiing 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next morning (available on certain days).
Open mid-october to early April of every year.
Address: 2428 Aza Fujiwara, Suyama, Susono-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture 410-1231
Phone: 055-998-0636
Website: http://www.yeti-resort.com/en/
Access: Take the Fujikyu Direct Linerbus near Shinjuku west exit, in front of Kogakuin University.
Price: Yeti Liner Package (Yeti direct liner bus + rental ski + 1 day ticket) Adult 9,000-9,500 JPY, Child (6 to 11) 7,000-7,500 JPY. Please check Snowtown Yeti’s website for all-night skiing rates and other pricing information.

Enjoy the Mt. Fuji Area to the fullest with this useful tools

・Mt. Fuji Pass
This is a tourist pass especially made for foreigners visiting Japan. Save on sightseeing and transportation and get preferential access to different tourists facilities, including Fuji Q Highland.
Find out more here: http://bus-en.fujikyu.co.jp/mtpass/
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・Fuji-Q Resorts App
Get insider tips to make the most out of your visit to the Mt. Fuji area
The app is available in Japanese, Chinese, English and Thai
Find out more here: http://app.fujiq-resorts.com/fuji-qresorts/lp/
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How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan

The Japanese way of celebrating New Year’s is very different from Western countries. New Year’s is possibly the most important day of the year and is usually celebrated with family or good friends. We’ll take you through a typical day leading up to the first day of the new year.

Write Nengajo

During the old days people would visit everyone they were grateful to for the past year on the first day of the new year. Nowadays everyone lives quite spread out so postcards became the new way to express gratitude. Japan takes nengajo very serious and if you send your cards before the deadline the trusty Japanese post office will make 100% sure your card arrives on New Year’s day.
Sometime during December the post boxes will have a separate nengajo slot. Read about how to write nengajo.

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2017 is the year of the Rooster

Eat Soba

These noodles are eaten on the last day of the year and are called toshikoshi soba. Their connection with New Year’s Day has different origins. Examples are the belief that because soba is cut easily you can easily let go of your hardships, long noodles help you “cross over” to the new year, soba “absorbs” the evil in your body and many more… Every region has a different reason.
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Prepare Osechi

Cooking on the first 3 days of the new year is considered bad luck, so families prepare a feast on or before New Year’s Eve. Every ingredient has a special meaning and can be difficult to prepare for a whole family, so nowadays most people order osechi boxes.
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Get your ornaments ready

After cleaning your house to welcome the New Year’s gods it’s time to start decorating. These decorations can also be set up in advance (but not too far) to ensure a “clean break” between the old and the new year.

First you’ll put up a Kadomatsu, an ornament with three bamboo shoots stuck in pine branches. The shoots represent heaven, earth and humanity. The gods live in the kadomatsu until January 7th. They are taken to a shrine and burned to send the spirits back to their realm.
kadomatsu

Then it’s time to get your Kagami Mochi and put it next to your Shinto altar. These are two stacked round rice cakes topped with a mikan (mandaring orange). Traditionally they used a citrus fruit called “daidai”. This fruit is usually not eaten because of its bitterness and has the ability to stay on its branch for several years if it’s not picked. Thus the fruit became connected with the wish for “prosperity for many generations”. The rice cakes represent the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu.

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Watch a singing competition on TV

This might seem strange, but over the years this has become a popular New Year’s tradition. NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, or Year-end Song Festival, is a singing competition between a red and white team. These teams consist of popular idols and celebrities and is considered an honor to participate in. It is the top-ranked music event of the year.

Visit a Buddhist temple

The singing competition ends just before midnight so you have enough time to go to your nearest Buddhist temple. The monks sound the bell 108 times, symbolizing all the human desires. The sound of the bell is meant to cleanse your spirit.
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First shrine visit and the first sunrise

The first shrine visit of the year is called hatsumode and many people choose to do it right after midnight. Shrines have prepared enough sweet sake to toast the new year and food stalls are set up until the early morning. The first sunrise is called hatsuhinodeand many people stay up late or wake up early to experience this beautiful sight.

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New Year’s Day celebrations in Japan

After the New Year’s Eve celebrations, it’s the real deal. Japanese people go back to their family home during the holidays and spend time together eating and talking.

Enjoying company and food

You could say that New Year’s in Japan is like Christmas in Western countries. Most important is to get together with your family and enjoy a nice meal together.

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After returning from your first shrine visit people usually read their nengajo, New Year’s cards. If you are with family you get together to share your Osechi, New Year’s lunch box. If you are with friends or on your own you usually share a meal as well. Even if you don’t have a fancy osechi box, almost everyone eats ozoni. This is a soup with mochi and the preparation varies from every region and every family. Try this recipe to make your own ozoni.

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During the first seven days of the new year, there is a “cooking ban”. Traditionally this is to appease the fire god Kohji. This god would get upset if you made fire early in the year and cause natural disasters. Over time this became more of a “rest period” for housewives who worked so hard in preparation for the new year.

Gifts

Besides beautiful nengajo, delicious food and family reunions there are also gifts to be given. If you’re 22 years or younger you’re in luck, you get an otoshidama! This is money in a fancy envelope given by your parents and grandparents. The amount depends on the generosity of your family…and probably also if you’ve been a good kid the past year.

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For adults who no longer receive otoshidama there are fukubukuro. These lucky bags contain secret items worth at least twice the price of what you paid. Every shop makes a limited amount of fukubukuro so people often line up well in advance to get a deal at their favorite shop. If you’re lucky bag hunting, here’s a handy guide. During the fukubukuro period (1st – 2nd of January) you can also find winter sales in many shops. So try your New Year’s luck!