Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival
Snow huts and water gods.
- Dates: Feb. 15 to 16, 2019; Time: The kamakura (snow domes) are open from 6-9 p.m.
Kamakura are a traditional feature in parts of northern Japan, and this festival in Yokote city, Akita Prefecture, has a history dating back around 450 years. The snow domes were originally built to deify a Shinto water god, and pray for abundant water, bountiful harvests and the safety of the community. Even now, if you go inside one during the festival you will find an altar where you can make an offering to the deity.
When dusk falls, local children call out to invite visitors into the over 100 larger kamakura (approximately 3.5 meters tall) built at different sites all around the city. The main locations to visit include Yokote Central City Hall Festival Plaza, Minami Elementary School and Yokote Castle. The latter extends its opening hours until 10 p.m. so that visitors can also enjoy a stunning night view of the city from the observation deck.
As well as praying, if you accept the invitation inside you will be able to enjoy freshly grilled mochi (sticky rice cakes) and amazake (a sweet, low-to-non alcoholic drink made from fermented rice) – perfect for banishing the winter chill!
As well as the large kamakura, countless smaller snow domes are constructed along the bank of the Yokote River. These are illuminated from within by candles after dark, creating a second river of romantic flickering light next to the water.
In Yokote’s Kamakurakan Hall, a couple of kamakura are preserved year-round.
During the day there are other festive activities you can take part in, including having a go at building your own kamakura in Komyoji Park. There are also food stalls, a snow slide and snow sculptures to admire. And don’t miss the 300-year-old bonden ceremony at Asahiokayama Shrine (Map) on Feb. 17, when gigantic five-meter-tall, 30-kilogram highly decorated wooden poles are carried through the town to be offered to the gods.
In Yokote’s Kamakurakan Hall, a couple of kamakura are preserved year-round in a special low-temperature room just for visitors. So even if you can’t visit Yokote during the two days of the festival, it’s still possible to see one of these traditional snow domes for yourself.