JAPAN: Akita (Yokote Kamakura Matsuri)

Each year from February 15th -16th, the Doro Koen Park located in front of the City Hall in Yokote City is host to a 400 year old festival that is really worth seeing. Known as the Yokote Kamakura Festival, the event features countless igloo-like snow houses called kamakura.

Although the park is the primary location for the festival, a fantastic world also emerges each evening extending east of Yokote Station down to Yokote Castle. There are kamakura built beside houses throughout the neighborhood and hundreds of small kamakura, the size of lanterns can be seen along the Yokote River. Within the larger kamakura there is a snow altar dedicated to the water deity to whom people pray to for ample water. There is also a charcoal grill to provide warmth and on which rice cakes are grilled. Children invite visitors into their kamakura and offer them warm rice cakes and warm amazake (sweet rice wine) in return for an offering to the deity.

Yokote Castle which is normally closed to visitors from December – March is opened during the festival from 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM, giving visitors an opportunity to view the city below from its observation deck.

As with any festival in Japan there are food stalls set up throughout, offering all kinds of local festival delicacies.

If you do not get an opportunity to see the snow houses during the festival, the Kamakurakan Hall displays a few kamakura year round in a -10˚C room. If you are fortunate enough to visit Akita during the Yokote Kamakura Matsuri, take advantage of the children’s hospitality in the kamakura and enjoy the breathtaking nighttime views of Yokote City illuminated with hundreds of lights emitted from the snow houses.

To reach Yokote City, take the Akita Shinkansen from Tokyo to Omagari Station (3.5 hours). From there local trains run hourly to Yokote Station and the journey is a mere 20 minutes to your final destination.

 

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