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Winter Events in Japan

When the cold of a Japanese winter starts to pierce right through you, there's no better way to take the chill out of those frigid days by experiencing local events and participating winter festivals. Here are some winter events in Japan that will help you warm up and enjoy a few local traditions.

Hatsumode (Beginning of January throughout Japan)

When New Year's rolls around, you can be sure that many of Japan's population heads out to pay their respects to a Shinto shrine and/or Buddhist temple. Hatsumode is the first visit of the year, and most folks go on the first, second or third day of the new year. If you haven't visited a shrine or temple during this time, you don't know the meaning of the word "crowded"! Enjoy a snack at the many food vendors on the street and purchase an amulet for good luck in the new year!

For more information on Japanese New Year, please visit here.


Setsubun

Setsubun (Beginning of February, various shrines and temples throughout Japan)

Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival), which ushers spring into Japan via a fun-filled custom held usually at the beginning of spring on the lunar calendar, includes "mame-maki" or bean tossing, to drive away evil spirits and purify the household. Widely known events include the Setsubun Mantoro Festival at the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara, the Naritasan Setsubun Festival at Naritasan Shinshoji Temple in Chiba, and the celebration at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo.

For more information Setsubun, please visit here.


Sapporo Snow Festival (Beginning of February, Hokkaido)

In the beginning of February, Hokkaido hosts the Sapporo Snow Festival, the northernmost island's most well-known winter event, and one of Japan's largest winter festivals. 2016 marks the 67th year that the city of Sapporo will dazzle and delight the over two million expected visitors from Japan and across the globe with snow and ice statues and sculptures.

Snow sculptures of all sizes fill Sapporo's "Odori Site" and "Susukino Site". Additionally, there are also concerts and lots of other events to enjoy.

All sites are open from morning until late. At night, the sculptures are illuminated, creating a beautiful sparkling snow and ice fantasyland. You can enjoy regional foods from all over Hokkaido, and there are staged performances and concerts, etc., often performed directly on the sculptures!

For more information about the Snow Festival itself, please visit here.


Kamakura

Iiyama Kamakura Festival (Mid February, Nagano)

Come and visit these wonderful "snow huts" in one of Japan's snowiest regions! Around 20 kamakura (snow huts) are available for visiting; some are big enough to hold ten adults, others just a cozy two or three. Lit from within lanterns, the nighttime scenery is both dramatic and romantic. You can eat grilled rice cakes, mushroom soup and play games in these huts.

For more information, please visit here.


Kamakura

Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro (Snow Lantern) Festival (February, Aomori)

Held in Hirosaki castle park since 1977, hundreds of snow lanterns and miniature igloos light up the night in a section of Japan where winters tend to be long. Visit during daylight hours to enjoy games and concerts. Nightime is the stuff of dreams, lit by warm lantern light. During the festival, there are many events and food stands that accentuate the area's culture.

For more information, please visit here.


Kamakura

Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri Festival (Mid February, Okayama)

The origins of this festival date back 500 years. A pair of lucky sticks are tossed out of a temple window by a priest. Approximately 9,000 nearly naked men fight to grab them and stick them upright in a small wooden square box called a masu that is filled with uncooked rice. The person who succeeds is blessed with good fortune for the year. Spectators can get up close and personal within the Saidaiji temple precincts, but if you'd prefer to watch from a safe distance, seats are available for a fee.

For more information, please visit here.


Spring Events in Japan

It may still be cold, but it's never too early to begin planning your trip to Japan for the early spring of 2016! Here are some local festivals and events that you won't want to miss.

Hina-Matsuri Festival (Doll Festival) (Early March, throughout Japan)


Hinamatsuri Also known as the Peach Blossom Festival, Hina-Matsuri is a celebration of the change of seasons from winter to spring, and emphasizes the wish for happy and healthy daughters. Hina dolls are the stars of this show, and you can see them in many diverse forms, surrounded by a variety of decorations all throughout the archipelago. Offerings of diamond shaped rice cakes and sweet and peach blossoms are made to accompany the festival's decoration. Notable festivities include:

Hina-no-Tsurushi Matsuri Festival in Inatori Onsen Hot Springs
(From Late January till March, Shizuoka)

Kyo Nagashi Bina at Shimogamo Jinja Shrine
(Beginning of March, Kyoto)

Hundreds of small handmade dolls made from cloth, each with a families' wish for the health and happiness of their daughters, are hung up in a beautiful display. This type of decoration is famous in the Izu area, but it originated here at the Inatori Onsen hot spring.

For more information on Shizuoka, visit here.

This is the ancient custom in Japan of floating paper hina dolls on small straw boats down a river, taking impurities, bad luck, and other troubles with them for the sake of children. Now it is celebrated in a special ceremony at the Shimogamo Jinja shrine as a man and woman dressed in traditional kimonos worn in the Heian period (9th - 12th century) float the dolls in a nearby stream and ceremonially make wishes for the health of all girls.

For more information, visit here.


Events Under the Cherry Blossoms

One of the defining delights of early springtime in Japan is the glory of the cherry trees in bloom. It seems there are infinite varieties of trees, each with their own special trunk and branch shape, blossom color and configuration. There are numerous ways to view these lovely flowers, with special events and activities for visitors to enjoy. Below are three magnificent cherry viewing locations: one in Tokyo and two in the Tohoku area which encompasses several prefectures in the north end of the main island of Honshu.

Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival (Iwate)


About a 3 1/2 hour train ride from Tokyo, Kitakami City annually hosts the Kitakami Tenshochi Cherry Blossom Festival, held at Kitakami City Park Tenshochi, from mid-April through early May. There are 10,000-plus trees and 100,000 azaleas which also come into bloom at approximately the same time as the cherry trees. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely ride in a horse-drawn carriage under the heavily laden boughs, or riding in a pleasure boat along the Kitakami River while gazing at the trees along the bank as the wind whips the brilliantly colored carp shaped streamers stretching across the river. There is a 1.2-mile promenade of trees over 80 years old which is illuminated at night, casting a fairytale reflection onto the tranquil surface of the river. In the park one may also enjoy exploring a folklore village with beautifully restored historical buildings and a varieties of cherry blossoms. A memorial museum dedicated to the famous lyricist Hachiro Sato is nearby as well. There are also booths selling food and souvenirs to help celebrate the season!

For more information, please visit here.

Chidorigafuchi-ryokudo Walkway (Tokyo)


When your travels take you to Tokyo during cherry blossom season, you will definitely want to head over to see one of the city's biggest springtime delights: the blossoms of Chidorigafuchi-ryokudo, a walkway along the moat of the Imperial Palace.

Chidorigafuchi lies on the northern side of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The name Chidorigafuchi is from the moat named after chidori (the plover), since its shape is said to be similar to the bird. While a magnificent viewing spot (a varieties of cherry trees create a stunning, tunnel-like effect as they gently curve over a 0.4-mile pedestrian walkway), you best be well prepared for a crowd-over one million people come to Chidorigafuchi annually.

Nighttime is also lovely, with the illuminated blossoms creating a dream-like landscape. Boats are available for rent, and who doesn't like to ponder the mysteries of life while trailing one's fingers in the limpid waters, dotted here and there with the fragile beauty of cherry blossoms resting on the water's surface?

For more information, please visit here.

Tendo Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival (Yamagata)


Hinamatsuri

Of the many springtime festival events in Japan, one of the most unusual by far is the "Ningen Shogi", or Human Shogi (shogi is a traditional board game, similar to chess, and is known as "Japanese chess" or the "Generals' Game.") held in Tendo City which is produces over 90% of the unique, 5-sided pieces used in shogi. Men and women dressed in centuries-old battle attire represent the "pieces," and they are positioned on a huge board. The two opponents, shogi professionals known as Kishi, vie with each other to capture the "king" by moving the pieces on the board. The Kishi, also known as the "generals" shout out their moves, and the pieces then move to the corresponding squares. About 95,000 spectators countrywide show up annually for the spectacle. While Ningen Shogi is the main attraction, the festival includes nighttime cherry blossom illumination, a portable shrine, traditional dances, and plenty of food stalls. Tendo City is about a 3-hour train ride from Tokyo Station.

For more information, please visit here.




Events in the US: Save the Date!

Japan Week Returns to New York!

Japan Week, New York City's premiere Japanese travel and tourism event organized by Japan National Tourism Organization, is back for its 5th year on March 10-12, 2016 at Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal.

Japan Week 2016 features food and confectionaries straight from Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku, over 30 diverse businesses from both New York City and Japan, and a conveyor belt sushi restaurant right in Grand Central Terminal. Free and open to the public, visitors can also find general information on Japan tourism, receive special travel package offers, and even win a trip to Japan.

From world-famous ski resorts and picturesque national parks to traditional cuisine, festivals, and seafood, Hokkaido and Northern Tohoku are home to hidden regional gems that even seasoned travelers miss. The brand-new Hokkaido Shinkansen, linking Hokkaido with the northernmost part of the mainland via high-speed rail for the first time ever, is scheduled to begin in March of 2016. Travelers will be able to take a bullet train directly from Tokyo to see all of the natural and man-made wonders of northern Japan.

More information on Japan Week's events, exhibitors, giveaways, and activities will be revealed in the coming weeks at www.japanweek.us.

Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show 2016

L.A.'s Favorite Travel Show is Now the Nation's Largest. Come visit the Japan booth (#TBA) and meet the Japan Specialists for updated travel information on Japan. (More information will follow soon!) JNTO will introduce a Taste of Japan on the travel destination stage. Please check the website for exact time and day! For more information, please Click here.

When: February 27-28, 2016

Place: Long Beach Convention Center at 300 East Ocean Boulevard Long Beach, CA 90802.

For more information on directions and parking Click here.



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