Sapporo or Bust: Fun and Ice up North

Bailey Jo Josie (Miyazaki)

Even after more than a half century, the Sapporo Snow Festival is still going strong, and this year will be no exception.  

As millions (yes, millions) of people flock to its icy fortitude, it’s hard to ignore the Sapporo Snow Festival. Though it is well-established to Japanese people, the massive event can still take foreigners and JETs by surprise, myself included.

When I first think of Japan, I don’t necessarily think of enormous ice sculptures or even any snow at all. I think of hot and humid summers, of sunshine and cherry blossoms, though it doesn’t help that I live on the east coast of Kyushu island, where it took an entire class of students a while to remember the word “snow”. Obviously, I am wrong in this, but nonetheless, when I tell the folks back home about the snow festival, they can’t believe it because their mindset is that ice sculptures exist in places like Russia, Norway, Canada, etc. I think maybe it’s because of this naïve perspective that the festival in Sapporo is so intriguing.

From the beginning, the festival was a huge surprise. According to the snow festival’s website, the very first event was held at Odori Park in 1950, where the local high schoolers made only six sculptures. With the help of the snow sculptures — which included a bear and a person reclining like a model in a baroque painting — and other activities surrounding the festival, over 50,000 people attended the event. It took another couple of years for the rest of the country to catch on to the event, but by 1965, the snow festival had become so large that a second location was sought after.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the festival was reaching international fame, thanks to the 1972 Winter Olympics held in Sapporo. From here, more sites were added (currently, Odori, Tsudome, and Susukino) and the event has grown into what it is today — a monumental achievement in artistry and ice in the harsh Hokkaido winter.

I absolutely love all the sculptures and the detail that goes into them,” says Lina Orta, a JET alumnus, currently living and working in Sapporo. “For the past couple of years, the festival has added projection mapping to some of the bigger sculptures. These shows are a must-see.”

Though I haven’t had the pleasure of attending the festival, I would like to see it in the next few years. As I said, I live on Kyushu island, so plane tickets to Hokkaido can be very expensive for me, especially since I would have to pay for two tickets (can’t just go have fun in the snow without the husband, you know?) I can find cheap tickets through Google Flights that are below 30,000 yen per person, but that can be a lot if you don’t plan properly, and planning is needed when you consider that the Sapporo Snow Festival lasts 12 days with a ton of things to do.

Like what, you ask? Well, at the original Odori site, there will be a skating rink, a jumping platform for amateur and professional skiers and snowboarders, food vendors, and the chance to marvel at 118 different sculptures. Not only will there be Japanese sculpting teams, but teams from all over the world who participate in the festival; another great reason for JETs to make their way to the event.

“As busy as it gets,” Orta said, “I highly recommend going on the first couple of days while the sculptures are still in their prime.”

At the Tsudome site, there will be a snow slide, where people can ride inner tubes down a large, snowy hill; a spot for “snow rafting”, which is when you ride in a rubber raft that is pulled by a snowmobile; a sled run; a spot to play a hybrid game of soccer and golf — named “Mini Snow Foot Golf”; a snow labyrinth, and many more events. Tsudome is geared more towards families and people who want to do more than just look at the sculptures.

The Susukino site is, more or less, where you can see and touch the ice sculptures and be there as teams actually create them for a grand contest, which you can then vote on. Also, there are a few bars (one had an literal ice entrance last year) and outdoor eating tents where you can warm yourself up with fried food and hot (or cold) drinks before wandering around. This is the site that is geared more towards adults.

The Tsudome site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from February 1 to February 12. The Odori and Susukino sites can be visited at any time, but the official activities at these sites run from February 5 until February 12, which is when the entire festival ends. There’s no use dawdling though; everything will be destroyed the next morning.

Sources

https://tinyurl.com/yd5mygr
https://tinyurl.com/yb93ffnr

All photos courtesy of Lina Orta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naked and Unafraid: A Hadaka Matsuri Experience

Chris Golden (Miyazaki)

Ah, winter: the bane of seemingly every Japanese person’s existence. Granted, there are worse things out there: earthquakes, tsunamis, freakishly large-but-harmless spiders, and the equally freakish-but-not-so-harmless centipedes immediately come to mind.  But that’s just me. Having experienced winters in places like Baltimore, Seattle, Minnesota, and New York City, where temperatures can easily reach and stay at -22C or lower, seeing Miyazakians wearing huge, puffy jackets and layers upon layers of heat tech on bright, sunny, 15 degree days always makes me chuckle.  Most people in Miyazaki see the temperature gauge drop and immediately pull out the ol’ kotatsu for some cozy avoid-all-cold-experiences time.  But, there are a few brave souls who, every year in January, look outside, think of the cold air, the frigid ocean water, and think “Let’s get naked and jump in there!”  Enter, Japan’s Hadaka Matsuri.

The one I participated in was in Aoshima.  However, there are festivals like it all over Japan around this time of year.  They exist for a variety of different purposes: praying for good luck and blessings, mental and spiritual purification, testing your mettle.  There’s lots of different customs for the festival, depending on where it is. They run the gamut of everything from a moshpit-fight over a wooden figurine, a joust between men holding bamboo poles and a water hose, romps through the streets to the local shrine, a king-of-the-rope climb, etc.  But nearly all of those festivals involve cold water in some way. And all of them involve being nearly completely sans-apparel…

I’ve wanted to do this festival for a few years now. But, between that sans-apparel part and the chubby little man who lives in my stomach and very often screams “CHEESEBURGER!!!” at me, I’d been stricken with very acute but temporary case of selective memory around signup time.  But this year, my mettle won over my personal cookie monster, and I signed up with some friends to take the plunge.

We showed up on the appointed day, and got our special clothes.  That term is funny now when I think about it in context, because “clothes” actually meant a headband, a pendant necklace, a pair of tabi, and the underwear that was around before there was underwear, called fundoshi.  Anyway, we put on the ceremonial clothes and went out for an adventure in purification.

Aoshima’s festival involves a short jog to the beach in front of the local shrine, followed by some warm up exercises to center yourself.  Then, you take a double shot of insanity sauce, and wade into the brisk sea water, squat down until the water is up to your neck, and pray/make a wish/meditate/wait until you see the people ahead of you stand up and turn around before you do so you’re not the first (that part is about 2 minutes).  Then you get out of the water, go directly to the shrine to pray again, then run past another priest and his cauldron of onsen-temperature water, which he will “bless” you with using a special tree branch. To complete the ceremony, you will then jog to Aoshima’s main shopping street, do a pseudo ice-bucket challenge, tag-team some old fashioned mochi pounding, and then head back for a dip in the onsen and some food.

This was a great experience for me.  It was cold, then hot, then cold again, then warm and relaxing (onsen for the win).  Granted, I did forget to make a wish while I was in the water. But there I was, naked and unashamed, being a part of the local community, and experiencing another part of Japan’s rich history and age-old traditions.  If you’re like me and prefer winter over summer, I recommend you try this festival. If you’re not like me and hate the cold, I still recommend this festival. If not for the community, the adventure, and the overall wonderful experience, do it because participating in this festival is apparently worth 1000 normal, any-other-day, fully-clothed shrine visits.  An hour in a fundoshi in the middle of winter for a  sweet, community-building, friendship-deepening (or starting) adventure, and kami-sama’s blessing, and +1000 luck points… that’s a fair trade in my book.

Photos courtesy of http://japanshrinestemples.blogspot.jp  and Chris Golden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February Events Calendar

Baily Jo Josie (Miyazaki)

Block 1

69th Sapporo Snow Festival

1 February – 12 February

Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Website

Oyasusukyo Shigakko Festival

3 February

Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only

59th Asahikawa Winter Festival

7 February – 12 February

Asahikawa City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Website 

Namahage Sedo Festival

9 February – 11 February

Oga City, Akita Prefecture

Website  

Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival

9 February – 12 February

Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture

Website  

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival

9 February – 18 February

Otaru City, Hokkaido Prefecture

Website  

Inukko Matsuri

10 February – 11 February

Yuzawa City, Akita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Iwate Snow Festival

14 February – 18 February

Shizukuishi City, Iwate Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hachinohe Enburi

17 February – 20 February

Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture

Website 

Naked Festival

22 February – 23 February

Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture

Website in Japanese only   

Block 2 

Snowman Snow Statue Contest

3 February – 4 February

Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only   

Tochio Snow Festival

3 February – 4 February

Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Aizu Candle Festival

9 February – 10 February

Aizuwakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Snow and Fire Festival

10 February

Mishima City, Fukushima Prefecture

Website 

23rd Ooyama Shinshu Sakagura Matsuri

10 February

Tsuruoka City, Yamagata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Minamiuonuma Snow Festival

10 February – 11 February

Minamiuonuma City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Ojiya Balloon Festival

24 February – 25 February

Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Block 3 

Ashikaga Flower Park

22 October – 5 February

Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website 

Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival

27 January – 4 March

Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website 

Setsubun Costume Parade

3 February

Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Akagi Mountain Snow Festival

3 February

Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Choco-Run 2018

4 February

Midori Ward, Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

North Karuizawa Fire Festival

10 February

Naganohara Town, Gunma Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

36th Iiyama Snow Festival

10 February – 11 February

Iiyama City, Nagano Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Mito Plum Festival

17 February – 31 March

Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Chichibu Whiskey Matsuri

18 February

Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 4 

Sagamiko Illumination 2017-2018

11 November – 8 April

Sagami Lake Resort Pleasure Forest, Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Edo-Tokyo 100

28 November – 4 February

Shizuoka City Tokaido Hiroshige Museum of Art, Shizuoka City, Shizuoka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Lake Kawaguchiko’s Fireworks in Winter 2018

13 January – 18 February, Saturdays and Sundays

Kawaguchiko City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Yokohama Chinatown Lunar New Year

16 January – 2 February

Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Saiko Ice Festival

27 January – 12 February

Fujikawaguchiko Town, Yamanashi Prefecture

Website 

Setagaya Plum Festival

10 February – 4 March

Setagaya Ward, Tokyo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Chiba City International Fureai Festival

11 February

Chiba City, Chiba Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Tokyo Game Music Show

24 February

Ota Ward, Tokyo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 5

Geisha Experience

10 June – 24 March

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hida Takayama Winter Light Up

1 December – 28 February

Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Studio Ghibli Layout Design Exhibit

8 December – 11 March

Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Foodpia Kanazawa

27 January – 28 February

Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nagoya Ramen Matsuri

2 February – 12 February

Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture

Website 

Toyama Nabe Jiman Taikai

3 February – 4 February

Nakaniikawa District, Toyama Prefecture

Website 

Echizen Ono Winter Story Festival

3 February – 4 February

Ono City, Fukui Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nenohi Kurabiraki

11 February

Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture

Website  

Takasu Snow Festival

17 February – 18 February

Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 6 

Kobe Illumination

11 November – 12 February

Kobe Fruit Flower Park, Hyogo City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

The 67th Nagahama Bonsai Exhibition of Ume Trees with Blossoms

10 January – 11 March

Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Yukitouro

27 January- 3 February

Nantan City, Kyoto Prefecture

Website  

Kawanishi Machinaka Art Museum

18 February – 4 March

Kawanishi City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Shurakukai

27 February

Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 7 

Exhibition of Buildings of Ghibli 2017

2 December – 5 February

Abeno Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only  

Happy Dream Circus

22 December – 26 February

Naniwa Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

Japanese
English  

Yu Noen Farm Muratake Strawberry Picking

Mid-January – Mid-June

Izumi City, Osaka Prefecture

Website  

Owase Ya Ya Matsuri 2018

1 February – 5 February

Owase City, Mie Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Onda Festival

4 February

Asuka Niimasu Shrine, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture

Website 

Kumano Otani Festival

6 February

Shingu City, Wakayama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 8 

Marugame Castle Stone Wall Light Up in Winter

29 November – 4 February

Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Wan! Park Inu Exhibition

14 December – 6 February

Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Nanrakuen Plum Festival

27 January – 4 March

Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

19th Shikoku Sake Matsuri

24 February

Miyoshi City, Tokushima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 9 

Golden Island Zipangu Illumination

6 December – 8 January

Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Kanmuriyama General Park Plum Festival

10 February – 4 March

Hikari City, Yamaguchi Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Tottori City Student Exchange Painting Exhibition

13 January – 12 February

Tottori City, Tottori Prefecture

Website in Japanese Only 

Chikara-Mochi Eyo (Power Lifting)

4 February

Mimasaka City, Okayama Prefecture

Website 

Mihara Shinmeiichi

9 February – 11 February

Mihara City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Rabbit Carnival

18 February

Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hinase Oyster Festival

25 February

Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 10 

Ureshino Hot Spring Matsuri

27 January – 12 February

Ureshino City, Saga Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Agano-yaki Valentine Ohoco

1 February – 14 February

Tagawa City, Fukuoka Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Doll’s Festival

15 February – 31 March

Hita City, Oita Prefecture

Website 

Goto Camellia Festival

17 February – 4 March

Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Japanese Ume Apricot Festival

18 February – 18 March

Hita City, Oita Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Geniji Temple Reconnaissance Party

22 February

Bungotakada City, Oita Prefecture

Website 

Ainoura Azagochi

24 February – 26 February

Sasebo City, Nagasaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Block 11

Takachiho Kami Akari

1 November – 19 February

Takachiho Gorge, Nishiusuki District, Miyazaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Hitoyoshi Kuma Hinamatsuri

1 February – 21 March

Hitoyoshi City, Kumamoto Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

33th Shinwa no Takachiho Kenkoku Matsuri

11 February

Takachiho Town, Miyazaki Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Kagoshima Ramen Championship

16 February – 18 February

Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture

Website in Japanese only 

Naha Sakura Festival

21 February – 25 February

Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture

Website in Japanese only