The Tokamachi Snow Festival is held annually for three days in February in Niigata Prefecture. This year it will be held from 15 to 17 February 2019.
Located in the mountainous area of Niigata Prefecture, the city of Tokamachi registers one of the largest amounts of snow in Japan, with accumulations of 2 meters or more.
The difficulties caused by these large amounts of snow are partly the cause of the depopulation trend that this rural area has been suffering. To counteract the negative aspects of high precipitation, the Tokamachi festival celebrates abundant snow as a way of amusement for both residents and visitors alike.
If compared to the Sapporo festival, Tokamachi’s has a less commercial and more neighborhood feel.
A distinct charm lies in the rural setting of the city where many snow sculptures are created. Some of them are grouped in places called “hiroba”, while others are located individually, some in relatively isolated places.
The variety of sculptures includes pieces of art for competition, specially created to delight visitors simply, as well as creations made by children from local schools.
City residents and shop owners also contribute to the festive spirit by making snowmen and decorations around their homes, along streets and especially in front of downtown establishments. The amazake, a type of hot sweet rice wine with zero or almost zero alcohol content, is commonly offered to visitors at various festival venues.
There are about 20 festival venues (hiroba) of varying sizes, some of which are within the city center while others are a little further away. The largest of them is Community Hiroba, about a 10-minute walk from Tokamachi Station. The site highlights various snow sculptures, activities and attractions related to snow and a large selection of food stalls.
Less than a mile away is the Welcome Hiroba (Saturday and Sunday only), another of the largest sites with several snow sculptures, a snow slide and several shows.
A short walk from Welcome Hiroba is the Tokamachi Primary School, where the “Snow Carnival” is held on Saturday nights on a large stage made of snow. The show is one of the highlights of the festival, highlighting presentations by popular artists, light shows, music, dance and pyrotechnics. Admission is free and the show lasts about 1 hour and a half.
Many of the festival locations in the city center are accessible on foot. Alternatively there is a bus that runs around the city every 30 to 40 minutes on Saturday and Sunday.
To reach festival locations that are far from the city center, there are two additional bus lines that operate four times on a Saturday and once a Sunday, making stops of 15 to 30 minutes in some of the more remote locations.
The Tokamachi Snow Festival 2019 (十日町雪まつり Tokamachi Yuki Matsuri)
Days and times:
February 15 (Friday) from 6:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
February 16 (Saturday) from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
February 17 (Sunday) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Based on the Japan Guide website