Feb 26

2013 Tokamachi Snow Festival

Posted by Benjamin Martin, a 5th year JET on Kume Island in Okinawa, publisher of the blog MoreThingsJapanese.com and author of the YA fantasy series Samurai Awakening (Tuttle).

IMG_6916With its tall mountains and island geography, Japan has areas with heavy rain throughout the year and snowfall in the winter.  Over the years, in many areas the snow has been changed from a hardship to benefit.  The first place in Japan to create a snow festival is Tokamachi in Niigata prefecture.

Tokamachi (十日町市) City is located in eastern Niigata prefecture.  The names of that area are interesting in that they refer to the days it used to take to travel to them by foot.  When we went there from the Echigo-Yuzawa station we passed several towns with these similar names such as Muikamachi (six-day town).  The area has many small towns and is primarily full of rice farms.  Niigata is famous for the delicious rice that the large amounts of snowfall help create.

This year’s snow festival took place between February 15 and 17th with the main stage events taking place on the 16th at the local Tokamachi Elementary School sports ground.  As with all the nearby farms, the fields were topped with over two and a half meters of snow.  While the snow is difficult to live with, the locals have found some ingenious ways to not only make it work for them, but to enjoy it as well.

IMG_6899One of the major attractions of the Tokamachi snow festival are the snow sculptures.  From small igloos to towering designs the sculptures turn all the excess snow into art.  Local artists and teams transform piles of snow into everything from popular manga characters to full size replicas of buildings and ships.  These  are so popular that they have spread to other snow festivals such as the more famous one in Hokkaido.

Every year the main stage for the event is constructed of snow.  This year the design was a towering ship and compass.  The portals were lighted and throughout the main event fireworks were lighted around it.  It was a surprisingly long and steep walk from the lower town to the event but as guests of the local town government we had great tickets that put me 5 people back from the stage and only three from the walkway.

Originally, the focus of the festival was to highlight the beautiful kimonos created in Niigata.  The main event after the opening speeches is still a fashion show of kimonos which are especially striking against the pure white of the snowy stage. Following the show were performances by artists Junichi Inagaki, Becky, and LG Monkees.  As well as appearances by the local school children singing along with Tetsu and Tomo who helped to MC.

IMG_6998Despite the cold weather and snow falling throughout much of the show, huge numbers of people came out to see the show and it was well worth a few cold toes.  The entire event was well-organized with crowd control built into the area with snow dividers.  While we weren’t allowed to take photos or video of the performers, we were allowed to take pictures of the stage and fashion show.  We didn’t have time to see every sculpture but I did catch a few on our way out.  I hope you enjoy a little look at a wonderful town and event.  I’ll share more on the trip soon.

For more photos from the event visit MoreThingsJapanese.com

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