Many people come to Snow Country to spend time skiing and snowboarding, but off the slopes there is also plenty to do, with onsen, awesome food, as well as interesting history and culture all around the region. One of the highlights of winter are the amazing festivals that take place. If you are lucky enough to be in Yuzawa or any of the other local towns when there is a festival close by it is definitely worth making the effort to check it out. You will probably have an eye-opening experience!
The very best festivals are the ones that are on the same date each year. These are the ones with long histories, and likely the ones that are the most bizarre. Festivals on the weekends are more likely to be a recent invention, though will be fun none the less.
There are festivals all through winter here and they take many forms. Here are three (in no particular order) that we make a point of going to every year.
Matsunoyama Onsen Bridgegroom Throwing.
Mukonage, or bridgegroom throwing is held on January 15th each year in the small mountain village of Matsunoyama Onsen, home to one of the top three medicinal onsen in Japan. All for the sake of good luck, newly weds are hurled over a snowbank into the deep snow below. There is then a huge bonfire and everyone has their faces painted with the resulting ash. It is a really cool day out, though don’t try to keep your face clean! (Just down Route 117 that evening is the Fire Festival in Nozawa Onsen.)
Tokamachi Snow Festival
This is one of the biggest snow festivals in Japan and takes place over a weekend in February every year. The town is filled with amazing snow sculptures and there is a whole programme of different events. A local sports field is filled with food stalls, and the Saturday night sees the Snow Carnival on a giant snow sculpture stage often with big name Japanese acts performing. The Carnival finishes with an impressive firework display too. Tokamachi Snow Festival Official site.
Urasa Naked Man Festival
The 3rd of March each year is the Naked Man Festival at the Bishamondo Temple in Urasa. This is one of the top bizarre festivals in Japan, and sees men in loin cloths trying to push their way into a small opening in the inner sanctum of a small wooden temple. With giant candles everywhere and the backdrop of a beautiful, old temple it is really atmospheric and a great evening. There is plenty of tasty food available from the stalls lining the streets too.
Those are three of our favourite festivals. There are plenty more to choose from all over the Snow Country Region. Definitely have a look around if you know what dates you will be here and see if there will be something happening during your stay. You are guaranteed a great time and a real slice of Japanese mountain culture. Our team of ski and snowboard instructors make a point of checking out as many festivals as possible, so feel free to drop us a line if you need more information on any event in Yuzawa, Minami Uonuma, or the Snow Country Tourism Zone in general.