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Selection of 5 Japanese winter festivals that are a must [PR]

While a great many festivals take place in Japan throughout the year, those held in winter mark the end of the year and offer prayers for the beginning of the new year, a season in which fantastic festivals held on cold nights can be seen. Here, we will introduce five such festivals.

CHICHIBU Night Festival (Saitama Prefecture)

One of the most well-known festivals in Japan, the "CHICHIBU Night Festival" is a NESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (designated in 2016). Held from December 1 to 6 every year, particular large numbers of tourists visit on the eve of the festival on December 2 and the main event on December 3, a time when the town of Chichibu is bustling with crowds of visitors.
The origin of the CHICHIBU Night Festival goes back some 300 years. In the Edo Period, Chichibu was an important point on the highway between major cities. Chichibu was also known as a center of silkworm raising and produced a famous fabric called "Chichibu silk". Held near the end of the year, the CHICHIBU Night Festival was an event to celebrate the end of year for the people of Chichibu engaged in agricultural and silkworm raising work.
The festival is famous for its gorgeous massive floats that are paraded through the town of Chichibu during the festive period. Assembled without using a single nail, these floats represent the jewel of the craftmanship of the of the artisans who make them. In addition, the gold-colored decorations and colorful engravings are works of art worthy of the designation of a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The nights are lit up by Japanese lanterns throughout the town, a fantastic sight that visitors shouldn't miss.

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The festival is known not only for the appeal of the floats. Firstly, December 2 is the eve of the main festival the following day. Floats drawn through the streets from the morning barely miss each other as they pass. Accompanied by traditional Japanese Hayashi music and dancing performed on the floats, the men pulling the floats turn the poles of the floats with all their might to change the forward direction of movement at corners using the principle of leverage, a thrilling sight to see.
The most exciting moments are when the floats are tilted, seeming to be bowing forward.
On December 3, the following day, the floats are paraded from 9 o'clock in the morning. While the town of Chichibu is bustling with activity during the day, just as they performed at the last night, the excitement builds even more than the previous day at around 8 o'clock in the evening. After the procession through the town, the floats ascend the steep "Dangozaka" slope. The seemingly impossible task of pulling the floats up the 30-meter slope with a gradient of 25 degrees begins. This marks the approach to the climax of the CHICHIBU Night Festival and should not be missed. Since access to the Dangozaka slope is possibly restricted due to the crowds, visitors not wishing to miss the event are recommended to reserve paid spectator seats.
After reaching the top of the Dangozaka slope, the floats are lined up for the firework display. With the sky ablaze with colorful and the Hayashi music and calls of the float pullers reaching fever pitch, the climax of the CHICHIBU Night Festival is a truly exciting experience.
The city of Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, home of the festival, also enjoys excellent access. The journey on the Chichibu Limited Express on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line from the terminal station of Ikebukuro takes about 1 hour 20 minutes. We hope you will take the time to visit the festival town of "Chichibu" this winter.

■Access
3-minute walk from Chichibu station on the Chichibu Railway Line
10-minute walk from Seibu-Chichibu station on the Seibu-Chichibu line
*Access to Chichibu Shrine, the central point of the festival

Special campaign for the 2019 CHICHIBU Night Festival underway where applicants can win prizes such as the right to pull the massive floats decorated with gorgeous ornamentation or tickets for paid spectator seats! Why not register for d POINT CLUB membership to get even more enjoyment from the CHICHIBU Night Festival?

Register as a d POINT CLUB to win great presents!
・Accommodation at a luxury hotel (Miyamotoke)
・Accommodation at a luxury hotel (Wadoh)
・Float pulling experience
・Paid spectator seats
・Kimono wearing experience with commemorative photographs
・Game meat and local sake set
・Tickets for admission to the Festival Museum
・Tickets for admission to the Matsuri-no-yu Spa

[Click here for campaign details]
Campaign duration: Until January 31, 2020

Sapporo Snow Festival (Hokkaido)

One of the world's best known snow festivals, the Sapporo Snow Festival takes place in Hokkaido, the northernmost area of Japan. Massive snow sculptures are created in Odori Park in central Sapporo to delight visitors. Held in early February and visited by as many as 2 million people during the festival, the event is one of the three largest snow festivals in the world.

The festival began modeled on a snow festival held by local elementary schools in 1950. Although at the time, the festival featured snow sculptures created by local junior-high and high-school students, the local citizenry gradually became involved, expanding the event to its present-day scale. In particular, the Sapporo Olympics in 1972 was instrumental in attracting attention to the festival from around the world.

While the Sapporo Snow Festival features countless attractions, the most well-known are the massive snow sculptures in Odori Park. Created by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and the local citizenry working in collaboration, the stunning size of these sculptures is a talking point every year.

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Projection mapping performed at night is recommended. Each of the snow sculptures is illuminated and accompanied by sound effects for the enjoyment of visitors. The sculptures are beautifully highlighted by illumination from sunset at around 5 o'clock in the evening to 10 o'clock at night.

While the snow sculptures in Odori Park are magnificent, the ice sculptures at the "Susukino Site", another festival venue, are also recommended. These elaborately crafted ice sculptures are illuminated by the downtown neons and lights, creating a fantastic atmosphere.

Visitors can also enjoy activities such as ice skating at the ice rink set up at the venue, or sample delicious Hokkaido winter cuisine at the various roadside stores and restaurants. An endless variety of cuisine is available such as scallop, crab and Genghis Khan-style grilled mutton. We hope you will enjoy the delights of Hokkaido in the winter.

■Access
1-minute walk from Odori station on the Sapporo Municipal Subway
*Access to Odori Park, the central point of the festival

YOKOTE Snow Festival (Akita Prefecture)

The "YOKOTE Snow Festival" takes place in Akita Prefecture in the Tohoku region in mid-February every year. The festival features a combination of snow igloos, or "Kamakura", that create a fantastic scene in the midst of the snow, and "Bonden" sacred wands with bearers furiously showing off their skills to each other, making the event a contrast of stillness and motion.
Characterized by their unique cave-like appearance, kamakura igloos represent a traditional event that has continued for some 450 years. Originally an event held in January in worship of shrine divinities, nowadays, children have fun in the igloos drinking non-alcoholic sweet sake and eating rice cake. Visitors can enjoy the impressive sight of rows of countless beautiful kamakura igloos in the midst of the snowy scenery at the YOKOTE Snow Festival. Visitors should also check out the mini-kamakura igloos with their flickering candle lights at night along the banks of the Yokotegawa river that runs through the city of Yokote.

Adorned with characteristic decorations set in place at the top of 5-meter high logs, "Bonden" sacred wands are said to have their origin in flags that were used when putting out fires in the Edo period.
These large "Bonden" are carried to a shrine some 3 kilometers from the center of the city of Yokote where visitors can enjoy the impressive sight of towns valiantly competing with each other to make offerings to the divinity enshrined there.

The "YOKOTE Snow Festival" gives visitors the chance to enjoy two events - Kamakura and Bonden. We hope you will come and enjoy this winter festival in Tohoku.

■Access
10-minute walk from Yokote station on the JR Ou Main Line
*Access to the Yokote city office at the center point of the festival

Tennen-Ji Temple Shujo Onie Fire Festival (Oita Prefecture)

A bizarre event held at Tennen-Ji Temple in the city of Bungotakada in Oita Prefecture every year on January 7 on the old calendar, the Tennen-Ji Temple Shujo Onie Fire Festival is an event of high cultural value that is also designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. The characters appearing in the festival are "Oni", or demons. Carrying torches, the demons dance violently in the temple grounds, an impressive sight to see.
While usually they are to be got rid of, these demons are summoned at the Shujo Onie Fire Festival. Originally linked to Buddhist culture handed down in the region, this festival has a history that goes back more than 1,200 years. According to legend, these demons were actually incarnations of Buddha. The purpose of this festival is to summon the demons once a year to prevent illness and disasters and reap abundant harvests. On the day of the Shujo Onie Fire Festival, priests chant sutras from 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the demons make an appearance at about 10 o'clock as the night wears on. The unique ritual for summoning the demons involves activities such as dancing and occasional loud singing by the priests and townspeople to create a mysterious atmosphere. This is followed by the appearance of red and black demons. After first performing a number of rituals, the demons then pick up torches and, just as they have finished dancing, they run amok in the grounds of the temple, striking the townspeople and others with their torches, bringing the festivities in the temple grounds to a climax. The special real feeling of presence and excitement at this stage can only be experienced at this festival. Since sparks fly throughout the festival, visitors need to be careful with their clothing.

■Access
25 minutes by taxi from Usa station on the JR Nippo Main Line

Toka Ebisu Festival (Osaka)

The Toka Ebisu Festival takes place from January 9 to 11 every year at the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Naniwa-ku, Osaka. The event is called the "Toka Ebisu Festival" because January 10 is one of the festival days, "Toka" meaning the tenth of the month in Japanese.
Held at the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine where "Ebisu", the god of business prosperity, is enshrined, the festival became popular in "Osaka", a city known for its thriving commerce, from around the mid-1600's. Today too, tradespeople in Osaka still believe this to be an important festival. One of the attractions of the Toka Ebisu Festival is the branches of bamboo grass decorated with lucky talisman said to bring good fortune. Crowds of people rush into the shrine grounds hoping to get a bamboo grass branch from one of the festival women, who are selected many months before the event. Why not try decorating a bamboo grass branch with lots of talismans to be granted good fortune?

The second attraction is the long line of stalls. Here, visitors will find all kinds of delicious items that may come as a surprise in Osaka. As well as typical Osaka delicacies such as "octopus dumplings" and "deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables", needless to say, stalls offer a wide variety of other items common in Osaka such as "hashimaki", a kind of savory pancake on a stick, and rice crackers topped with a fried egg. Some people say that there are more than 5,000 stalls extending into the distance as far as the eye can see. It might be fun to find your favorite stalls.
The third attraction is the parade from the Minami shopping area to the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine. Taking place on January 10, this event features personages such as celebrities and Kabuki actors riding on palanquins that are carried from the Minami shopping area in central Osaka to the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine grounds. This is a vibrant popular event bustling with sightseers where celebrities can be seen up close.
Toka Ebisu Festival, an event brimming with vitality. We hope you will visit at the beginning of the year to win good fortune.

■Access
1-minute walk from Imamiya Ebisu station on the Nankai Koya Line
5-minute walk from Daikokucho station on the Osaka Metro Midosuji Line
5-minute walk from Ebisucho station on the Osaka Metro Sakaisuji Line

What do you think of the selection of 5 festivals? Japan has a lot of wonderful colorful winter festivals as well as those detailed here. We hope you will check details and see these festivals for yourself.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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