By Amanda Lynn Marcroft
With February upon us, love is in the air.
Lots and lots of snow.
Fortunately humanity’s answer to the snowy months across the globe is to party, and this is no less true in Japan. Depending on your intensity about festivals/Japan/snow, you’re likely already acquainted with Sapporo’s world-renowned Yuki Matsuri and know that it’s been booked up for months now. 残念.
BUT NEVER FEAR! Lucky ducks that we are, we too live in a frozen wasteland and can enjoy it right here at home! Wheeee! Here in the Frostbite Forest there are more snow festivals than you can shake a stick at, and, conveniently, Hirosaki’s Snow Lantern Festival happens to take place on exactly the same weekend as Sapporo Yuki Matsuri! In fact, it happens that way every year. What a marvellous coincidence!
While Hirosaki in general is filled with snow, from February 7th to 11th much of it will be arranged into entertaining, enchanting, and enlightening sculptures designed to lure you into enjoying the fluffy white stuff again (Give in, there’s no escape). Everything centers around Hirosaki castle, and because this is a snow *lantern* festival, it’s generally recommended to go at night when the lanterns really shine.
In addition to the sculptures, lights, and requisite festival food, there is also a MASSIVE snow slide that you can slide down for free while enjoying the illuminations projected on walls of ice. And of course music and games. Something for everyone, really.
So, if you haven’t booked your ticket to Sapporo yet, definitely check out Hirosaki instead. And, as is always my recommendation, visit Azuki-an for the best tasting daifuku you will ever have. Right now they have a limited-time chocolate truffle mochi for Valentine’s that will change your life.
- Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival runs February 7th to 11th. Check it out here
- There are SO MANY winter festivals in Aomori. If you’re ever in need just check out the GMA event page, search the interwebs, or ask people on the street. Seriously. So many.
Remember that it is winter in Aomori and many of the roads are closed. Be prepared and stick to toll roads when in doubt.
Take the Ou Main Line from Aomori City and get off at Hirosaki Station—about 45 minutes.
- If you’re into snow sports check out nearby Ajigasawa. One of the best mountains in the prefecture for skiing/snowboarding this can also be a great way to spend your day until the festival at night.
- Appleland Onsen is a short drive away and offers the fun chance to swim around in a pool of the area’s specialty. (And if you get hungry in the bath….).
Coming from a warm climate, I am naturally suspicious of snow. Deeply, deeply suspicious. Doubly so while driving. And yet, somehow, the realities of traveling in snow take me by surprise every year. The other day a 2 hour drive took me 5 hours. Even walking to my bus stop can go from 7 minutes to 20. Always plan extra time. Sometimes you run into a Road Closed sign 10k past the last turnoff; sometimes you skid and your options are snowbank or lake; sometimes pedal-to-the-metal is 30kph. Be prepared. And don’t think you’re safe taking the train; they can be just at stymied as the rest of us. In the snow, we are all equal and we are all screwed. Plan ahead.