Combine a ski trip to Northern Japan this year with one of the winter festivals lighting up Hokkaido and Northern Honshu.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Now the best known winter festival in Japan, Sapporo Snow Festival attracts millions of visitors from across Japan and all corners of the world. These visitors come to see hundreds of sculptures made out of snow and ice. The festival’s attractions are split into three zones. You can head over to the Odori Site in Odori Park to see the snow sculptures illuminated each day at sunset, skate across the ice rink and get something to eat. The Susukino Site then plays host to an ice sculpture show and contest as well as ice bar, while the Tsudome Site offers activities for the family. In 2020, this festival runs from the 31st January to the 11th February.
Eboshi Snow Firework Festival
Northern Tohoku’s Zao Eboshi Ski Resort comes alive each winter with the return of its annual Snow Firework Festival. Next taking place on 18th January 2020, this celebration combines music and a fireworks display with a torch lit descent of skiers coming down the slopes. The picturesque ski resort, which is known for its long continuous ski run, lies on the Miyagi side of the Ōu Mountains and is typically reached from the city of Shiroishi and nearby town, Zao. The hot spring resort town Togatta Onsen is also nearby with its position at the foot of the mountain.
Where to Stay: Check in to Daikon no Hana Onsen in Zao for a luxury ryokan experience with hot springs.
Zao Snow Monster Illuminations
Zao Sumikawa Snow Park borders the Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures of Northern Honshu’s Tohoku region. With an elevation of over 3,600ft, this is the highest ski resort in Miyagi. What makes this snow park particularly famous though is the annual phenomenon taking over its snow-blanketed trees. Known as snow monsters, these trees take on their monster-like appearance as a result of heavy snowfall and freezing winds. You can see these trees by hiking, riding the gondola or taking a snowcat tour. The snow monsters are illuminated each evening of the peak ski season, which runs from the end of December to the beginning of March.
Where to Stay: Like Daikon no Hana Onsen, Chikusenso Mt.Zao Onsen Resort & Spa is well placed for exploration of the area surrounding Mount Zao.
Aone Onsen Snow Illumination
Each year, visitors arrive in the hot spring town Aone Onsen for the one-night-only Aone Onsen Snow Illumination. Ahead of the event, people from the surrounding area build their own shrines known as hokora out of snow and ice and fill them with candles to be lit on the night. The illuminations are set to take place in February but the specific date for 2020 is yet to be announced.
Where to Stay: Stay in a traditional ryokan such as Kanzan Chogetsu in Aone Onsen or base yourself at a hotel in Zao.
Hachinohe Enburi Festival
With around 800 years of history, Hachinohe Enburi is a significant part of this region’s cultural heritage. Held each winter in anticipation of spring and a successful harvest, the event sees groups of people from the city dance through the streets holding a traditional farm tool and wearing a hat shaped like the head of a horse. This festival is held over four days from the 17th to 20th February, with around 250,000 visitors arriving for the festivities each year.
Where to Stay: Hachinohe has a number of business hotels and traditional ryokans and Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya is around half an hour away from city.
Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival
Right at the top of Honshu in Aomori, the winter is celebrated each year with a snow lantern festival in the grounds of Hirosaki Castle, which lie within Hirosaki Park. Over four days, visitors arrive to see hundreds of traditional Japanese lanterns, igloos and other sculptures that have been made out of snow by the local people. All the lanterns are illuminated just after the sun has set. The 2020 edition of the Snow Lantern Festival is planned for the 7th to 10th February.
Where to Stay: KAI Tsugaru by Hoshino Resorts is located in Owani Onsen, a half hour journey from Hirosaki city.