Three winter festivals in Akita, a prefecture famous for beautiful winter scenery

Akita Prefecture, which is full of tourist destinations such as hot springs, lakes, and ski resorts, is also famous for its winter festivals. Why not schedule a visit to there for this coming winter?

You might think of summer when you hear the word “festival,” but now is actually the perfect season in Akita Prefecture with its long winter with high snowfall. In this article, we are introducing three unique winter festivals. The encounter with Japanese traditions, as well as the mystical scenery with glowing lights in the completely white snowscape, will surely be unforgettable memories of your trip!

The first one is “Namahage Sedo Festival,” which is a winter festival held at the Shinzan Shrine in Kitaura, Oga City, Akita Prefecture and it is one of the few opportunities that you get to see Namahages. It is a festival that combines a folk event, “Oga no Namahage” (meaning “Namahage of Oga”), and a Shinto ritual, “Saito Festival,” that has over 900 years of history. Namahages dancing around the special bonfire at the Shinzan Shrine is truly something to see. Namahage is a god or a divine messenger that drive away troubles. The village has a custom in which the youths of the village dress up as Namahages and visit the houses in the community on the night of the New Year’s Eve while shouting, “泣く子はいねがー、親の言うこど聞がね子はいねがー” (meaning, “Are there any crybabies here? Are there any kids who don’t listen to their parents?”)

“Namahage Sedo Festival”

“Namahage-Daiko.” Namahage × Japanese taiko performance.

Namahage Descending from the mountain.

The second one is “Rokugo no Kamakura” (meaning “igloos of Rokugo”). It is a festival held in Misato-cho, Senboku County, Akita Prefecture, and it has over 700 years of history as a festival for a good harvest. It is a historically-important traditional event designated as Japan’s Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property which consists of a series of events including “Tenpitsu” raising, “Torioi” igloo building, and the Tenpitsu burning (also called “Dondo Yaki”) and “Take Uchi” on the final day. The biggest highlight of the festival is “Take Uchi,” in which young people are divided into the North team and the South team, then intensely strike each other with 7- to 8-meter-long green bamboo, and you can participate as a spectator in this powerful, adrenaline-packed Japanese festival.

【Rokugo no Kamakura】 “Tenpitsu burning.” “Take Uchi” takes place on the last night of the event.

【Rokugo no Kamakura】 “Tenpitsu” raising. “Tenpitsu” refers to writing wishes on strips of paper.

【Rokugo no Kamakura】 “Take Uchi”

The third one is “Yokote no Kamakura” (meaning “igloos of Yokote”). This event with about 450 years of history is held in Yokote City, Akita Prefecture during “Koshogatsu” (“Koshogatsu” refers to January 15 in the lunar calendar, and it is the first day of full moon in the new year). A “kamakura” is an igloo that is made with snow. You go in there for warmth and enjoy conversations. At Yokote no Kamakura, the water god is enshrined in the igloos, people sit around a brazier in the igloos, and local children welcome visitors with amazake (sweet, fermented rice drink). One of the best parts of travelling around the Tohoku region is that you actually get to go inside these igloos.

German architect Bruno Taut also praised the kamakura. During the festival, about 60 of these are built in Yokote City.

“Yokote no Kamakura”

Enshrine the water god inside the igloos.

It’s only 3 hours and 37 minutes from Tokyo to Akita Prefecture by shinkansen. The prefecture is also known as a hot spring heaven that has many famous hot springs and secret hot springs such as the popular Nyutou Hot Springs. It is also known as a big producer of delicious rice, so you should definitely try out Akita’s specialty dishes such as “kiritanpo,” which is a rice cake-like dish made with pounded rice. The dates of the three festivals we introduced are close to each other, so why not plan a visit to Akita Prefecture this winter to enjoy all of them at once?

■DATA STAY AKITA:https://stayakita.com/ Discover Akita :https://www.facebook.com/discover.akita/ 【Namahage Sedo Festival 】 Venue: Mayama Shrine      97, Mizukurozawa, Kitaura Mayama, Oga City, Akita Prefecture Dates: 9 (Fri), 10 (Sat) and 11 (Sun) February 2024 Opening hours: 6:00p.m. - 8:30p.m. Official website: https://oganavi.com/sedo/en

【Rokugo no Kamakura】 Venue: 115 Hondo-machi, Rokugo, Misato-cho, Senboku-gun, Akita Dates: 13 (Tue) - 17 (Sat) February 2024 *Takeuchi: 17 (Sat) Feb 8:00p.m. -  Official website: https://www.town.misato.akita.jp/kamakura/2574.html 【Yokote no kamakura 】 Venue: Chuo-machi, Yokote City, Akita Prefecture and other parts of the city Dates: 15 (Thu) and 16 (Fri) February 2024 Opening hours: 6:00p.m. - 9:00p.m. Official website: https://www.yokotekamakura.com/event/3-5/ Akita Prefecture's official tourism website Akita Fun HP: https://akita-fun.jp/featured_contents/festival (Information as of December 2023.)