Snow, fire and even plum blossom—there’s plenty to see this month in Japan!
February is a month filled with winter wonderlands in the form of Japanese festivals to celebrate winter, oysters, demons and the Chinese New Year! If it’s the snow festivals you’re after in particular, check our extra article here!
Zao Snow Monster Festival | Miyagi
A chance to see the most unusual natural snow creations of the season, the festival weekend is an added bonus. While the monsters are illuminated in winter evenings, this weekend features a parade of professionals and familiar characters skiing with flaming torches as well as a fireworks display.
Lake Towada Winter Story | Aomori
A winter wonderland appears beside the shores of Lake Towada for three weeks every February. There is a short fireworks display (about 10 minutes) each night from 8pm as well as illuminations.
Yasaka Shrine Setsubun | Kyoto
A great chance to see the maiko and geiko (geisha of Kyoto) without forking out terrifying amounts, this Setsubun ceremony is pretty special. The first day features dancing and bean-throwing while the second has a lion dance too.
Iwate Snow Festival | Iwate
Another smaller, more local snow festival when compred to the Sapporo one, this event is one of the largest in Tohoku. There are tasy local dishes to try like milk ramen and amazake (a sweet drink made from rice, served hot) as well as sledding, scultpures and nearby onsen to enjoy.
Kujuku Islands Oyster Eating Festivals | Nagasaki
Set up shop at any of the 400 grills and enjoy all the oysters you could ever hope to eat before collapsing on one of the 1,600 seats. The event will be held on the grassy square at 99 Islands Pearl Sea Resort in Sasebo. You can buy your oysters fresh and grill them yourself if you feel like getting involved as everything you need, from charcoal to oyster knives will be available! This year the festival is taking place on all Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays throughout February.
Dojima Yakushido Setsubun Omizukumi Festival | Osaka
An annual celebration of the arrival of spring, this is an age-old ceremony held across Japan to drive evil spirits from the house. It’s common to see people dressed as demons being herded from homes and businesses by occupants throwing beans. At this event, traditional prayer sticks are thrown into the fire in a Goma-daki ceremony.
Heian Jingu Setsubun | Kyoto
This is one of the most well-known Setsubun celebrations in Kyoto and offers a cleansing ritual, an exorcism performance complete with evil oni (demons) and even maiko and geiko (the Geisha of Kyoto) who throw beans into the crowd. The day ends with a fire ceremony and while it will no doubt be busy, it’s worth the crowds.
Sapporo Snow Festival | Hokkaido
One of Japan’s most famous festivals, the Sapporo Snow Festival spans six days and is filled with food, snow and sculptures. Huge creations are carefully crafted in Odori Park from international and Japanese sculptors and you can find a huge selection of food trucks with warming food and drink to keep you going. There are multiple sights to explore and we have a guide on enjoying the festival here!
Nagasaki Lantern Festival | Nagasaki
One of the best times to see the city of Nagasaki, this festival sees 15,000 lanterns adorn the streets to celebrate Chinese New Year. There are multiple venues across the city but Chuo and Minato Park are the main ones to visit. There are fireworks to go with the lanterns as well as dragon dances, kokyu performances, and Emperor’s parade and a princess procession!
Namahage Sedo Festival | Akita
One of the more sinister-looking festivals, the Namahage Sedo Festival involves demons, bonfires and a whole load of screaming children. The festivals are terrifying to say the least and if you’re in town, be sure to go to the Nahagekan Museum to see a variety of the costumes used.
Hirosaki Castle Snow-Lantern Festival | Hyogo
Decorating the already-impressive castle with over 200 lanterns this is perfect for a relaxing evening stroll in the snow (if there is such a thing). There will be snow scultpures and performances during the day as well as a kid-only snow slide (dissapointing, we know).
The Hakodate Russian Festival | Hokkaido
Celebrating their Russian connections, Hakodate holds an annual festival involving Maslenitsa—a Russian Orthodox celebration similar to the start of lent. There will be a Russian cafe to try the language and a chess session too. You’ll find the festival at the Russian Far East Federal University, Hakodate Campus.
Miyajima Oyster Festival | Hiroshima
Famed for its oyster supply, Hiroshima celebrates this oyster fest every year with increasing popularity. Although oysters are often prohibitively expensive, here they’ll set you back a mere ¥100 a piece so you can gorge to your heart’s and stomach’s content. There will be stage performances of taiko drumming to keep you entertained too!
Tadami Snow Fetsival | Fukushima
A very small town with a reputation for its annual snow festival, Tadami certainly knows how to make the most of the seasonal weather. A great local alternative to the giant Sapporo Snow festival, this one has scultpures, carvings and taiko performances as well as firework displays.
Chinese New Year Festivities | Hyogo
As one of the primary Chinatowns in Japan, Kobe city hosts a great Chinese New Year Celebration and is well-equipped for food, shopping and celebratory parades too. The event features plenty of lanterns, a lion dance, martial arts demonstrations and dragon parade as well as stalls selling traditional Chinese food and good luck charms.
Abashiri Okhotsk Drift Ice Festival | Hokkaido
Deep in the snowdrifts of Northern Hokkaido, this snow festival has towering sculptures which are tastefully illuminated at night. There are family games, a warming selection of food and drink stalls to choose from and plenty of creations to pose with, just dress up warm!
Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival | Akita
An annual event with a long but unclear history, this festival sees dozens of large paper balloons released into the sky. Decorated with traditional designs and the larger balloons are truly amazing, while smaller ones are covered in wishes by locals and visitors.
Kasedori Festival | Yamagata
Another of the more unusual festivals, this one involves local men dressed in straw coats (the festival’s namesake) pretending to be birds. The tradition originated in the 17th century and begins in front of the Kaminoyama Castle. The dancing straw men are doused in cold water and are gradually herded into the city for some warming sake.
Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival | Akita
Highlighting the traditiona snow structures called kamakura, which are like snow igloos (not ice) and house candles and sometimes people, this festival is pretty magical. Held for over 400 years, this festival has perfected the art of kamakura, and each has a small altar with rice and winer offerings to the Gods.
Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Festival | Okayama
Another of the famed naked festivals of Japan, this event has a history going back 500 years—so you can be sure the nakedness is cultural. Watch over 9,000 participants compete to catch the two lucky sticks called shingi as well as bundled willow strips thrown to the crowds by priests. There is a primary-school-aged version from 6pm for the kids.
Ichiya Kannyo Festival | Osaka
Held on February 20th each year without fail, this festival celebrates the women and girls who sacrificed themselves to save the city from the disasters of the Yodo River. Maintaining the traditional styles of the time, the parades involve ancient costumes and are a real sight to behold. The festival has been designated an Intangible Folk Cultural Asset of Osaka Prefecture.
Shigisan Tiger Festival | Nara
Traditionally known as the month of the tiger, it’s no surprise February has a whole festival centered around the striped beast. Between 11am – 12.30pm, 50 tiger boys and girls parade with tiger shrines accompanied by traditional taiko drumming and Japanese instruments. The children are all born in the year of the tiger, lending them their rightful roles.
Katsuyama Sagicho Matsuri | Fukui
Centred around the traditional Dondo-yaki ceremony held in the New Year, this festival takes place on the banks of the Kuzuryu River. New years ornaments are burned while local artists perform on elevated wooden stages that are carried around the city. The traditional fire festival has been held for the last 300 years and always draws large crowds.
Baikasai Plum Blossom Festival | Kyoto
A sign of the start of spring, the plum blossom transforms the already impressive Kitano Tenman-gu shrine into a seasonal treat. While the blossom will obviously be there for a week or two, the festival day features a tea ceremony with apprentice geiko (Kyoto’s Geisha) called maiko, but tickets are limited so be there on time.
Some of the longer running events which cross over multiple months:
Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Festival | Tochigi | Jan 27th – Mar 4th
Souriike Plum Blossom Festival | Aichi | Feb 9th – March 10th
Osaka Castle Illuminage | Osaka | Dec – March
Sapporo White Illumination | Hokkaido | Nov – March
Light of Versailles Illumination | Shizuoka | Oct – March