The Tokamachi Snow Festival is like one of Niigata’s best kept secrets. Most of my Japanese friends have never heard of it. But, each year it attracts about 300,000 people – 5 times the town’s regular population! For Tokyoites, it’s a cheaper/closer alternative to the world famous Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido. It was originally created to ’embrace’ the enormous amount of snowfall (up to 3m) the region sees, and give the locals as well as tourists something to get excited about in the middle of winter.
Unfortunately, on the exact same weekend as when I went, a massive snowstorm swept across the country. We made it to Tokamachi with no problems, but we arrived to see most of the snow sculptures covered in snow, which was a huge shame for the artists that had spent days carving out the fine details! If that wasn’t bad enough, the next day, we also learned that the snowstorm had shut down the train network and people couldn’t get in or out, including us! We were forced to stay a second night. We were fine with that, as it meant we could stay to watch the grand finale performance… until we heard that that too had been cancelled. So, all in all, it was just a trip to see a whole lot of snow and test how long we could put up with the cold!!
Despite feeling like my frozen toes were going to fall off, it was great to walk through the town and find different beloved characters – Doraemon, Anpanman, Totoro and Hello Kitty. The festival’s masterpiece of Mt Fuji and two shrines was incredible, but my favourite sculpture was one sponsored by the Lions Club dedicated to the Sochi Olympics. It was in an unroofed area within a building, so we could go and see it up close. Even covered in freshly fallen snow, the detail of the dragon was not lost.
It would be great to visit this festival again someday!