Winter in Japan

Michelle Bokermann-Enriquez visited a shrine on a lake in northern Japan.
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Akita International Airport is a one-hour flight from Tokyo, which is also accessible from about a three-hour ride via the high speed Shinkannsen train. A motor coach was waiting for us for the short one-hour drive from Akita International to Hirosaki City.
 
Visiting the northern part of Japan, known as the Tohoku region, in the beginning of February was a dream come true for me. The region is very remote and quite cold in the winter, but it is this time of the year when the famous winter festivals are held. Each region has a unique winter festival. I was lucky enough to attend a few of the festivals, which are a highlight for the residents that live in this very cold region of Japan.   
 
None of my experience in wintertime travel, including Austria and Germany, compared to the snow in the Aomori, Akita, and Iwate prefectures. Awakening in the morning to the light sound of -37 Fahrenheit snow flurries and the beautiful blanket of snow that coats the ground was just mesmerizing and something this California girl had never experienced before. Driving along highways next to 15-foot snowbanks was not uncommon. Drivers appeared to view these conditions as routine and appeared not to notice the thin blankets of snow falling onto their windshields.
 
Hirosaki is a beautiful city that is known for its famous winter Snow Lantern Festival. The festival is held in February and features snow huts of various sizes, snow and ice sculptures, and, of course, snow lanterns. These lanterns, handcrafted by locals, are made out of snow and are illuminated by candles and lights. They can best be seen when standing on the Hirosaki Castle Bridge, where you can view hundreds of these tiny mini-igloos. The view becomes absolutely magical when darkness sets in. The Snow Lantern Festival is really a special event that includes food stalls, nightly light performances, and a snow slide that is great for the kids and kids at heart. (Of course, I had to try this slide for myself!) What a wonderful way to use all the excess snow this region receives and turn it into an event that both families and tourists can enjoy.
 
Kamihinokina is another beautiful city that is known for their Paper Balloon Festival. This festival is known for their paper balloons that float up into the dark sky. Just like hot-air balloons, the paper balloons float up from the heated air inside. The designs on the balloons are very elaborate and include designs of samurai or beautiful women often seen in traditional wood-block prints that are drawn on the surface. Many of the balloons also have the wishes of people written on them, which is the original basis of this traditional festival. Many of the wishes were originally related to a good harvest and good health; nowadays, people wish for things like doing well in exams or road safety. The wishes of the people fly up into the starry sky.
 
The Aomori prefecture is also known for the abundance of apple orchards that grow there. Aomori prefecture supplies up to 20 percent of all apples that grow in Japan. It is home to the world-favorite Fuji Apple, which is a hybrid and was first introduced to the world by Aomori farmers in the 1930s. A visit to Hirosaki’s Apple Park is a must whether one is visiting in the summer or the winter. The park is home to over 1,300 trees and 65 different varieties of apples. In the wintertime, visitors can experience sledding and Kanjiki (wooden footwear made for walking in the snow). I loved dining at the Apple House restaurant, which has a menu of apple curry, pork tonkatsu (breaded deep-fried pork cutlets) with apples and apple soft-serve ice cream for dessert. My favorite experience was visiting the Hirosaki Cider Factory that was established by local farmers and features a carbonated alcoholic apple drink.  
 
I have visited Japan many times, but visiting the Tohoku region was like no other visit to Japan. Regional noodles and sake served hot every night to warm me up from all of the activities of the day in the cold weather. This trip allowed me to visit an unseen prefecture, where I experienced traditional hospitality and crafts as if I was a local. The snow just added an extra layer of magic to this very special region. This wonderful region is yet another example of what makes Japan such a fascinating country to visit.
 
Reach out to TravelStore to discover Japan's winter wonderland!