Thousands of candle-lit igloos turn this village into a winter fairyland

Kamakura Festival in Yokote, Akita

Yokote Castle in the snow with lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri
The Shiofune Kannon-ji grounds are HUGE. It’s like the Nezu Shrine on steroids.

February’s destination is the castle town of Yokote, in the northiest north of Akita prefecture. For two days every year (February 15-16), the town’s children offer toasted rice cakes and sweet sake to visitors inside tiny traditional igloos (kamakura) built all over town.

Lighted igloo at the Kamakura Matsuri

Each kamakura is a shrine to the water deity responsible for plentiful rain and abundant harvests, and visitors traditionally leave an offering in exchange for their sake and mochi.

Offerings inside the igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

Townsfolk and visitors meander the streets in the shadow of the castle, visiting each little igloo.

Lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

and warming themselves at the flaming braziers dotted about the landscape

Lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

The vast lawn in front of the elementary school becomes a sea of fairy igloos, each made by a child

Lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

and furnished with a wish drawing and a candle

Child's offering inside a lighted igloo at the Kamakura Matsuri

Other small, personal igloos cluster beneath the silent snowy trees

Lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

filled with more adult hopes and dreams

Adult offering inside lighted igloo at the Kamakura Matsuri

Snowy sentinels and glowing kamakura line the route to the castle

Lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

which sits on a hill, in all its snowy glory

Yokote Castle and lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

The surrounding forest makes a picture-perfect backdrop for the candlelit igloos

Lighted igloos at the Kamakura Matsuri

and the local river is lined with trees right out of a winter wonderland

Snowy riverside in Yokote

Several of the main streets bustle with festival booths selling hot food, warm sake, and cold beer

Food booths lining a street in the snow at the Kamakura Matsuri

And this is definitely your big chance to stock up on igloo memorabilia at the shops downtown

Kamakura Matsuri merchandies for sale in a shop window

On the day after the festival (the 17th), giant Q-tip-like offerings known as bonden are paraded to the local shrine by boisterous teams of men, all vying to get theirs through the gate first

Kamakura Matsuri bonden on the back of a truck in the snow

Sadly, I missed the good-natured jousting at the shrine, because I had to leave bright and early to see Fox Village in the snow on my way back to Tokyo. Next time, I’m definitely staying for this friendly melee!

Dates: February 16-17 every year

Here’s where Yokote is:

Yokote, Japan map

It takes a little over three hours to get there by train from Tokyo, but it’s a pretty easy trip – there’s a long stretch on a bullet train, then a short hop on the local line. As always with winter travel in Japan, snow can slow down all forms of transportation, but trains are the most reliable way to get there, in all kinds of weather.

Here’s how to get to Yokote from Tokyo Station:

Train route to Yokote from Tokyo

I used the Japan Navigation phone app to figure out this route, and you can easily use it too, with your actual date and preferred arrival time. It’s also good for finding the easiest way to get to Ueno Station from where you’re staying. Here’s where to get the app and how to use it.

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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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