Last weekend was the second annual Yamagata Snow Festival in Sagae City, Yamagata Prefecture. Unsure of what exactly to expect, as I'd never been to any kind of snow festival before and my husband had yet to attend this one, we went with a bit of skepticism but mostly open minds on Saturday, the 4th.
Shuttle buses brought visitors from several parking locations around town, including the road-stop fruit and food shopping center Cherry Land, which is a family favorite of ours. According to the map on the website, the drop off point for the shuttle buses is a few street-crossings from the event space. Unfortunately, this translated to half an hour or walking in real life. Our snow-obsessed 3-year-old fell asleep on the bus but awoke as soon as we found the rear entrance to the festival.
There was a great hill for sledding and children of all ages were taking part with inner-tubes, small proper sleds, and even plastic bags. Had we been aware of this part of the festivities, we may have brought our own equipment, but it was too late by the time we were on the festival grounds. There was a sharing service for the inner-tubes that required a length line-wait, so we opted instead to enjoy the snow-covered playground equipment.
We had also apparently already missed one of the loveliest parts of the event, a snow-sculpture and miniature igloo building contest, but luckily could still enjoy the fruits of the artists' labors as we made our way toward the food stalls.
Admittedly, we could never have made anything as cool as A DRAGON!!
Chickens were a big theme thanks to this year's zodiac animal, the rooster.
Other themes also prevailed.
Our family favorite was the Ghibli-inspired submission, of course.
Just after the sculptures but before the food, an igloo had been constructed featuring the city mascot out front, ushering guests in to experience the surprising spaciousness and warmth of the little snow-dome.
The food stalls were mostly average, featuring warmer food and drink options than their summer counterparts. The real star of the show was the massive snow-building, centered behind the stage where a number of acts performed throughout the day. Our favorite for the daylight ours was a ska band called Futarime no Gaina*, which actually performed really well despite half of their members not showing up to the gig.
*(By katakana pronunciation, the g should be a j. Romanized on their website, this is their preferred spelling.)
Seriously, how are they staying warm? It was like 5 degrees.
After the band's performance, we went through the indoor tourist info area and snack shop at the Center House, a crescent-shaped building situated between the snow scultures and kids play area. There, some very enthusiastic young women gave me a map in English. The international services table also offered information and translations in Korean and Chinese.
As time went by, it was obvious that most of the crowd was waiting for the fireworks, set for 7PM, but with so little but snowball fights in the fading light to fill the time, many were preparing to leave. The 6PM performance of Yamagata Prefecture's Samurai group helped entertain many, though it took a minute for the crowd to warm up.
After the samurai left the stage, we felt it was best if we made our way back to the shuttle bus parking area to beat the rush. Fighting our 2 year old away from the snow was tricky, but lucky for her the fireworks started just a few minutes after we arrived in the parking lot and she had a small snow drift to play in while we watched the sky sparkle.
This was a fun festival, especially for kids, but we were also exhausted long before it was over and I do feel that the scheduling left a little something to be desired. In addition, any vendor selling mittens, gloves or boots would have made a small fortune, but the only clothing available was a knit hat at the main festival booth for 2000 yen. The sled-rental system could be vastly improved, but since the festival seems to attract mostly people from Tohoku (who are likely own their own sleds and bring them), I wouldn't be surprised if this did not change in coming years.
If you're in northern Japan early next February, check out the Yamagata snow festival, but bring waterproof shoes. My husband learned that the hard way this year.