Akita Prefecture is located in the Tohoku region of Japan. It is rectangular in shape and, like much of northern Japan, has very cold winters, particularly away from the sea. During winter, everything is covered with pure white snow and the air is very clear.
There are also noticeable traditional snow houses which you can see every year.
In Akita, there’s a city known as Yokote. It is located in the southeast corner of the prefecture. It has a humid continental climate wherein temperatures can be very warm during summer and severely cold during winter. A midwinter festival known as “Kamakura Festival” is held every mid-February in which igloo-like snow houses are made. This festival is believed to be 400 years old. Rooms are made by carving out a mound of snow which is called a “kamakura.” There are more than 100 kamakura made with countless miniature kamakura as well. These are sponsored by local businesses and can sometimes look like an advertisement. With the candle lights inside, the kamakura produces a quiet yet spectacular attraction for tourists.
Inside the kamakura, an altar is placed to honor the water deities. These are carved into each rear end of the room and are decorated with “Gohei” or paper strips used in Shinto ceremonies. Here, people can pray for the abundance of harvests, safety of family members, protection against fire and academic success. Passers-by are invited by children who are using the Akita dialect to come inside the hut. Here, they will be seated and offered sweet fermented drinks such as “amazake” and rice cakes called “mochi.” This the best time for children and visitors to have fun time eating, playing and chatting. This is the conventional way of spending time in the kamakura.
There’s also a custom of donating 200-300 yen to children in return for their invitation.
From the end of January to the end of February, you can experience many more unique festivals in Akita which is the best time to learn more about their winter season!
Yokote Kamakura*Automatic translation