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Hokkaido Exclusive: 5 Must See Festivals

Hokkaido Exclusive: 5 Must See Festivals

Hokkaido 2016.07.24 Bookmark

Today let's check out five major festivals held in Hokkaido. Impressive feats and displays that can't be found anywhere else, Japan's snow country really heats up during festival season.

Translated by Hilary Keyes

Written by MATCHA

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What do you think of when you hear the word Hokkaido? Delicious foods, fresh air, wide natural spaces, and of course various outdoor winter sports... Hokkaido has many charms. Throughout the largest prefecture in Japan different festivals (matsuri in Japanese) are held all year round, so when visiting Hokkaido, why not make a point out of taking part in one of these enriching cultural events?

Today we will introduce five of Hokkaido's most famous festivals.

1. Kamikawa-chō: Sōunkyōhyōbaku Matsuri

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Photo by on Nagaino flickr

From the latter half of January to the end of March, the Sōunkyōhyōbaku Matsuri is held in Sōunkyō, Kamikawa-chō. The dates of the festival change slightly each year; in 2016 it was held from January 23rd to March 27th. Rather than an entrance fee, this festival has a "co-operation fee" of 300 yen that must be paid before you can take part.

The centerpiece of this festival is the large mass of ice that forms from the frozen waterfall; a sheer drop during the warmer months. During the day it brilliantly reflects the light of the sun and at night is illuminated by seven different colored lights; the differences between day and night create two magical atmospheres that just have to be seen.

Alongside the frozen waterfall, an ice tunnel and an ice dome as well as ice sculptures are displayed here during the festival. On weekends with clear weather you can watch as brilliant fireworks displays take place in the crisp winter skies. This beautiful sight will surely make you forget the cold.

Event Information
Address: Kamikawa-chō, Sōunkyō Onsen
Website: Sōunkyōhyōbaku Matsuri

2. Sapporo City: Sapporo Snow Festival

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In the start of February (in 2016, from February 5th to 11th, some parts being open until the 18th), Sapporo holds its annual Snow Festival.

One of the largest and most popular yuki matsuri, or snow festivals, this festival is counted alongside the Tōkamachi Snow Festival and Minamiuonuma Snow Festival, both found in Niigata prefecture. Every year nearly 2 million domestic and international visitors attend this festival.

Held in 3 different areas of Sapporo, admission to all parts of the festival is free. And to help cut through the cold, the halls also have hot soup and other dishes made from local Hokkaido ingredients available to purchase. More than just snow sculptures, there are snowboarding and free-style ski jumps, artistic projection mapping and other things to enjoy at the festival. There is also a slide and skating rink (adults 500 yen, children 300 yen) at the festival too, so that even little kids can actively enjoy themselves too.

Event Information
Address: Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chūo, Ōdōrinishi 4-chōme
Website: Sapporo Snow Festival

3. Sapporo City: Yosakoi Soran Matsuri

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Photo by on Nagaino flickr

In the start of June for 5 days, Sapporo has an amazing summer festival.

The Yosakoi Soran Matsuri held in Sapporo is part of the three major yosakoi festivals in Japan, along with the Yosakoi Sasebo Matsuri in Sasebo, Nagasaki and Kochi city, Kochi prefecture, the birthplace of the yosakoi festival itself. The music that this dance is set to is a traditional song called "Soranbushi", which was originally sung by herring fishermen in Hokkaido.

The main rule of this yosakoi dance is that the participants must carry a naruko or wooden clapper during this performance. This festival is a fierce competition, with the competitors wearing showy costumes and dancing intensely. Spectators may stand along the route or in assembly halls to watch the dances take place, which is of course free of charge.

Event Information
Address: Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chūo, Ōdōrinishi 4-chōme
Website: Yosakoi Soran Matsuri

4. Hakodate City: Hakodate Minato Matsuri

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This festival takes place every year from August 1st to the 5th in Hakodate city and is free to watch and participate in.

On August 1st there is a large fireworks festival where 10,000 fireworks are set off on the harbor to kick off the first day of the event. On the 2nd and 3rd, roughly 20,000 people take part in the "Wasshoi Hakodate" parade, which features a dance based on Hakodate's local specialty, squid. The full length of the parade route is about 1.5 km which means the dancers are performing for nearly 40 minutes, making it an intense, exciting atmosphere for the spectators.

By the way, if you you come in a group and everyone meets at the starting point of the parade, even groups of visitors to Japan can take part in this parade. The squid dance is quite simple and easy to remember, so dancing together with the locals during this parade would be a lot of fun.

Event Information
Address: Hokkaido, Hakodate, Ōmachi 15 (fireworks location)
Website: Hakodate Minato Matsuri

5. Obihiro City: Obihiro Heigen Matsuri

Held every August 14th to 16th, this festival takes place in Obihiro city.

On August 14th, you can see the mikoshi, and from the 15th to 16th the dashi (*1) and the Bon dance (*2). Particularly impressive are the taiko drum teams that come from all across Japan to unveil their performances at this festival. No matter which event you watch, each is sure to be a masterpiece. And if just watching it isn't enough, participation is open to anyone who wants to join. There are other street performances held all throughout the day and night, making this a festival one that you can greedily enjoy to the fullest.

*1 Dashi: a festival float or festival car which people ride on or pull along during festivals.
*2 Bon dance: a large group dance to music held during the evening of O-Bon Festival, which is a festival held to honor the dead.

It goes without saying that festivals such as these have many vendors selling delicious B-kyū cuisine, and you can freely participate in most of the events. With so many different ways to enjoy these amazing festivals in Hokkaido, you are sure to make some fantastic memories on your trip to this northern wonderland.

Event Information
Address: Hokkaido, Obihiro, West 2 Jōnan 7-chōme to 11-chōme, the main street
Website: Obihiro Heigen Matsuri (Japanese)

For more on festivals, Hokkaido and food:

Hokkaido Festival Map

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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