5 Japan Winter Festivals: Naked People and Sake

From naked men to setting off fireworks and lots of sake, here is our round up of  Japan winter festivals, ranging from the quirky to the strange.  

Asia, Culture & History, Gastronomy, Travel Destinations

From naked men to setting off fireworks and lots of sake, here is our round up of  Japan winter festivals, ranging from the quirky to the strange.  

Nabana no Sato Winter Light Festival Japan – up to May 2024

During what is probably Japan’s largest and most popular winter light festival, over 8 million LED lights cover the Nabana no Sato flower park with a bright blanket of colourful lights. Amongst its many highlights are two light tunnels that run to over 100 metres and change colour over time, a 120-metre-long river of lights, and intricate animated light shows that depict various natural scenes, from Mount Fuji to waterfalls. The Nabana no Sato Winter Light Festival runs over several months and attracts every year thousands of local and international visitors keen to enjoy the flowers sweet flagrance while strolling through the cold winter air.

Nabana no Sato Winter Light Festival Japan
Let there be light: the Nabana no Sato Winter Light Festival Japan

For a Japanese event in spring, don’t miss the Cherry Blossom Festival Japan, or the equally colourful Japan Penis Festival Kanamara Matsuri.

Matsushima Oyster Festival – 3 February 2024

On the first Sunday in February, Matsushima celebrates the unusually fat and juicy oyster grown in the bay and along the Sanriku coast with the Matsushima Oyster Festival. Grilled oysters, bowls of kakinabe oyster soup, and other oyster dishes are served, and fresh seafood is sold at bargain prices for people to cook themselves. Seafood lovers can relax with friends at their own grill station, warming themselves while cooking the freshest seafood over pop-up style barbeques. Cold beer and warm sake is available, and there is also a food market selling local specialty goods as souvenirs and a variety of other fresh ocean treats.

If you do not fancy any of these Japan Winter Festivals, read Mark Bibby Jackson’s Japan Travel: Glamping, Zip-cords and Samurai for further travel inspiration.

Otaru Snow Light Path Festival – 10 to 17 February 2024

The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held each year in the Hokkaido town in February running along side the Sapporo Snow Festival. The town of Otaru is decorated with lights and statues of snow throughout the festival. The festival has three centres Otaru Unga and Temiyasen and Tenguyana, all are a short walk from the railway station or halfway up the mountain. Locals place lanterns in their homes and shops.

Japan Naked Festival, Okayama (Hadaka Matsuri) – 17 February 2024

Japan Winter Festivals
One of the more unusual of Japan winter festivals – the naked men of Hadaka Matsuri

Otherwise known as the ‘Okayama Naked Festival’, Hadaka Matsuri is one of Japan’s more extreme local festivals and sees loin cloth-clad men running through icy water on the coldest day of the year, then wrestling inside the temple grounds with a crowd of nearly 10,000 participants hoping to claim the lucky sticks. Foreigners are welcome to participate, though the wrestling is strictly men only, the festival is very much a spectator sport. Taking place annually on third Saturday of February, locals celebrate with street barbecues and encourage the participants with shouts of encouragements and handfuls of salt thrown for good luck.

Tohoku Japanese Sake Festival – April 2024

The largest sake festival in Northern Japan, Tohoku Sake Festival takes place in April at Naganuma Futopia Park. Over 100 different sake brewers and brands from across the region showcase their classic sake and new innovations, such as Hedeyoshi Brewerys sparkling ‘champagne style’ sake. It is unclear whether this festival will be in person or online this year. Visitors will be able to purchase specialty and local sake at discount prices. There is also a Tohoku Food Marathon which will be run on 21 April 2024.

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More information on Japan Winter Festivals and tourism

Visit JNTO’s website to help plan your trip to Japan.

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Johan Smits

Freelance writer, translator, web content developer, author of the novel Phnom Penh Express and Tommy, a short story. Johan has travelled extensively since leaving his native Antwerp. He has lived in Taiwan, West Africa, Central Asia, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Thailand, where he now lives. Loves trying out local brews but tends to avoids noise. Chronically indecisive about where to lay down his hat.

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