Thousands Of Glowing Igloos, Oh Yeah

These Kamakura Matsuri igloos are posing shamelessly next to the local castle.

Assorted igloos pose shamelessly next to the local castle for maximum photo op

How could you not love a 400-year-old festival that’s all about glowing igloos inhabited by children serving sweet sake, and a tournament that features teams of guys battling each other with giant decorated q-tips? The only catch is that the Kamakura Matsuri takes place in northiest north Yokote on only two days a year, so START PLANNING NOW!

The jumbo-sized igloos are dotted all over town...

For two days a year, these jumbo-sized igloos spring up all over town…

...staffed by middle school kids in festival coats, who invite passersby in to take off their shoes and drink sweet (barely alcoholic) sake. (And lucky for me, this event is not on the Extreme Festival-going Circuit, so there were rice straw mats between my tender tootsies and the subzero snowpack.)

…staffed by middle school kids in festival coats, who invite passersby in to take off their shoes and drink sweet (barely alcoholic) sake. (And lucky for me, this event is not on the Extreme Festival-going Circuit, so there were rice straw mats between my tender tootsies and the subzero snowpack.)

Igloos come in all sizes. These little ones light the way to...

Igloos come in all sizes. These weensy ones light the way to…

...a wall of flickering lights, sitting at the foot of the snowy mountain beyond.

…a little lesson in how vast the Great Snowiness is, beyond the wall of flickering lights.

The local school is surrounded by a sea of mini-igloos...

The local school is surrounded by a sea of mini-igloos…

...each with a child's wish inside

…each with a child’s wish inside

On dark back streets, an occasional island of warmth

On the darker back streets, I admit to scurrying toward the islands of warmth, even though I was wearing my uncool uncle stomach-warmer under my jacket

And mini-igloos with more elaborate offerings to the water gods inside

Here, the mini-igloos were stuffed with everything the water gods might require to put them in a good mood WTR the rice-growing season

The road to the castle was paved with igloos

And go figure, this tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere has its own castle! Besieged for two days, of course, by igloos and sake-drinking festival goers.

The path to the castle is lined with monster trees and candles

The road to the castle is lined by monster trees, which are more dangerous than they look, because you might die from PICTURESQUE OVERLOAD

Can I also note that they had the coolest police box in the land?

Also, this festival had the coolest police box in the land, am I right?

Sadly, I did not get to stay for the bonten competition the next day because I had to leave early for Fox Village, but these are the things that teams of manly men use to joust with each other in the town square.

Sadly, I did not get to stay for the bonten competition the next day because I had to leave early for Fox Village (yes! vast numbers of FOXES IN THE SNOW, coming soon!), but these are the things that teams of manly men use to joust with each other in the town square.

The Kamakura Festival is held every year in Yokote (Akita prefecture), on February 15-16, with the bonten tournament taking place the next day on the 17th. Yokote is a little over three hours from Tokyo by bullet train, and although it’s a small town, there are pretty decent hot springs inns you can stay at.

My only complaint is that although Akita is the birthplace of Akita dogs (think shiba inu, Costco-size version), I didn’t see even ONE while I was there. Judging by the number of local businesses that use cartoon versions as mascots, the least they could do is have vast herds of them roaming the streets, right?

Jonelle Patrick writes mysteries set in Tokyo.

More Nightshade book goodness here, in case you think you might want to, you know, read it or something

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