Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival
The Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival is held every year in February. This is my third winter in Aomori, but the first time I’ve had a chance to visit Hirosaki for this festival which is going on this year from February 11th to February 14th-Valentine’s Day. And it’s very fitting because this festival is certainly romantic.
Approximately 150 Japanese garden style lanterns made out of snow are constructed throughout Hirosaki Park and the grounds of Hirosaki Castle in the center of the park. Each lantern is illuminated by candles with Neputa festival styled paintings, a symbol of the Tsugaru area.
I recommend arriving at Hirosaki Park a little bit before sundown, so you can have a chance to see all the grounds and take pictures before it gets dark. But don’t worry, everything lights up at night so you won’t miss anything if you arrive later.
This is the keep, the center of Hirosaki Castle, and is beautiful all year round, the spring cherry blossoms, the summer greenery, the fall foliage, and finally the winter white. Winter might very well be my favorite for the contrast of the red bridge and monochromatic winter landscape.
Besides the 150 snow lanterns, countless numbers of snow sculptures and holes in the snow hold decorations, all made carefully by the entire city of Hirosaki. Each school has its own snow sculptures and lanterns, as well as various community groups and businesses that all come together to create this splendid event. I ran into a whole line of hand designed lanterns made by the students of an elementary school I’ve taught at, as well as run into some friends I hadn’t see in months. It’s nice to know that a festival like this brings people and the community together.
In one part of the park by a shrine there is a wide open space filled with vendors of hot foods and Japanese confections. Every year this area is home to the stage area with live performances of various sorts, including the local musical tradition of Tsugaru Jamisen (or Shamisen). A three-stringed instrument similar to a banjo famous from the area. You can also find several impressively built sledding slopes for kids, and tall snow sculptures all made by various groups in Hirosaki. They also have a great building sculpture each year of a landmark building in Hirosaki. This year it was the old Aomori Bank, towering at 9 meters high!
And of course… what festival wouldn’t be complete with souvenirs? There were many different vendors selling the great delicacies of Aomori, including my favorite, Kenoshiru. Unfortunately though the hearty and warm Kenoshiru was so popular that it sold out by 4pm so I didn’t get to have any. I guess you need to get there extra early! Anyway, they also had apple art! These apples are mostly given as a gift since they are so precious to eat. Various designs, including Chinese characters for words like “dream”, “congratulations”, “hope”, “thank you”, and pictures of lucky cats and even Valentine’s designs. A decal is applied to the apple preventing it from turning red in the late summer sun to create these wonderful works of art. But they can be a pit pricey, some of these sell for just under 2000 yen, about $20 US per apple! Quite the gift!
Like I said, it was my first time to see the Hirosaki Snow Lantern Festival, and I had such a good time I wish I had made the trip earlier. I highly recommend coming here with that someone special, and warming up your heart with the soft snow light during this, one of the coldest months in Aomori.