Kamakura Matsuri

Kamakura Matsuri (Snow Hut Festival)

Type of Holiday: Promotional
Date of Observation: Mid-February
Where Celebrated: Japan (several locations)
Symbols and Customs: Rice Cakes, Snow Huts, Snow Sculptures


Some parts of Japan get as much snow and cold weather as the northernmost states in the United States. In fact, the snow often gets so deep that people must rely on skis and sleds to get around. One way to celebrate the winter weather is to hold what are known as "snow hut" festivals, which provide activity and entertainment for visitors and locals alike.

Since 1950, a week-long snow hut festival has been held every February in Sapporo, site of the 1972 Winter OLYMPIC GAMES and the capital of Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. Although the festival started out as a secondary event to winter sports such as skiing and skating, it has developed over the years into a major tourist attraction that brings almost two million visitors to the city. Hundreds of huge SNOW SCULPTURES are erected in Odori Park and along the city's main street. The sculptures reflect the festival's theme, which is different each year. In past years, the sculptures have portrayed characters and themes from well-known fairy tales and television shows, as well as famous historical buildings. The week's activities also include a colorful parade and winter sports competitions. A snow hut festival is also held at Yokote in the Akita Prefecture of northern Japan from February 15 to 17, when the snow is usually at its deepest. The original purpose of the festival was to offer prayers to Suijin-sama, the water god, for a good rice crop. Children build SNOW HUTS and have parties inside, while their families gather to drink sweet sake and eat RICE CAKES and fruits.

Another well-established snow hut festival is held in mid-February at Tokamachi in Niigata Prefecture. The celebration includes a fashion and talent show presented on a stage made out of snow and a costume parade, photography contest, ski race, and exhibit of SNOW SCULPTURES .


Rice Cakes

The rice cakes that are served during the Snow Hut Festival are made in the shape of cranes and turtles, which are traditional symbols of longevity, and of dogs called inukko, believed to offer protection against evil spirits.

Snow Huts

The snow hut or snow cave, known as kamakura, for which this midwinter festival is named, is much like the Alaskan igloo. The inside is furnished with a tatami (straw

More Ice and Snow Sculpture Festivals

laska: The World Ice Art Championships (formerly known as part of the Fairbanks Winter Carnival) is held in March each year. The Championships have been held in Fairbanks since 1934.

Canada: The Caribou Carnival features ice sculpture each year in March in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. The Carnival has been held since 1955.

China: The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, held in January and February, has featured sculptures since 1985.

Minnesota: The St. Paul Winter Carnival, which takes place in late January, includes displays of ice sculpture, most prominently the Ice Palace. The event has been held since 1886. mat), an altar to the god of water, and a hibachi or charcoal stove that keeps the hut warm and can be used to heat soup, tea, or rice wine. Japanese children leave their boots outside the hut, just as they would normally do when entering a real house, and spend their time inside playing games and eating sweets. Sometimes they spend the night in the kamakura, which is illuminated by candles or electric lamps.

Snow Sculptures

Work on the snow sculptures for which the Kamakura Matsuri is famous begins three weeks in advance of the festival itself. The Japanese Self-Defense Force helps by transporting thousands of tons of snow to the site. A wooden frame is constructed and packed with snow; then the frame is removed and the carving begins. As the snow is shaped, it is sprayed with water to form ice. Some sculptures are intricately carved and several stories high.


Bauer, Helen, and Sherwin Carlquist. Japanese Festivals. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. Buell, Hal. Festivals of Japan. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1965. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Thurley, Elizabeth. Through the Year in Japan. London: Batsford Academic and Educational, 1985. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


Caribou Carnival www.cariboucarnival.com Harbin Ice and Snow Festival www.china.org.cn/english/travel/198585.htm Japan National Tourist Organization www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a10_fes_Yokote.html

The St. Paul Winter Carnival www.winter-carnival.com

World Ice Art Championships www.icealaska.com/index.html Kamakura Matsuri
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Kamakura Matsuri (Snow Hut Festival)

February 15-17
Kamakura Matsuri is held in northern Japan in the Akita Prefecture, at the time of year when there is usually deep snow on the ground. The original purpose of the festival was to offer prayers for a good rice crop to Suijin-sama, the water god.
In Yokote and other towns of the region, children build Kamakura, snow houses about six feet in diameter resembling Eskimo igloos. They furnish the huts with tatami mats and a wooden altar dedicated to Suijin-sama and have parties in them, while families gather to drink sweet sake and eat rice cakes and fruits. The rice cakes are made in the shape of cranes and turtles, traditional symbols of longevity, and of dogs called inukko, thought to guard against devils.
A similar Kamakura Festival is held in Tokamachi in Niigata Prefecture on Jan. 14.
Akita City Hall
1-1-1 Sanno
Akita, 010-0951 Japan
81-1-8863-2033; fax: 81-1-8866-2278
BkHolWrld-1986, Feb 15
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 177
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
During the Kamakura Matsuri, the town is bustling with parades of mikoshi (portable shrines) and musical bands.