Winter activities abound in Tohoku region of Japan. The locals have preserved many of their traditional winter rituals and traditions, allowing travelers to enjoy breathtaking landscapes, festivals, and snow-viewing boats.
Take a look at this shortlist of winter activities and festivals to do and see in Tohoku, across all six prefectures.
Winter Activities & Landscapes in Tohoku
The Sendai Pageant of Starlight in Miyagi is a winter tradition held in Sendai every December. The 160 zelkova trees along Jozenji Street illuminate with approximately 600,000 lights.
Meanwhile, the Lake Towada Winter Story in Aomori Prefecture is full of snow corridors and tunnels every February. The iced-over Lake Towada serves a dramatic landscape while the lake’s symbol, the Statue of Maidens, features lights. Visitors can also enjoy stage performances, hot sake in snow huts, and nightly fireworks.
Tohoku also has towering “snow monsters”, which are frost-covered trees that create unusual and interesting shapes. In fact, the Zao Snow Monster Festival in Yamagata Prefecture is held from December to March, at the peak of winter. Take a ropeway cable car from the base to the top of Mt. Zao to view these snow monsters. At night, these winter figures also reflect different colored lights, making for a breathtaking view.
The Geibikei Gorge Boat Ride in Iwate Prefecture is a gorge by the Satetsu River. Towering limestone cliffs surround it, and it is home to numerous waterfalls and unique rock formations. Above all, guests will ride a boat with a kotatsu (heated table) for ultimate comfort. Make sure to get off the boat during the halfway point; the guide will take you to try throwing “luck stones” inside a cliff face’s small hole. If you shoot it in, this will bring luck.
Immerse in Local Culture
Kamakura (snow huts) are intricate formations made by hollowing out snow. Making snow huts is a traditional event in Tohoku during winter. At the Yokote Kamakura Festival in Akita Prefecture, visitors can enjoy rice cakes and hot drinks inside a cozy snow hut.
The Aizuwakamatsu area in Fukushima Prefecture is famous for its sake. For example, the Suehiro Sake Brewery is located downtown, where visitors will see traditional tools used in brewing sake. After the tour, visitors can enjoy tastings and even buy souvenirs at the gift shop. Warm up from the cold and take a sake brewing tour, where visitors can sample the drinks. Then enjoy coffee and sake-infused pastries at the adjoining sake brewery café.
Top Skiing Resorts in Tohoku
Tohoku is also home to numerous winter resorts because of its ideal mountainous area for activities such as skiing.
The Hakkoda Ski Resort in Aomori Prefecture is one of the largest mountain ski resorts in Japan. Located in the northern part of Towada-Hachimantai National Park, skiers can glide through the mountaintop in between magnificent snow monsters.
Meanwhile the Appi Kogen Ski Resort in Iwate Prefecture is one of the largest ski resorts in Tohoku. It offers 21 ski with 8 lifts. The resort also offers long ski runs with intermediate to advanced slopes, as well as gentle slopes lower on the mountain for beginners. Beginners may also ski on the Yamabato Course, which is longest ski run at 5.5 kilometers.
Known to be the original place where skiing started in Japan, Niigata Prefecture has numerous skiing grounds. A few of Niigata’s famous skiing areas include Naeba Skiing Ground, NASPA Ski Garden, and Myokyo Ski Park.
Misokayaki is in the Aomori Prefecture, specifically in the Tsugaru and Shimokita regions. It uses the scallop shell to hold and cook the scallop and miso together, along with dried bonito flakes and green onions. This hot dish is also perfect for warming up during the winter. Meanwhile, the Hair Crab is a winter specialty in Miyako in Iwate Prefecture. Don’t miss the Hair Crab Festival, where visitors can also enjoy discounted hair crab and free servings of hair crab soup.
The fare of hot pots
The kaki nabe (oyster hot pot) in Miyagi Prefecture primarily consists of oysters, which comes into season during winter. Cruise tours typically serve these gently simmered oysters. Up north in Akita Prefecture, known for rice and snow, the Kiritanpo hot pot is a popular local dish. The kiritanpo consists of mashed, cooked Akita Komachi rice toasted on a wooden stick. Then it simmers in chicken stock, together with Hinai chicken, green onions, mushrooms, burdock, and Japanese parsley.
Ramen & Soup
The dongara-jiru (codfish soup) in Yamagata Prefecture consists of the winter cod from Japan Sea. This hearty dish also incorporates the liver into the miso for a rich flavor. The soft roe, green onions, and seaweed give and added depth to this hot soup. The Kitakata ramen from Fukushima is the third best ramen in Japan, after Sapporo and Hakata. The pork broth-based soup features distinctive curly noodles that ramen lovers of all ages will enjoy.
This is just a small glimpse of what awaits in Tohoku during the winter season. Above all, every prefecture has something to offer and waiting to be discovered. Especially since it is so close to Tokyo and Hokkaido.