Misty Fujii is a Canadian who moved to Osaka, Japan in 2019 and married her Japanese sweetheart. In 2022 they had a baby and moved to Fukui for the clean country air. She is a DJ who teaches English part time and writes in order to share Japan with the world. She gets excited about collecting vintage vinyl records, food of all countries, travelling and renovating her traditional Japanese house.
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The end of winter may be cold, but the air is permeated with promises of spring. February is a festive time in Japan, full of celebrations, traditional events, and fun activities. There is plenty to do, so let’s have a look at some of the best things happening this month.
Have you ever thought of performing mamenaki (bean throwing) in order to keep away demons? No? I bet you will want to try after reading this. According to the Japanese lunar calendar, February 3 marks the end of winter and beginning of spring, and on this day it is customary to ward off evil by throwing beans around the house, starting with the area furthesrt away from the entrance. If you don’t want beans everywhere around the house, it’s okay to just do it at the front entrance, and many shrines and temples also host various mamenaki events. This is a fun activity, especially for kids, with a family member (at home) or shrine representative wearing a demon mask, and people chanting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (Demons out! Happiness/fortune in!) while throwing beans after the demon.
Another tradition is to eat ehomaki, a long and very thick sushi roll, for good fortune while facing the so-called “lucky direction” and making a wish. The “lucky direction” changes every year, so make sure to check! Setsubun is celebrated at many temples and shrines throughout Japan and is a festival you won’t want to miss.
When: February 3, 2023
2. Winter Sports
One of the best things about a country with four distinct seasons is all the different sports you can enjoy at different times of the year. Winter also has no shortage of fun sports, the most popular being skiing and snowboarding. Many ski resorts are located only a few hours from Tokyo, but you can also go all the way north to Hokkaido. Ice skating is another popular activity, and it’s not uncommon to find ice rinks in big cities and beyond.
There are plenty of lesser-known winter sports gaining popularity in Japan, too. Some ski resorts offer activities such as dog-sledding with huskies or riding snowmobiles on dedicated tracks. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are fun for anyone, regardless of skill level, as a form of wintertime hiking. Ski resorts across Japan are the best places to get started on your winter sports adventure, and many offer equipment rental for the activities on offer as well.
When: all winter long
3. Sapporo Snow Festival
One of Japan’s most popular winter festivals is held in Sapporo and is the ultimate way to celebrate all things snow and ice. There is so much to see and do at this festival, with art, culture, sports, live music, food, and – of course – the famous ice sculptures. The events are scattered across three different locations and offer something for everyone, from relaxing strolls to adrenaline-pumping snowmobile rides. And you won’t be alone here: more than two million visitors attend yearly, making it Japan’s biggest winter festival.
When: February 4-11, 2023
4. Winter Illuminations
One of Japan’s winter highlights is its numerous illumination events and festivals. There are so many to choose from in just about every prefecture, and they are almost always free. Incredible for strolls, dates, and photo ops, seeing the displays of lights is a beautiful way to spend a winter evening. Some must-see illuminations in February include an LED sea of clouds at Nabana no Sato in Mie Prefecture, the frozen lit-up waterfalls at Oirase in Aomori Prefecture, and the massive Yomiuri Land Illumination in Tokyo. This barely scratches the surface, but no matter where you are in Japan, there is sure to be an illumination festival near you!
When: all winter long
5. Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival
Peak sakura season may be between late March and early May, but there’s a chance to see some of the iconic flowers blooming even earlier than that. Famous for its early cherry blossoms, a small town on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture welcomes visitors in late February where they can enjoy a lively festival coinciding with the blooming of some 8000 Kawazu-zakura cherry trees. People flock to the 4-kilometer-long riverbank which is lined with cherry trees, and the festival also has plenty of food, drinks, entertainment, and illuminations to keep you entertained throughout both the day and the night.
When: February 1-28, 2023
6. Plum Blossoms
Often mistaken for sakura, ume (plum blossoms) bring the first hint of spring, and they are every bit as beautiful as the more famous cherry blossoms. These flowers represent perseverance and purity and are identified by their evenly rounded petals, differentiating them from the cherry blossoms whose petals have a cleft. They also bloom earlier and are celebrated across the country at dedicated ume festivals. You can join the festivities at parks, temples, and shrines and enjoy the sour ume fruit in foods or drinks. Some of the best spots for viewing plum blossoms include Kairakuen, a beautiful garden in Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture, Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto, and the small shrine of Yushima Tenjin in Tokyo – just to name a few.
When: mid-February to late March
7. Nagasaki Lantern Festival
There’s no better way to celebrate Chinese New Year than going to Japan’s biggest lantern festival. Originally started by Chinese settlers, it became an official event in 1994 and has since then grown tremendously. With more than 15,000 lanterns, one of Japan’s biggest Chinatowns lights up with attractions such the Emperor’s Parade, Chinese acrobatics, lion dances, fireworks, and more. The main events occur in Minato and Chuo parks, close to Nagasaki’s Chinatown. Souvenir booths and food stalls are also set up to give visitors an authentic taste of China. The lanterns and twinkling lights brighten the city and make this a festive occasion not to be missed.
When: January 22-February 3, 2023
8. Valentine’s Day
You may have heard that Japan does Valentine’s Day differently from most western countries, and you’re right! Japan often adopts foreign holidays and adds its own spin on them, with February 14 being no exception. Here, women give chocolate not only to their loved ones, but also to male friends and coworkers, and the entire occasion revolves more around chocolate than romance. Truly a chocolate lover’s holiday, there are many events where people can go to enjoy limited edition chocolate treats, including a popular event at Tokyo Skytree. You can also go to pray for your love life at local shrines dedicated to deities said to grant love-related wishes, such as Imado Shrine in Tokyo. However you choose to celebrate, it’s the perfect time for anyone with a sweet tooth.
When: February 14, 2023
9. Yokote Kamakura Festival
The snowy season also brings traditional snow houses called kamakura to cities like Yokote in Akita Prefecture, where this festival is held. You can see various snow houses all over the city and pray to the water deity at the snow altars inside them. Enjoy a stroll admiring the many kamakura, and you may find yourself being invited inside to partake in rice cake eating and amazake drinking – a warm rice wine with little to no alcohol in it. You can even learn how to make kamakura at Komyoji Park! Head to the river to take in the beauty of hundreds of small lantern-sized and lit-up kamakura, and enjoy some festival food as well.
When: February 15-16, 2023
10. Zao Snow Monsters
Witness the ice-covered, monster-shaped trees, known as juhyo in Japanese, atop Mt. Zao in Yamagata Prefecture where harsh Siberian winds create the perfect conditions for this natural phenomenon. Every year it gets so cold that the trees freeze into spectacular, otherworldly shapes, which are illuminated with psychedelic-colored lights at night. You can bundle up and take a stroll, ride a gondola or even ski right through the forest of ice monsters. If you’re not too keen on trekking through the cold, you can keep warm and admire the creatures from a cozy café or on a guided snowmobile tour. The Zao Snow Monster Festival that takes place here every February includes a parade of skiers holding LED torches and fireworks, adding to the excitement.
When: December 24-February 27, 2023 (mid-February being the best time)
Which of these fun activities made your list? There are so many must-see events that it can be hard to choose, but we hope this guide to some of the most exciting things happening in February will help you enjoy many memorable experiences on your trip to Japan!
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