As winter begins and covers Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture in snow, the region comes alive with lights and a variety of festivals perfect for travelers who are new to the region, as well as repeat visitors.
“Snow monsters” and relaxation at Mount Zao
When winter rolls around to the mountains in Miyagi, the cold weather conditions cause the fir trees to be covered in frozen snow, creating unique, dramatic and impressive figures. Every year, these “snow monsters” known as juhyo populate Mount Zao and are visited by tourists and locals alike. At the Miyagi Zao Sumikawa Snow Park, guests can ride the snowcat, aptly named “Wild Monster,” which takes them up to the vast forest of snow creatures.
For those also looking to relax during their stay on Mount Zao, the Gaga Onsen is a beautiful ryokan with all the blessings of nature mixed with the comforts of luxurious accommodations. Designed for healing the body and mind, Gaga Onsen features five different types of baths, including the rustic Tenku no Yu, a private open-air bath overlooking a river, which guests can reserve free of charge.
Aone Onsen Yukiakari
Every year at the Aone Onsen, a special snow illumination, or “Yukiakari,” is created by locals. Adults and children alike come together to build miniature snow shrines, each with their own candle. The result is a magical view of more than 2,000 candles, and visitors are encouraged to build and light their own shrines as well. The festival is also a wonderful chance to try local pork miso soup and raw konjac while surrounded by the snow-capped Zao Mountains.
The Dontosai Festival
Every year, people flock to the Osaki Hachiman Shrine to burn their New Year’s decorations in a massive bonfire as a ritual to rid themselves of bad luck, as well as pray for health and good fortune. The real event begins on the 14th of January when participants walk half-naked through the city streets to the shrine. During this 300-year-old parade, men dressed only in white boxers, a straw belt and straw shoes ring a hand bell to herald the coming year while cleansing themselves of the previous year. While visitors generally can’t partake in the parade, they are more than welcome to watch along with the city and enjoy a wide variety of festival foods.
Sendai’s Pageant of Starlight
Every year in December, Sendai lights up in one of Japan’s largest holiday illuminations in the country: the Sendai Pageant of Starlight. After beginning in 1985, the illuminations have gotten bigger and better every year since. Visitors are encouraged to stroll down the main streets of the city or take a walk down the Tunnel of Illumination, an installation with more than 600,000 lights strung across zelkova trees along Jozenji-dori Street. Kotodai-koen Park nearby also has a ton of displays while locals also visit the seasonal ice rink, Shimin Hiroba Square, and warm up inside one of the pop-up beer tents.
For more information on Miyagi, please visit http://www.visitmiyagi.com.