Winter 2016 Illuminations and Festivals

January 29th, 2016 by
Category: Culture Art, Events, Seasonal Topics, Sightseeing

Areas of Nagano prefecture are getting ready for a series of festivals in February, and in that spirit I thought I would put together a list of current and upcoming events for the Winter season. Tear yourself away from the ski resorts for a night and visit some of Nagano’s other scenic spots!

Current Festivals

Kakeyu Onsen Ice Lantern Festival

A covered bridge in Kakeyu Onsen is illuminated with rows of ice lanterns lining the walkway.

Kakeyu's illuminated Godai bridge is a sight from another place and time.

Kakeyu Onsen is a hot spring resort area near Ueda city. According to legend, it was discovered by a hunter who chased a wounded deer through the woods, eventually finding it bathing in a natural spring before hopping away completely healed. Since then it has been a place of healing and relaxation for humans as well.

Until January 31st, Kakeyu Onsen is holding its ice lantern festival in scenic areas around town. If you have a chance, stop by and take a dip in one of its many healing springs and enjoy a leisurely walk among its dreamy, lantern-lit lanes. It can be reached by bus from Ueda station on the Kakeyu line.

Date: Friday, December 25th to Sunday, January 31st
Time: 16:30 to 21:00 (Or until lights go out)
Nearest Station: Ueda Station

Yamanouchi Lantern

A wall of glowing lanterns separates the viewer from the warmly-lit foot bath.

Yamanouchi's lanterns and art installations decorate its many onsen baths and hotels.

Yamanouchi’s Kaede-dori street has come alive this winter with glowing lanterns and artworks!

As part of the installation, participating hotels and shops are hosting gallery shows, and some stores are offering special winter treats like hot apple cider and sweet onsen manju. If the lanterns and treats don’t warm you up, take a dip in one Yudanaka’s several foot baths!

Date: Friday, December 11th to Monday, March 21st, 2016
Time: 16:00 to 20:00
Nearest Station: Yudanaka Station (Nagano Dentetsu line)

Kiso Ice Lantern Festival

A firework explodes over the night sky of Narai-juku, a traditional Japanese post town lit by rows of small ice candles.

The Ice Lantern Festival is a great way to experience the Kiso Valley's traditional post towns.

Kiso’s many post-towns are decorating their historical streets with delicate ice lanterns and celebrating the winter season. Drinks and soups will be made available to keep you warm as you enjoy the peaceful scenery. This is a great way to experience Kiso’s beautiful nature and post-towns! For more information about Kiso’s post-towns, see this previous entry on the Nakasendo, as well as our killer contents page.

  • Saturday, January 30th
    • Yabuhara-juku
    • Sunday, January 31st
      • Niekawa-juku
    • Wednesday, February 3rd
      • Kiso Hirasawa area
      • Narai-juku
    • Friday, February 5th
      • Kiso Fukushima Station
    • Satuday, February 6th
    • Thursday, February 11th
      • Agematsu-machi
    • Saturday, February 13th

Upcoming Festivals

Kashimayari Fire Festival

A bonfire full of former New Year's decorations burns in the night. Red, round Daruma statues are hung from the top of the bonfire.

New Year's decorations are burned to pray for wellness and health in the New Year.

Kashimayari ski resort is having a fire festival of its own this Saturday. Lanterns will illuminate the path to the event space, where a series of fire performances will take place, including torch-wielding skiers, the “Onbe” bonfire and closing fireworks.

This will also be the first day of their illumination nighter, so you’ll be able to ski after the event until 21:30!

Main Event

Date: Saturday, January 30th
Time: 17:00 to 20:00
Nearest Station: Yanaba Station (Oito line)

Illumination Nighter

Date: January 30th to February 15th, 2016
Time: 18:00 to 21:30

Shiraito Icicle Illumination

Frozen Shiraito Falls are illuminated with strands of white and blue lights.

Shiraito Falls during the Icicle Illumination.

Karuizawa’s picturesque Shiraito falls freeze in winter and make an excellent canvas for a light show! The romantic display is on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening from February 5th to March 14th, so bring that special someone along for a date night. Why not finish with dinner at one of Karuizawa’s many gourmet restaurants?

It can be reached from Karuizawa station via the Kusatsu Kotsu Local bus. Get on from North Exit #2 platform and get off at the Shiraito Highland way stop (about 20 mins).

Date: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between February 5th and March 14th
Time: 16:00 to 19:00
Nearest Station: Karuizawa Station (Hokuriku Shinkansen, Shinano line)

13th Annual Nagano Lantern Festival

The main hall of Zenkoji is lit up with a mix of blue and red lights.

Zenkoji during the Nagano Lantern Festival.

Nagano’s lantern festival is a large-scale event with almost all of Zenkoji and Zenkoji- dori lit up with lights and hand-crafted lanterns. Enjoy unique designs by school children and artists alike as you walk up towards the temple, whose many buildings are lit up in a rainbow of color. Several other events will be held during the week of the lantern festival as well, making this a great time to hang out in Nagano city!

Main Event

Date: Saturday, February 6th to Sunday, February 14th
Time: 18:00 to 21:00 (last day until 20:00)
Nearest Station: JR Nagano Station, Gondo Station, Zenkojishita Station

Opening Ceremony

The Nagano lantern festival was created in memory of the Nagano Winter Olympic Games. This year, participants from the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games will carry out a torch-lighting ceremony. The Snowlets, mascots from Nagano’s Olympics, will make a guest appearance.

Date: Saturday, February 6th
Time: 17:30 to 18:00
Nearest Station: Gondo Station, JR Nagano Station

Nagano Sake Festival

Enjoy tasting local Nagano sake and seasonal food from the Hokuriku area! Held at Patio Daimon next to the Daimon intersection on the way to Zenkoji.

Date: Saturday, February 6th to Saturday, February 13th
Time: 18:00 to 21:00 (last day until 20:00)
Nearest Station: Gondo Station, JR Nagano Station

Suwa Ice Candle

Candles line a bridge towards the castle gate.

Over 20,000 candles light up the areas of Suwa for one night.

The lake Suwa area is illuminated with over 20,000 hand-made ice candles for one day in winter. Ice sculptures and objects decorate Namiki-dori, and there will be plenty of food stalls and performances to keep you happy and entertained. Visitors should get off at Kamisuwa station to be closest to the action.

Date: Saturday, February 6th
Time: from 17:00
Nearest Station: JR Kamisuwa Station (Chuo line)

34th Annual Iiyama Snow & Kamakura Festival

A snowy night scene of igloo huts. People can be seen enjoying food and drink inside.

The kamakura igloos in Iiyama are just one of the festivals treats.

Iiyama city is on the northern tip of Nagano and has some of the heaviest snowfall in the prefecture. To make the snow less burdensome and more fun, they use it to build sculptures and kamakura igloos. Each year the event grows in size and popularity, and these days musical performances and fireworks accompany the event.

Last year, Iiyama added a new aspect to their snow festival: world-record breaking! They set a new world record for the number of three-tiered snowmen they could build in one hour: 1585 snowmen with 630 people. What snow-related record will they try to break next?

Definitely a must-see while you’re here!

Date: Saturday, February 13th and Sunday, February 14th, 2016
Time: Day One: 9:00~18:30
Day Two: 10:00~15:30
Nearest Station: Kita Iiyama Station (Iiyama line)

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