Akita #4: Snow Huts (かまくら)

Winters in the Northern regions of Japan are harsh and snow-filled, but in Akita Prefecture’s Yokote City, a unique winter festival brings fun and light to a few winter nights in February. The Yokote Kamakura Festival is today’s topic, just in time for 2015’s festival, held from February 14-16.

Kamakura are snow huts. They are often made by children after a big snow in regions across Japan, and are the main component of the festival. After building many of these huts around the city, an alter is set into each, to a water deity to pray for ample water in the coming months. Children often grill rice cakes inside the hut, and beckon passers-by with hot amazake and the cakes. Visitors accept the food by entering, and make an offering to the deity in each hut they enter.

Also during the festival are extended areas of the castle allowing night views of the city, making your own kamakura in Komyoji Park, and snow sculptures and food stalls around the city into the night.

Not able to make it in the winter months? You can still view a kamakura, kept cold at the Kamakuran Hall in a special room year round.

I’ve never been to the festival, but kamakura are made all around the country. These pictures are from one on the top of a mountain, which we found while snowboarding one year. They’re pretty fun!

Hydrangea Flowers (Kanagawa 6 – Hakone Mountain Railway (箱根登山電車))

This post is going to be a little different from the others I’ve posted so far. Instead of talking about this postcard as a whole, I want to focus on a smaller element of it. But since I’ve never introduced the card before, I’ll give some background about it:

Kanagawa’s 6th postcard features the Hakone Mountain Railway (Hakone Tozan Densha), which travels from Odawara to Hakone-Yumoto, where it switches to a small mountain train, then continues on to Gora, which gives access to the Lake Ashi Cablecar.

Although the train is popular in general and runs year-round, the most famous time to ride it is during June and July, when thousands of Hydrangea (ajisai in Japanese) bloom along the tracks. These rainy season flowers are lit up during the night, and special night trains are added to the schedule during this time. You can read more about the train here.

A poster detailing the train times and ticket information in Shinjuku Station

Right now is the perfect season to ride this train and see these beautiful flowers. Although I’ve never ridden that train, I have ridden Enoshima’s Enoden (the subject of Kanagawa’s 2nd postcard in fact!) and the hydrangea along that line are beautiful as well.

So let’s talk about these flowers. Hydrangea range in color from the lightest pinks, blues, and purples, to the darkest of these colors, depending on acidity of the soil. Because of their bold colors, they are very striking! They are also one of my favorite seasonal flowers, and are currently in full and spectacular bloom here in Japan.

I could have sworn that postacollect featured these flowers on a number of postcards, but as I looked through, I only saw the one. Kanagawa is certainly famous enough for them; the temple of Meigetsu-in in Kamakura is one of the most famous places to see hydrangea in Japan, along with the Hakone Mountain Railroad. I hope next year’s set of cards has a few that feature hydrangea too!

Along with the Hakone Mountain Railroad and Kamakura’s Meigetsu-in, there are numerous other places in Japan to see these flowers, especially around Tokyo. Here are just a few of them:

Ohirasan, Tochigi City, Tochigi
Hasedera, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Mimurotoji, Uji, Kyoto

Let’s enjoy these beautiful flowers now!