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Exploring the Enchanting World of YOKOTE's Kamakura Festival

January 12, 2024

Exploring the Enchanting World of YOKOTE's Kamakura Festival

Japan's snowy landscapes bring forth unique traditions, and one of the most captivating is the creation of "kamakura" or snow huts. In the heart of this tradition lies YOKOTE, a city that proudly hosts the annual "Yokote Kamakura Festival" in February, featuring over 100 kamakura structures.

Unveiling the Kamakura Wonders

Step inside these snow dwellings, and you'll find a warm welcome from children gathered around small braziers, treating visitors to delicious grilled rice cakes and sweet sake. Despite the cold exterior, kamakura interiors are surprisingly cozy, inviting you to experience the warmth of both heart and body. Admire the craftsmanship of large kamakura created by skilled artisans and marvel at rows of miniature kamakura crafted by local elementary school students. As night falls and candles illuminate the small kamakura, a fantastical snow world comes to life. Peek inside, and you'll discover the innocent dreams and pure wishes of the children written on notes inside.

With a history spanning over 450 years, YOKOTE's kamakura tradition is deeply rooted. The festival pays homage to the city's past struggles with water scarcity by honoring the water deity within the kamakura. This act of gratitude is said to have transformed "kamikura" (water deity's dwelling) into the familiar "kamakura." In the samurai district, kamakura once served as snow-covered boxes where New Year decorations were placed and burned, adding yet another layer to this intricate history.

Evolving Traditions and Festive Celebrations

Witness the evolution of kamakura over time. Originally, kamakura roofs were made not of snow but straw mats. Today, stylish and contemporary kamakura shapes complement the modern road environment. YOKOTE's snow is even transported to other prefectures and countries, where local artisans craft kamakura with YOKOTE's touch. Amidst these changes, the festival continues to convey the enduring connection between people and snow.

Kamakura Extravaganza: A Feast for the Senses

The Yokote Kamakura Festival, held on February 15th and 16th each year, showcases approximately 80 kamakura throughout the city. Children invite passersby into their kamakura, offering warm hospitality with sweet sake and grilled rice cakes. The festival's origins intertwine with local well-digging ceremonies and the children's snow play, resulting in the vibrant spectacle we witness today.

On February 16th, various groups compete in the "Bonten Contest," showcasing elaborate "bonten" lanterns. The following day, the "Asahiokayama Shrine Bonten Dedication Festival" sees these lanterns paraded to a shrine 3km away. The term "bonten" refers to large decorative banners symbolizing the descent of divine spirits. YOKOTE's bonten are unparalleled in size, elegance, and grandeur, adorned with vivid decorations and towering over 5m in height, weighing over 30kg.

The festival reaches its climax during the shrine dedication ceremony, as energetic participants, surrounded by the intoxicating blend of sweat, steam, joyful shouts, and conch shell sounds, bring the celebration to its peak. Beyond kamakura exploration, the festival offers diverse events such as kamakura photography sessions, mini-kamakura crafting experiences, and exhibitions of snow sculptures and mini-kamakura created by local communities and schools. The Yokote Kamakura Festival promises a delightful and immersive experience, blending tradition, creativity, and warm hospitality in a mesmerizing snowy setting.