Brave the frozen winter night and discover a festival of lights, laughter, and food. Samurai and demon faces carved out of snow tower over 10-meters high, lit up crimson and blue in the crisp icy air. Thousands of visitors flock to this remote and gorgeous place each year in order to take in the scene.
Lake Towada's Winter Story is the largest and most festive of Tohoku's winter celebrations. Hidden away in the mountains of central Aomori lies Lake Towada, a caldera lake of sky blue water encircled by nature. Winter Story is held during the early months of the new year. Events are held at the lake every day of the week for the duration of the festival; weekdays from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, weekends and holidays from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.
During the day, one can enjoy Tsugaru shamisen (a 3-stringed instrument) performances and other local dances. Sometimes a group of high school and college-aged students will perform their area's traditional harvest dance, which might not sound interesting until you see them running around in freezing temperatures wielding giant flags and lifting one another, all in the barest of clothing. Akita Namahage (winter demons who scare children into good behavior) also make appearances banging on taiko drums and mingling with the crowd.
In addition to performances, there are a number of hot spring foot baths, food tents ranging from ramen to local fare, a sledding hill, pony rides through the snow, giant snow sculptures, kamakura (igloo) made into a Christian chapel for prayer and even one full of taxidermy animals like bears and foxes. Another special kind of kamakura were the bars. That's right, full-service bars operating inside domes made of snow and ice. Cocktails, sake, and other drinks are served in cups made of ice. The bars themselves are interesting just to walk inside and look around, even if you are not going to drink. In the past, there have been traditional Japanese bars where you sat on apple crates and even a Godzilla-themed one with the monster's face carved into the ice wall with disco lights.
Lastly, every evening the snow sculptures are lit up with different colors and at 8:00 pm there is a fireworks show over the lake with cascading romantic lights falling over the venue.
Be advised that Towada City and Lake Towada are different places. The city is about 50 km from the lake. Another thing to be mindful of, the event area is in a place called Okuse, Towada City . . . don't worry about the Towada City attachment! It may be confusing but the city limits of Towada stretch out over 50 km, just make sure you are looking into Okuse by the lake area.
There's even a shuttle bus departing from Towada City's Art Museum at 4:00 pm every day, leaving the lake at 8:30 pm every night. It's ￥1,000 roundtrip. To make reservations, which are required, call 0176-23-7765 – Japanese only.
Take Route 102 from Towada City. Turn left, with the lake to your right side, and the venue will be in the first town you come across.
Find out more about Lake Towada.