Winter festivals return amid fewer coronavirus cases

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
People relax in kamakura snow huts in Yokote, Akita Prefecture, in February 2019.

Local festivals and events that were canceled or curtailed last winter are being resumed as coronavirus infections across the country drop to the lowest levels of the pandemic and the vaccination rate is high. Although many events are getting green-lighted, they have not returned to the scale seen prior to the pandemic, as concerns remain amid the emergence of the new omicron variant, which has been detected in several countries, and as cases surge in Europe.

Growing expectations

“We have high hopes that many travelers will visit,” said Atsushi Uchikawa, chairperson of the Yokote City Tourism Association in Yokote, Akita Prefecture, referring to Kamakura, an event that will be held on Feb. 15-16 for the first time in two years. The city will once again set up kamakura snow huts for tourists to visit and take photos of.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Visitors to the Sapporo Snow Festival in Chuo Ward, Sapporo, view snow sculptures in February 2020.

The festival is an important event for the city because it attracts as many as 500,000 people. The city decided to hold the festival after taking into account various factors, including the vaccination rate.

Local children usually welcome visitors inside the snow huts and offer them amazake, a sweet non-alcoholic drink made with fermented rice and sake lees, but the tradition will be suspended next year.

“Some tourists to rural areas let their guard down, and it’s easy to become vulnerable,” Uchikawa said as a reason for scaling back some activities.

The city of Sapporo will hold the Sapporo Snow Festival from Feb. 5 through Feb. 12 for the first time in two years. Before the pandemic struck, more than 2 million visitors would attend the annual festival.

However, the event will be scaled back. The centerpiece of the festival, the creation of huge snow sculptures, will be canceled. Also, the organizer will work to ensure that festivalgoers do not linger too long in any one place. Booths selling food, drinks and goods will not be set up.

“We hope accommodations facilities near the event site will benefit, even if just a little,” said a Sapporo City Tourism Association official.

The Sendai Pageant of Starlight, an annual event in which Sendai’s downtown area is decorated and illuminated at night, will be held on a shortened schedule this year. The event will run from Dec. 18 through Dec. 31, which is 12 days shorter than the one held in 2019, and five days fewer than the one held last year. Also, the stretch of the illuminated section in Aoba Ward will be cut by about 200 meters compared to last year.

The annual Nagano Ebisu-ko Fireworks Festival was canceled last year, but held on Nov. 23 in the city of Nagano. However, the location from which the fireworks were launched was not announced until the day of the event, and paid spectator seating, which is usually set up, was dropped.

2nd year of cancellations

Several events have been canceled for the second year in a row.

Nagasaki City has canceled the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, an annual event held in February. The festival celebrates the Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar.

Before the pandemic hit, the event would draw 1 million spectators who would come to watch the parade of people clad in Chinese costumes, dancing dragons and other spectacles.

“We don’t know what the infection situation will be like next year, and it’s difficult to stop people from crowding,” an organizing committee official said.

However, the city will decorate urban areas with Chinese lanterns, a scaled-down event that is catered to residents, from Feb. 1 through Feb. 15.