The Heart of Japan: Myoko Festivals & Events
Myoko Festivals and Events in the Heart of Japan
There are plenty of Myoko festivals and events that take place in Myoko-Kogen and Nagano throughout the year with many of these listed below. Always remember to check dates and times with the local tourist office wherever possible! Check the video at the bottom of the page for just a taste of some of the many activities available!
Nagano and Myoko Festivals
Takada o hanami (cherry blossom festival) – Takada koen (park) has more than 4,000 sakura (cherry) trees. Every spring the park bursts forth in a fabulous display of cherry blossoms and plays host to one of Japan’s best known o hanami. The evening view (see below) with paper lanterns is especially popular (see an gallery of the Takada cherry blossoms at night here). It is about 15-20 minutes walk from Takada Station. Take the train from Nagano City (70-80 minutes), Myokokogen (40 minutes) or Naoetsu (10 minutes). Book Takada Hotels here.
Live cam in Takada Park. Watch the cherry blossoms bloom each Spring!
Myokokogen Kan-bara Matsuri (festival) – This Myoko festival is held in May of each year at Ikenotaira to celebrate the coming of Spring. This festival is lively one with spectacular fireworks, a lottery, traditional music and dancing, refreshments, music from an army band, and numerous stalls selling many different kinds of food and novelties. Bonfires lit on the side of Mount Myoko can be seen from a long distance away.
Arai Festival 新井祭り – This Myoko festival takes place on the first weekend in August and is one of the biggest events in the summer. The men of Arai carry on their shoulders Japan’s thickest, longest and biggest straw rope through the city. In the evening people of Arai perform a traditional dance in the streets of Arai and enjoy hanabi (fireworks displays). Along the streets everyone joins in traditional Araibayashi 新井ばやし dancing and big barrels of sake are placed so everyone can refresh themselves.
Iiyama Joshi Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival – The ruins of Iiyama Castle built by the orders of feudal lord Uesugi Kenshin is one of the very best sakura locations in the region. About 400 someiyoshino blossoms cover the entire mountain in pink, and the cherry blossoms the narcissus blooming during the same season are equally gorgeous. From the castle ruins you can have a grand view of the Chikuma River flowing down along with with the mountainscape of Shiga-Kogen with snow left on its peak. It is about thirty-forty minutes by car from Myoko City. Book Iiyama Hotels here.
Otaya Festival おたや祭り : Since the Temple was built in 1685 the Otaya festival has been held at Arai Betsuin 新井別院 in Myoko City. At the temple the remains of the famous painter Ranshai Mori (1740 – 1801) were put to rest. He studied painting in Nagasaki where he encountered foreign cultures and during his prime worked for the most powerful feudal lord of the time. The festival takes place from the 1st of to the 4th of November. Among other things you can enjoy a parade of children walking through the city dressed in traditional Japanese dress.
Lake Nojiri hanabi (fireworks festival) – A spectacular fireworks display over the lake held near the end of July every year. Try to arrive early – the traffic can be heavy – or book a Lake Nojiri hotel here.
Sekiyama Fire matsuri (festival) – Boasting 1200 years of tradition this Myoko festival is held in the middle of July each year and samples can be seen in the video below. Many events take place including traditional stick-fighting, pine-tree pulling, traditional dancing and sumo wrestling, plus the running of a portablemikoshi (shrine). As a finale ritual the branches of a giant pine tree are lit on fire to pray for a good harvest. Held at Sekiyama jinja and other areas throughout the town. Phone 0255-82-2400 for more details. Book hotels for the event here.
Togakushi Soba Festival – This celebration is held during the fall equinox, Shūbun no hi. This time also celebrates the buckwheat harvest, without which there would be no soba. Togakushi is famous throughout Japan for it’s soba(buckwheat noodles) which come in a variety of sizes and are defined by how much buckwheat flour is used in their creation. At least 30% buckwheat flour must be used in order for noodles to gain the moniker of soba. Higher buckwheat content makes soba much more desirable to the discerning public. People buy small sake cups on the eve of the festival and eat soba (Japanese noodles) at 21 participating restaurants. Admission is free. Book Togakushi Hotels here
Dontoyaki Snow Hanabi Matsuri (Fireworks Festival) – This event is held in Myoko Suginohara Ski Area around mid-January. The Myoko Suginohara Snow Festival is held each December and the Dontoyaki Fireworks Festival (a little similar to the Dosojin Fire Festival in Nozawa Onsen) takes place each January. The Dontoyaki Festival kicks off when men and women whose Chinese zodiac sign is the same as the new year light a fire. As a way of praying for the well-being of their family, business prosperity, and a rich harvest, participants burn New Year’s decorations and kakizome (traditional New Year’s calligraphy) in the fire. If the flames rise when your kakizome is burnt, it means your handwriting will improve. Mochi, small squares of pounded, chewy rice, is also cooked in the fire, and eating it is said to prevent illness over the next year. Local saké is readily available on this day, and a fireworks show completes the event. See a gallery of the Dontoyaki Snow Hanabi Matsuri here! Book Suginohara accommodation here.
Kamakura Festival of Lights at Akakura Onsen – This festival (below) originated as a New Year’s event in which children built traditional Japanese igloos, celebrated the god of water and sang songs to drive off birds. These songs are for driving away harmful birds from the fields to improve the harvest. For the festival each February a large kamakura is built at Akakan Resort. Participants can sit inside to enjoy the snowy ambience and night illumination. Book Akakura Onsen Hotels here
Na-no-hana (Canola Blossom) Festival – This festival is held in Iiyama during Golden Week (the beginning of May) . The Na-no-hana park overlooks the river and the plain and is a great spot for some random flower viewing and a picnic! Book Iiyama Hotels.
Iizuna Fire Festival – This festival at Iizuna Kogen features a gorgeous fireworks display on the highland lake at Iizuna Resort every September creating an impressive fantasy of sound, light and water. For more information and tickets see the fire festival website or e-mail here. Ticket are 7000-9000yen each (depending on time bought). Book Iizuna Hotels.
Nagano and Myoko Events
Newport Jazz Festival in Madarao – This was a three day festival held every summer since 1982 on the beautiful Madarao plateau but has not run since 2009. It included workshops and jam sessions as well as performances by well known local and international performers. Notable artists who have performed at the festival include: Dizzy Gillespie quartet, Spyro Gyra, Masahiko Sato, Stuff, Tania Maria, Toshiyuki Honda, Terumasa Hino, B. B. King, Gary Burton, Dave Brubeck, Woody Herman, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Ritenour, Wayne Shorter, Jackie McLean, Celia Cruz, Sérgio Mendes, Jonathan Butler, Gil Evans, Charmaine Neville, Larry Goldings, Regina Carter, Monday Michiru, Michael Brecker, Dianne Reeves, Ray Barretto, Angélique Kidjo, PE’Z, and many more. Book Iiyama Hotels here.
Lake Nojiri Triathlon – This is an increasingly popular event for both contestants and spectators. It held every year around the middle of July. Competitors came from all over Japan as well as overseas. Book Lake Nojiri Hotels here.
Other Nagano and Myoko Festivals, happening and events throughout the year
- January 1st: New Years Festival – Togakushi Inner Shrine
- Mid- February: Iiyama Snow Festival
- Mid April: Cherry Blossom Festival in Iiyama and Nakano
- April: Cherry blossom viewing in Kyozukayama Park
- Early July: Iiyama Gion Festival
- Late July: The Mt. 6 MTB World Cup Race in Myoko, Nagano and Arai
- *July 27th: Nojiro-ko Lantern Festival – Lake Nojiri
- *July 29th: Nojiriko Fireworks – 7:30pm
- *August 5th: Iiyama Dontokoi
- *August 14th-16th: Togakushi Shrine Festival
- *August 14th: Iiyama Fireworks Festival
- *August 16th: Madarao Kogen Fireworks – 8.00pm
- *August 23rd: Togakushi Jizo Bon Festival
- *September 23rd: Togakushi Soba Noodle Festival
- Early October: Echigo Arai Koshihikari Marathon
- Early October: Matsugamine Marathon in Nakago Village
- Early December: Opening festival for all Myokokogen ski resorts
- Mid December: Myokokogen Ski jinja matsuri (Shrine Festival)
- *December 22nd: Shin-Myoko White Christmas celebration
*Approximate dates and times only. Please remember to double-check with the local tourist centre.