As the 2023 calendar year has come to an end, we embrace the New Year with optimism and an eagerness for adventure. With Japan’s return to pre-COVID travel policies in 2023, wanderlust seekers from across the world rushed to visit globally recognized Japanese destinations such as Mt. Fuji or Kyoto. As a result, these iconic spaces are faced with over-tourism and crowding, all while leaving their rural counterparts comparably vacant.
Although these popular locations offer easy ways to engage Japanese culture, visitors coming to Japan in 2024 should kick off their new year by discovering getting off the beaten path and discover the charming and unique opportunities available only in the countryside.
A 450-year-old tradition: Exploring Yokote's winter wonderland
The city of Yokote in the southeastern Akita Prefecture hosts an annual winter festival that boasts a number of candle-lit “kamakura” igloos every February 15–16. The size of kamakura range from small, candle lit lanterns to ones that are large enough for a small group of people to fit in. Over the two days, these snowy structures pop up around the city and at 6PM, the structures are illuminated to cast a warm glow against a snowy canvas. Local children will invite travelers to step inside the larger kamakura and enjoy a cup of “amazake,” a traditional Japanese drink made out of fermented rice.
Capture romance in the glittering glow of kamakura igloos.
The festival is a visual delight and a cultural immersion, offering visitors the chance to interact with local people, savor regional cuisine and even build their own kamakura. If creating lasting memories amid the serene beauty of winter in Japan piques your interest, Yokote is accessible via train on the JR Ou Main Line or JR Kitakami Line in Akita. Active walkers can comfortably trek to and from the festival from Yokote Station.
All you need to make a kamakura is some snow and a candle.
An unforgettable evening with dazzling floats at Inuyama Festival
In Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, the annual Inuyama Festival will satisfy your desire for an authentic cultural experience woven into Japan’s unique cultural tapestry. Set in the historic city of Inuyama, this vibrant celebration was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage for Humanity, and offers visitors a unique and authentic experience.
The towering floats being carried down a cherry blossom-lined street is an unforgettable sight.
Photo Credit: Inuyama City
Traditionally held on the first weekend of April, this year on April 6 and 7 from 9 AM to 9:30 PM, the historic Inuyama Old Castle Town area hosts parades of three-tiered floats and doll performances using traditional Japanese puppets (known as “karakuri”) alongside flute and taiko drum performances. During the day, the thirteen floats parade through the cherry blossom-lined streets, but at night, all 365 lanterns decorating the 13 floats are lit, creating a truly unforgettable atmosphere. Visitors can take in the dynamic energy of traditional floats adorned with stunning ornaments, witness captivating performances and partake in the local festivities that embody the heart and soul of Aichi’s heritage.
At night, the 365 lanterns of the Inuyama Festival’s float illuminate the evening.
Photo Credit: Inuyama City
Celebrate diversity at the Kobe 2024 Para Athletics World Championships
If you’re looking for a different kind of celebration, the Kobe 2024 Para Athletics World Championships offer another unique perspective on Japanese cultural appreciation. From May 17 to 25, select skilled athletes of different levels of ableness will gather from around the world to compete among peers and test their abilities.
The 11th edition of the global event will be East Asia’s first time hosting the World Para Athletics Championship. Hosted in Kobe, the capital of Hyogo Prefecture, this year will feature both men’s and women’s wheelchair racing, seated shot put, long jump, javelin and varying length races. There are many different dynamic events to experience, fostering an appreciation for the resilience and skill of para-athletes. While visiting Kobe for the Para Athletics World Championships, make sure to check out the night sights, gardens and try some Kobe beef, of course.
Participants from the previous 2023 Para Athletics World Championships.
Photo Credit: Moto Yoshimura
Experience ethereal beauty at the Echizen Daibutsu cloud installation
In Fukui Prefecture, The Echizen Daibutsu cloud installation offers historic, picturesque experiences for all. Offering a distinctive blend of tradition and modern artistry, this immersive installation – set against the breathtaking landscape of Katsuyama – seamlessly integrates ancient Buddhist symbolism with a sea of clouds.
From April 1 to late November, those visiting the Echizen Daibutsu can witness an ethereal display as the cloud formations envelop shrines and a colossal 17-meter-high Buddha statue one hour after opening and one hour prior to closing. This site provides a serene and contemplative environment, allowing visitors to connect with Japan's spiritual heritage while embracing innovation. This juxtaposition of ancient spirituality and contemporary creativity offers a refreshing and memorable cultural experience, making the Echizen Daibutsu cloud installation a must-visit destination for those seeking a unique and enriching journey in 2024.
Imagine how mystical the sea of clouds will look against the backdrop of Echizen Daibutsu’s traditional architecture.
Photo Credit: Fukui Prefecture & Fukui Prefectural Tourism Federation
The Echizen Daibutsu is only a 10-minute bus ride from Katsuyama Station, and travelers looking to visit can take advantage of the new Hokuriku Shinkansen expansion and ride straight to Fukui Station from Tokyo.
About the author
Author: Lissa Carandang-Sweeney
Profile: Lissa is a New York based writer who enjoys film making and studying linguistics. She hopes to tell stories that inspire, entertain and empower audiences around the globe.