The snow festival in Sapporo, known in Japan as the Yuki Matsuri (雪 祭り), is held each year in the northern capital. It lasts six days. It is one of the most exciting winter events. These days, the city is full of snow and ice figures, many wink satirically at current social reality, in the way that Las Fallas do in Valencia. There are also many cultural and recreational activities. The dates change every year, but it is usually in February. I recommend that if you are really interested in coming to the festival, visit the official website to book your flight and your hotel in time.
One of my main objectives in Takayama was going to visit the famous Sanno Matsuri. It's a festival with the famous Yata parade, with moving templates of carvings, colourful curtains and puppets. This festival, from April 14 and 15, is supposedly one of the most beautiful Matsuri in Japan. There is a smaller version called Hachiman Matsuri. It's celebrated on October 9 and 10. However, the sky wasn't kind to the hundreds of people or to the Yata that were supposed to march through the centre of Takayama. It started to rain so the Matsuri was temporarily suspended until the rain stopped. Thus, we could only see some Yata in the streets and people dressed for the parade, but the rain prevented it from happening in full. It must be a sight to see.
Narita is for many the name of Japan's most important airport. However, for us it has particular significance as the name evokes one of the most special days on our second trip to Japan. April 11 was a long day, not least because we had to get up at 7:30 to go to Matsuri Taiko. At first I wasn't quite sure, as it meant sacrificing a day in Tokyo for visiting a small town which we knew almost nothing about. Narita was a very pleasant surprise. It has a very authentic old town. In a way it reminded me a little of Kyoto. Their houses with history and very coquettish, street stalls with aromas and flavors of yesteryear, color, lots of color and music. The Matsuri at its peak. Suddenly drums surprised us. African, Southeast Asian and Indian drummers mixed with the typical Japanese matsuri. What a joy. After this we attended the traditional dragon dance, brilliantly played by a man with many matsuris behind him. Fantastic. This led us to an esplanade in front of the steps of Naritasan Shinsoji. There we saw early taiko choreography, the coordination, energy and rhythm of the drummers was amazing. Hundreds of Japanese, many with photographic supercomputers, immortalized and recorded the choreography and drumming. Then, we spent a good time watching the show. It was worth it and doubts about Narita were dispelled. It was a great, authentic Narita.
The walk starts from Ginkaku-ji. Take a left at the temple entrance and then a right and find the path that climbs up through the forest to Diamonjiyama. This is the clearing on the mountainside where a one of the five okuribi bonfires is lit during the mid August fire festival. From here, there are excellent views across Kyoto and a small rustic shrine if you want to say a prayer. Climbing up from the bonfire site you reach the forested ridge and can follow a signposted path towards Nanzen-ji. This is a relaxing trail and leaves you feeling immersed in nature even through you are on the outskirts of Kyoto city. On the way, you will pass Shichifuku-shiandokoro described by the Lonely planet Hiking Japan as the seven fortunes thinking spot and the Nanzen Oku-no-in a shrine where pilgrims pray naked beneath the waterfall.
The path finally emerges in the Nanzen-ji temple complex. There is plenty to see here and you cannot miss the enormous San-mon entrance gate built in 1628. Within the temple complex there is a rather delicious looking resturant specialising in tofu. Upon leaving the complex follow signs for the Philosopher's Path. This 2 km canalside path shaded by cherry trees leads back to Ginkaku-ji. Practice meditation, draft a haiku, catch pokemon or pop in the craft shops along the way, the choice is yours.
The round trip is easy and can be completed in a morning.
Setsubun Festival is the cerebration of the new year of the old calendar. There are various traditional events(Noh, Kyo-gen and Maiko Geiko performances, Utai) held annually at Kitano-Tenmanguu shrine at beginning of February in Kyoto, Japan.