Simple Winter Scene in the Snow Country: Echoing with the Laughter of Children
Kamakura Festival is held annually on February 15 and 16 at Yokote City, Akita Prefecture, part of the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan. It is one of the best known festivals in Akita, along with the Kanto Festival and Namahage, a festival to bring good fortune in which young people put on scary masks of deities and go around the houses of the village frightening the children. Yokote City lies in an area of heavy snowfall where 20 to 30 centimeters (8 to 10 inches) of snow may fall overnight. Kamakura Festival uses this snow in a festival that can only be found in such a snowy place.
In the past, the Kamakura Festival was intended to offer hospitality at the New Year to deities who had come from away. It was also a way of spending a few simple days in a small hut away from the usual material temptations of life. These days, however, the rites chiefly involve small children.
Kamakura is the name given to small igloo-like structure made entirely from compacted snow: a small entrance gives access to a wide space inside. First, mounds of snow are built up and trampled to compact the snow. These large Kamakura domes rise to heights of up to 2 m (2.2 yd.). After this the inside is hollowed out from the side.
An altar for the water deity is carved into the rear of the room inside the Kamakura, and here people pray for abundant harvests, the safety of their family members, protection against fire and academic success.
Blankets are laid on the floor of the Kamakura and small groups of children sit inside. They set up small cooking stove inside, toast mochi (rice cakes), warm up and drink amazake (a fermented rice drink), and offer them to passersby. At night candles light up the Kamakura. The many candle-lit Kamakura look beautiful in the still of the night. The fantastic scene lingers in the mind and fires the poetical imagination.
You can also experience Kamakura even in summer. In a building adjacent to Yokote City Hall, there is a glass-sided cold room. Here, there are a few Kamakuras, kept at a temperature of 10ºC, and visitors are allowed to go inside.
Photo: Kamakura (The Organizing Committee for the World Games 2001 Akita)
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