Tokamachi, located in Niigata Prefecture, is known for getting some of the heaviest snowfalls in Japan. When the cold northwesterly winds blowing in from Russia and China hit high ground like the peaks of the Mikuni Mountains, they dump huge amounts of snow on the windward side. While the snow sometimes causes great damage, it also provides a rich source of water and plays an important role in the lives of local people.
The Kimono Festival takes place every May. (Tokamachi City)
Thanks to this abundance of water, rice and silk have long been produced in this area. A type of rice grown here called Uonuma koshihikari is famous all over Japan for its delicious taste. This rice is grown on land made fertile by the Shinano River that runs through the town from north to south and by snow as it melts in the spring.
There is a long history of producing fabric and clothing in the area going all the way back to the Jomon period (from about 10,000 BC to about 300 BC). The region prospered from the production of Echigo chijimi (hemp crepe of Echigo province) fabrics in the Edo period (1603 to 1867) and silk goods during the Meiji era (1868 to 1912). The Tokamachi Kimono Festival is still held every spring, and during the festival the city is filled with young women wearing beautiful kimonos.
In the Akakura region, torioi is performed on top of a stage made of piled up snow. (Tokamachi City)
The Snow Festival. The main stage is made of snow and is decorated in the image of a kimono patterned with cranes and carriages. (Yamauchi Photo Studio)
This city, which is blanketed with snow for almost half of every year, still has a number of traditional events associated with the snow. One of these is torioi (bird chasing), a ceremony to pray for a rich harvest, which takes place on January 14. In the ceremony, children eat rice cakes in special torioi huts made of snow and then parade through the city beating wooden clappers while singing traditional songs in order to chase away birds that might damage crops.
The Snow Festival, held every February, is the biggest event on Tokamachi's calendar. The festival has many attractions, including a show performed on a stage built of snow and a display of snow sculptures.
Tokamachi has a long history of communicating the trials and joys of living with so much snow to people outside the city. It is a place where adults and children are friends with the snow and have used this precious resource to make their city a great place to live.