The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most popular events in Japan with around 2 million visitors annually. In 2015 it will run from the 5th - 11th February and Sapparo will be turned into a winter wonderland. Spectators are awarded with a vast variety of snow and ice sculptures of people and buildings. In addition, a number of snow stages are created and live music entertains the crowds. Snow slides, mazes and regional food add to the fun.
New Chitose Airport has flights from a number of international destinations and is conveniently located 40 minutes by train from Sapporo. We would recommend staying at the Jozankei Tsuruga Resort Spa Mori no Uta and enjoying the outdoor hot springs in the cold of winter (book a cottage for private hot spring) and Kaiseki dinner.
Tanabata comes about from the legend of Orihime and Hikoboshi, two lovers who were supposedly separated by the Milky Way and only allowed to meet once per year - on the seventh day of the seventh month. The festival is celebrated throughout Japan; wishes are written on strips of paper and tied to bamboo, which may be burned or floated down the river the following day.
Most Tanabata festivals involved parades and decoration competitions. The most famous celebration is in Sendai, a large city around 350 km North of Tokyo. Trains from Tokyo take around 2.5 hours, although there is an airport in Sendai with regional and domestic flights. Our recommended hotel in Sendai is the Westin offering fantastic views over the city.
Chrysanthemum day traditional takes place on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month (October 21st in 2015) and is one of the five ancient sacred festivals of Japan. Nowadays, it tends to be celebrated on the 9th September - it is not widely celebrated, but a must see for fans of this flower with large displays, particularly within shrines. Originally used in traditional Chinese medicine, chrysanthemum flowers are believed to bestow longevity and eternal youth. In the mid-19th century, the growing of the flower and making of chrysanthemum models was considered a highly-skilled art-form. Flower displays and doll exhibitions take place throughout Japan, so it may be worth keeping an eye open if you're travelling in September.
Most tourists thinking of visiting Japan would wish to see the beautiful delicate cherry blossoms or sakura. Depending on the weather and location, these are generally in full bloom in April, although blooming can start in March and continue to May - more Southerly locations bloom first. For Kyoto and Tokyo, travel during very late March/early April is most likely to be fruitful.
This is an ideal time to visit Kyoto, before the heat of summer becomes oppressive and humidity increases. Within Kyoto, we recommend staying at the Hyatt Regency. During your visit, why not venture our with a local student on a sight-seeing tour and learn more about what it's like to live in Japan?
Nebuta Matsuri takes place each year in Aomori, Northern Japan (although sister festivals take place in Tokyo in September too). Illuminated floats (up to 9 metres wide and 5 metres high) depicting colourful warriors parade through the streets, accompanied by dancers, drummers and chanting. The floats are carried through Aomori from 2nd-7th August and a fireworks display closes the festival, when the floats are carried into the sea.
Aomori airport has flights from Tokyo, Seoul and Osaka, as well as seasonal flights from Taipei. Trains are also available from Tokyo, taking around 4 hours. Hotel choice in Aomori is somewhat limited, but we would recommend the Hakkoda Hotel, which offers Western or Japanese-style rooms and Kaiseki dinner.