From December 2014 through February 2015, the Nikko Kinugawa area offers a variety of events that allow tourists from other countries to experience Japanese culture at a leisurely pace during their stay at one of many hospitable hot-spring ryokans (Japanese inns) and hotels. Among them, what is most opulent is the one to celebrate the Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) in February. This period of the year is called “setsubun” (the last day of winter) in Japan, and people scatter soy roasted beans, after a Chinese custom, to drive away demons that cause illness and to pray for bringing good luck and good health, because it is believed that by scattering beans (“mame”), they can cause destruction of demons (“mame” ). In this season, many travelers gather in the area to witness various events such as the festival and ritual on the setsubun day at the world heritage Nikko Toshogu Shrine, as well as the Chinese New Year Festival in the Kinugawa hot-spring resort.
Ryokans and hotels in the area offer various benefits for tourists from other countries, such as special gifts for their guests, free use of hot-spring bathes, admission fee discounts in tourist facilities and operation of charge-free shuttle buses.
This event is held in the square in front of Kinugawa-onsen Station for celebration of the Chinese New Year Festival. During the event, visitors are entertained by a dance with lion’s mask, on-stage Japanese drum performance, Ninja show, and performance of Japanese traditional plays during the New Year Holidays. In addition, town stroll in Kimono by tourists from other countries, sales of Nikko’s specialty food and the training hall to learn how to throw Ninja’s shuriken (throwing-knife) are scheduled.
Setsubun is the day to celebrate transition of the seasons. The setsubun festival is held at the Nikko Toshogu Shrine and Nikko Futarasan-Jinja Shrine, as well as the setsubun ritual at the Nikkosan Rinno-Ji Temple.
Oni (Japanese devil) welcomes visitors. The hot-spring resort holds the large-scale “garamaki”, an event to throw lucky grab bags to visitors, as well as a great lottery event that the guests of the hotels can win luxurious prizes.
Market for lucky charms for traditional New-Year’s decorations such as daruma dolls and bamboo rakes is opened on Route 119 between the Ogura-cho intersection and Kasuga-cho intersection in the Imaichi district.
The period extending from the end of December to January 3 provides the best opportunity to see Japanese traditional culture. Why not experience cuisines and events in the Japanese New Year?
Preparation for New Year: Wishing long lives of family members, people decorate their houses with lucky charms such as kadomatsu (New Year’s pine decorations), shimekazari (New Year festoon made of sacred straw) and Kagamimochi (mirror-shaped rice cakes).
December 31 (Omisoka or New Year's Eve): People eat Toshikoshi-soba (buckwheat noodles eaten on New Year’s Eve) with wishes for the lives that are as long as soba noodles. In the middle of the night, the sound of joya no kane (bells ringing out the old year) is heard from temples.
January 1 (Gantan): People see the first sunrise of the year solemnly. Then, they eatosechi (traditional New Year's food arranged in beautiful multitiered boxes) and ozoni (rice cake soup), and drink toso (New Year's spiced sake) with wishes to remove negative vibes and have long lives.
January 1 through 3: People visit temples and shrines to pray that they can have a peaceful and healthy new year.
Japanese sake is brewed by the Japanese unique method to use rice, malted rice and water as the basic ingredients. In the Imaichi district, sake is brewed in various places, because the district is benefited from high-quality groundwater that have been traditionally supplied from the Nikko mountains. During this period when sake is newly brewed, why not visit sake breweries to see brewing of sake and try the newly-brewed sake? *Please take note that English guidance is not available in the breweries.
Explore the great scenery of the snow-covered forest by going up and down snow slopes in snowshoes. You may find trails of wild animals. This tour is recommendable for families with kids and those who wish to enjoy snow playing.
Tour for intermediate or advanced level travelers to explore the Unryu Valley along with an accompaniment of a travel guide. You should not miss the natural beauty of the ice scenery created on the valley: an ice wall with 100m width and ice pillars with 10m height are just magnificent and breathtaking. This tour to the superb scenery is available only for a limited period.
In daytime, visitors can enjoy snow sledding on the slope and barbeque in a kamakura or snow hut (reservation required). In nighttime, miniature kamkakuras lit from inside on the river bed produce fantastic scenery.
About 1,000 yukiakaris in a shape like a minuture-size kamakura create the fantastic world decorated by “snow” and “light.”
Each group of jizo statues (or individual jizo statue) is lit by about 1,000 candles to create a mysterious atmosphere. During the period of this pageant, fireworks are set off every night.
Visitors can enjoy various snow activities, from casual snow playing to skiing and snowboarding on the ski slopes in the Kinugawa area. Charge-free shuttle bus service is available at the Tobu Kinugawa-Onsen Station and Nasu-Shiobara Station (reservation required).
Hotels and ryokans decorate hina dolls that were created with a wish for sound health of girls. In addition, visitors can not only see hanging decorations of hina dolls created with a wish for happiness of children, but also experience handcrafting of such hina dolls. Hanging decoration of the hina dolls handcrafted from flowers of Japanese wisteria and cherry by local ladies is just magnificent.
About 170 shops and houses in the Nikko district display hina dolls. Enjoy a tour to collect stamps of hina dolls as well.
Eat Tochigi’s famous strawberry “Tochi-Otome” as many as you like in 30 minutes.
Visitors can participate in a photo session with the Railway Girls, PR characters the Tobu Railway including “Miyabi Kinugawa,” as well as stalls to sell local products of the cities and towns on the railroad.