Winter has always held a particular importance in Japanese printmaking. From 17th century to today, artists capture the quiet beauty of snow, the crisp blue of the winter sky, and the joy of cozying up as temperatures plummet. While winter brings artistic inspiration, it also heralds some exciting seasonal festivities!
Hiroshige. "Atagoshita and Yabu Lane" from the series 100 Famous Views of Edo. 1857. Ronin Gallery.
Starting Winter Off Right: Yuzuyu
Yuzuyu (via http://www.yuzupassion.com/all-about-yuzu)
Toji, the winter solstice, falls around December 22nd and marks the beginning of winter. On this shortest day of the year, many people in Japan go to onsen (hot springs) or sento (public baths) to bathe amidst yuzu, a small citrus fruit. Known as Yuzuyu, bathing with these bright fruits is believed to bring good luck and ward of illness in the coming year. As the smell of citrus fills the air, this special bath soothes winter skin.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Star Wars Comes to the Snow Festival! (via http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/05/travel/gallery/sapporo-snow-star-wars/)
The city of Sapporo celebrates the beauty of snow and ice like no other. This year's 67th Sapporo Snow Festival falls between February 5th and February 18th. Featuring around 250 sculptures, the festival spans three main venues: Odori Park (Ice and snow sculpture, the main attraction in the heart of the city), Tsudome (the community dome, including snow slides and snow rafting), and the Suskino Site (ice sculpture contest and exhibit). This celebration of the season draws crowds from Japan and abroad topping two million.
Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival
A Cozy Kamakura (via Wikimedia)
Can't get enough snow? Head to Yokote City in Akita prefecture for kamakura, single-room huts carved from a mounds of snow. During the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival, over 100 of these kamakura are built in a variety of sizes and lit with candles all around Yokote City. These snowy structures belong to a 400 year tradition: prayers would be made to the water gods for clear water with offerings of rice cakes and sake, all within the kamakura. In this tradition, children would invite passersby to share in conversation and winter treats. Today, children and teens still play this role, inviting visitors in for sweets. If you can't make it in February, worry not. While you won't get the full effect of the festival, the Yokote Kamakura Museum's enormous snow-filled freezer allows you to enjoy kamakura all year-round!
Begin with a Bath, End with a Bath: Onsen
Jigokudani Hotspring in Nagano. (By Yosemite via Wikimedia Commons)
A trip to an onsen, or hot spring, is the best way to shake a chill all winter long. Onsen can be found throughout Japan, but only Jigokudai Yaenkoen (meaning "Hell's Valley") comes with primate bath mates. Located in Nagano prefecture, this national park is a large habitat for Japanese macaques, who have no qualms about sharing a hot bath with humans. Here you can enjoy a relaxing soak amidst the beautiful winter landscape, as well as have a chance to observe these very human-like primates.