There’s something magical about the combination of snow and light, the way even a single candle can make the snow glow.
It’s celebrated in several snowy parts of the world – last spring we looked at the way snow lanterns are made in Sweden – but nowhere do they do snow lantern festivals quite as spectacularly as they do in Japan.
Japanese winters are mild by our standards – even wintry areas see daytime highs hovering around zero in January. But in regions where it snows, it snows a lot! Average snowfalls in mountainous areas are four or five metres, and years with 10 metres are not uncommon.
To make the most of all this snow, many places in Japan celebrate with winter festivals. And at nearly all of them, you’ll find some form of snow lanterns.
These lanterns come in many different shapes and sizes. At Hirosaki Castle, near the northern tip of the main island, they build large structures and sculptures, artistic works that can be lit with electric lights or more traditional lanterns.
They’re certainly something to strive for if you’ve got an artistic bent and the right kind of snow. But you can also make an impressive display with the much simpler kamakura style lanterns.
Kamakura are snow huts, reminiscent of an igloo in size and shape, and they’re made in many parts of Japan. The same shape is also used to form much smaller snow lanterns, also called kamakura.
Making a lantern-sized kamakura is simplicity itself – just pile a mound of snow a foot or two high, hollow out a space in the middle and insert a candle.
You’ll want to experiment a bit to ensure you get the wall thickness right – too thick and the candlelight won’t be able to shine through; too thin and you risk it collapsing. But once you’ve got the technique down, you can craft dozens of kamakura in an hour.
While one kamakura is cute, what makes them really impressive is a grouping of them. Pick up a big bag of tea lights and go to town. Line the driveway with them, scatter them along the dock, or craft a pattern in the yard. Just be sure to leave enough space to walk between them for lighting purposes.
They’re fun, lovely, and a great way to bring a bit more light into winter.