March 21, 13 | Shuhei Miyashita
Rikubetsu Town, located inside Tokachi, is the coldest town in Japan. The town averages 20.2 degrees below zero in January. However, rather than having cold weather driving away visitors, the town uses the low temperature to its advantage every year in February at the "Shibare Festival" (Freezing Cold Festival). I took part in the special "Human Cold Resistance Test" at the 32nd annual festival this past February 2nd and 3rd.
～The Human Cold Resistance Test～
This event takes place from 9:00p.m. until 7:00a.m. the next morning. During this time participants can enjoy a barbecue, enjoy live performances, and view a wonderful fireworks display as the temperature continues to drop throughout the night. Lodgings are available in the form of a traditional Japanese snow hut (or Kamakura), and deep into the night participants from around the world warm their freezing bones at the "Firestorm" bonfire.
The opening ceremony, given by the mayor of Rikubetsu, included an apology for the warmth of the evening. At the time of the speech the temperature was only minus three degrees. Even so, I heard many guests around me muttering in agreement.
The incredible "Firestorm" bonfire is popularly known as the "Fire of Life." Visitors give thanks for the gift of fire as they warm up around the flames.
The night included a live performance by a comedian and fireworks display. The comedian made sure to mention how not cold he was many times during the performance.
One of the best ways to stay warm during a cold night is by enjoying delicious food and warm sake! Although I was technically working during my visit, the night was quite cold, so I had to partake in the drinking as a means of survival.
At 11p.m. the temperature hit minus ten degrees and the "World Championship Towel Spinning Competition" began! The winner was set to receive the titles of world's best freezing towel spinner, so everyone was quite serious while they spun.
At 3a.m. the temperature hit minus 15 degrees and guests began retiring to their snow huts (nicknamed "Balloon Mansions") for the night. Inside my own hut the only thought I could manage in the freezing cold was making it through the night. Because of that, I totally forgot to take any pictures of the interior! If you're interested in finding out what it looks like, you'll have to join us next year.
Finally 7a.m. came and we found that we'd safely survived the night! The temperature was a warm seven degrees (below zero, of course) and so we all got our bodies moving again with a bit of morning stretching.
To commemorate surviving the cold, Rikubetsu town's mascots "Shibare-kun" and "Tsurara-chan" presented us with certificates of completion. Meeting and taking photos with these two characters really warmed my heart, which was good because the rest of my body was still freezing.
Congratulations are in order for the members of Tokachi Promotion Bureau as well! They survived the night alongside the rest of the participants.
Each year the event has become more popular, and this year it filled to its 300 person capacity in just one hour! Many participants are repeat challengers who come to the event from outside Hokkaido. I met a man from Yokohama who told me that "the year hasn't begun until I've made it through the cold night!" This event was created to bring people into the coldest town in Japan, rather than having them avoid it, so why not give it a try next year and see if you can survive?
Shibare Festival Official Homepage:
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Miyashita)