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Embrace the cold and enjoy a winter festival

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The coldest season of the year is fully upon us, and you could be excused for staying in all day and cozying up to the kotatsu (heated table). Or, you could wrap up, be brave and go outside to enjoy what the weather has to offer.

There are plenty of festivals that take advantage of the chill, and one that shouldn’t be missed is the Monbetsu Winter Festival, which kicks off on Jan. 26 and runs through March 2.

Monbetsu, in northern Hokkaido, is one of the coldest cities in Japan and is known for its drift ice, which reaches the city’s Okhotsk Sea shores at this time of the year. The Winter Festival kicks off with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m on Jan. 26, at the Okhotsk Sea Ice Park, where visitors can enjoy skiing, walking in snowshoes and snowmobile rides. The main events, however, take place between Feb. 8 and 11, when the city holds the Ryuhyou Matsuri (Drift Ice Festival), which includes the illumination of various ice statues along the harbor.

As a fishing city, Monbetsu is also famous for its crabs, scallops and other tasty marine delicacies, which you’ll find on special menus offered by local restaurants during the festival.

The Winter Festival in Monbetsu starts on Jan. 26 at the Okhotsk Sea Ice Park and runs through March 2, with events taking place at various locations across the city. For more details, call the Monbetsu Tourism Bureau at 0158-24-3900 or visit www.mombetsu.net.