Matsumoto Castle Ice Festival? Don’t Let the Name Fool You.

Winter Activities / Events
Thu, Jan 24, 2019

It’s true that this weekend a polite and civilized army of people with chainsaws will be descending on Matsumoto Castle. Starting Saturday afternoon and on late into the evening they’ll be buzzing and chipping away at towers of block ice, turning them into spectacular works of art. These prettied-up ice cubes will be on display all day Sunday, and provided an unexpected warm front doesn’t move in and turn everything to slush, this will be your chance to get some eminently facebook-worthy shots of an event that happens only once a year.

But while the ice sculptures garner all the attention, this isn’t just a my-thing-is-cooler-than-yours competition. There’s a lot of cool stuff happening all over the place. To wit:

In front of Matsumoto Station there will be an exhibition of the artistry of ice sculpture starting Thursday evening (meaning as soon as I post this I’ll be heading down!). The chainsaws will be humming from around 6pm to midnight Thursday, and are scheduled to be on display through Sunday.

On Friday Evening there is a warm-up event over on the eastern side of the castle grounds, along the path that leads to the Taiko-mon gate. It has been dubbed “The Entrance Gate of Young Ice Sculptors” (若手氷彫作家たちの登竜門 for all you Kanji fans), and the action will be taking place from six o’clock until midnight or whenever they have to go to bed. Their creations will be on display through Sunday afternoon.

Dual ice carving demonstrations are slated for Saturday morning, one at 10:00 in front of Inoue Department Store a couple blocks from the train station, the other on the castle grounds from 11:00. Saturday also features a musical performance by Gakuto Matsumoto Live at 12:00, a Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament at 1:00, and, if you’re feeling lucky, a “Dai-Chuhsenkai” (大抽選会) or “Big Lottery”. All you have to do to win is find a series of rubber stamp things hidden all over the castle grounds and turn your completed stamp card in before time’s up, said to be at 1:20 but don’t take any chances! (Warning: Japanese kids take their Dai-Chuhsenkai seriously.)

A Japanese Taiko Drum Performance kicks off both Saturday’s and Sunday’s events. The pounding, rhythmic action starts at 10:30 Saturday morning and 9:00 on Sunday morning. At about the same time they’ll be opening up the nearby ice slide, which may be geared toward the younger crowd but as a smiling and clueless foreigner you may be able to charm your way into a turn.

Sunday is no less of an extravaganza, with a dance performance by the young members of Studio Beach House at 9:45, more kids dancing from 11:00 featuring the Dance Laboratory, a sort of pep rally for the local Shinshu Brave Warriors basketball team at noon, and a possible special 3:00 appearance by Gans the Ptarmigan, mascot of local soccer club Matsumoto Yamaga.

And what weekend event would be compete without a stage full of masked Ultraman-esque super-fighters trading blows with their martial arts moves and color-coordinated weaponry? There are two chances to see the Battle Royale, at 10:00 and again at 2:00. Get to the stage early for a good view of all the zany fun.

There will also no doubt be plenty of food and drink and who knows what else on hand, right there on the castle grounds. So if you are lucky enough to be in town this weekend, swing by the station, stroll over to Inoue, then come on over to Matsumoto Castle, for the year’s best ice sculpture party that includes a whole lot more than just fancy ice cubes.