Hachinohe Emburi in Aomori: A Spectacular Winter Festival in Japan


Nov 13


Things to do in winter in Japan: Taste Hot Octopus at the Hachinohe Enburi winter festival

Whenever I feel the cold breath of winter on my neck as autumn runs out of time, my tastebuds turn to octopus, the signature dish at the Hachinohe Enburi winter festival.

I remember it so vividly not because of the smile of the former beauty queen who handed it to me, nor the tangy texture and secret seasoning that plunged into mayonnaise simply to satisfy my stomach. No, what I remember the most is that the octopus was warm, at times even hot, while I was very, very cold.

The small town of Hachinohe in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture celebrates the end of winter every year with a four day winter festival. Children and musicians practise for weeks so that when February arrives, they can swish their headdresses around and usher in good fortune for the harvest ahead.

It’s a festival that’s been running for 800 years through icy winds, gales, earthquakes and war and so they’re not going to let a little snow stop them. Nor a blue-skinned gaijin. Thankfully.

octopus at the winter festival in hachinohe

Hot Octopus, Cold Winters

Official Recognition

In 1979, the Hachinohe Emburi Festival earned its status as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan.

I sit cross-legged on a tatami mat inside their historic town hall. One wall opens up to the garden, where snow decorates stone lanterns and greedily engulfs the lawn.

The wind laughs at my predicament, while the cold makes itself at home in my bones. I break open a crystal packet to warm up my hands and accept more octopus gladly.

Then the performance begins, melting something inside me.

Rainbow coloured ribbons meant to resemble a horse’s tail flick, flounce and flourish against the whiteness of the snow. Children enact the rice-planting ritual while flag bearers look on.

Yet what captures my attention the most is something I usually pay very little attention to: shoes.

From children to elders, dancers to musicians, all are decked out in the traditional footwear of Aomori. Straw-woven shoes with straw gaiters to match. My feet turn numb just from looking at them.

Yet everyone else radiates with smiles of warmth – literally.

So now, every time the seasons turn cold, I think of hot octopus – and the mystery of comfort that seems to be straw shoes.

Winter festival shoes

Straw Shoes. Toasty Warm. Apparently.

I hope you enjoy the winter festival of Hachinohe’s Enburi through the photos below. Disclosure – I shivered and ate octopus as a guest of the JNTO.


Man at winter festival in hachinohe

Child at hachinohe winter festival

Hachinohe Enburi Festival at Kojokaku-slash-Oniwa Enburi Japan

Enburi hats at winter festival

The Enburi…

Winter festival in Japan

Hachinohe Enburi Festival at Kojokaku-slash-Oniwa Enburi winter festival

Hachinohe Enburi Festival at Kojokaku-slash-Oniwa Enburi winter festival fishing rod

Enburi ribbons at a winter festival

How do you keep warm in the cold? And does it involve straw shoes and hot octopus?


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • ayngelina says:

    Japan’s culture is one of the few that really fascinate me. So different than anything I know.

    • Abi says:

      I love Japan. Love it, love it, love it and would go back again and again and again…;)

  • I usually go for hot chocolate and wool socks, but I think octopus and straw shoes would suit me just as well :-)

    • Abi says:

      Any hot octopus in a storm is my motto (well, from now on anyway!)

  • Abi, you have this uncanny knack for blogging about places WHILE I’M THERE. In Tokyo at the moment, not Hacinohe, but you did the same a few weeks ago while I was in Penang and you put up your Malaysia photo essay! Beautiful.

    • Abi says:

      That is spooky! Now, is there any chance you’ll be in inland eastern Europe in December? No, thought not. Drat!

  • What an interesting experience! I don’t know about straw shoes keeping me warm, but that octopus sounds really good and that event makes me want to go!

    • Abi says:

      Never got to try the shoes, alas. Stuck with my high-tech, high-draught gore-tex…

  • Erica says:

    This makes me miss Japan so badly. We hope to be there teaching in 2013. I can’t wait. Beautiful pictures.

    • Abi says:

      I love Japan – can’t wait to go back!

  • Sarah Wu says:

    Beautiful photo collection love how you capture them so vividly.

  • JoAnna says:

    Stunning photos! I love the faces you’ve captured here.

  • Nomadic Samuel says:

    This is a phenomenal photo essay. You have a talent for noticing details.

  • Claire says:

    Gorgeous photos! Great post!

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam says:

    I prefer straw soup and octopus shoes myself, but to each his own. :)

    • Abi says:

      Now THAT would be an image ;) Can just see you with cartoon octopus shoes on running around that box…

  • Gorgeous photos! I love the straw shoes. They don’t look warming but I’m sure they must protect their feet from the ice!

    • Abi says:

      Well, I never got to try them…Perhaps they were better than the plastic I had on…

  • Emily says:

    Whoa–I’ve never seen shoes like that before in my life! I love these photos. The color is so brilliant. I’m not an octopus fan, but I’m sure it would be a fun thing to see in person either way!

    • Abi says:

      When you’re cold enough, you fall in love with all kinds of things…;)

  • The octopus, no thanks, but I could totally get on board with that festival.

    • Abi says:

      Would be great to be able to swish around wearing one of those hats, wouldn’t it?

  • Hogga says:

    Amazing colours! I want to go back to Japan, especially in May!

    • Abi says:

      I’ve never been in May…Once in autumn and twice in winter but I haven’t yet seen Japan during the summer…

  • Ali Elle says:

    Been to Japan on 4 different occasions but never been to or heard of this, shall put it on the list. Octopus is great, steamed or boiled – tried it first in Busan then Fukuoka right after, don’t know where its better.

    • Abi says:

      It’s a great day out – and if you’re heading north then I’d also recommend the Yokote Kamakura Matsuris too (igloo festivals.) They’re held at around the same time of year. Enjoy!

  • On A Junket says:

    SUPERB captures!

    Octopus is yummy…once you get over the entire suction cup thing…. :p

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