Houses of snow but full of warmth

Every year in Yokote city, in the Akita prefecture of Japan, the locals build snow houses called kamakura at various locations across the city.

The kamakura range from igloo- like structures big enough for a small group of people to stand in (such as the one pictured) to smaller ones - essentially a hollow carved out from a mound of snow, in which candles are lit at night.

Within each large kamakura is a snow altar dedicated to the water gods. A charcoal brazier is set up to provide warmth and grill rice cakes.

In the evenings, festival visitors are invited into the kamakura and offered rice cakes and amazake, a type of sweet rice wine.

In return, the visitors make an offering at the altar.

The Yokote Kamakura Festival has a history dating back about 450 years, and was traditionally held to offer hospitality to deities who supposedly came from far way. The festival is typically held on Feb 15 and 16, after the Chinese New Year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'Houses of snow but full of warmth'. Print Edition | Subscribe