Koide is a small town located in the larger city of Uonuma. Well known for its ski resorts and heavy snowfall the area has many winter-related sports during the snowy season. Among them is the Koide International Snowball Fight. Held at the beginning of February, teams sign up early to have a chance to participate in this anticipated event.
I had the opportunity to travel to Koide and witness the quirky event for myself, and while it would have been much more fun to participate, I still enjoyed my time taking photos and watching the goofy antics of the team members who participated in Koide’s International Snowball Fight.
Snowball Fighting in Japan
Snowball Fighting or Yukigassen is a very popular sport in the snowy areas of Japan. I know what you are thinking, snowball fighting is common everywhere, but let me be the first to say, that in Japan they take the sport to a whole new level. Picture a paintball battle but instead of the grassy fields where you are likely to see a paintball arena, imagine it in the snow. Now add whacky costumes, bribery (gifts are often presented to the judges), and a giant stage, and you are just about there.
Uonuma’s snowball festival is even more unique in that they don’t necessarily follow the rules as strictly as other areas of Japan. So while bribery or taunting might not be accepted in other areas, they are happily accepted here at Koide’s International Snowball Fight.
The snowball fights are done in a tournament style, with teams of five players going head to head against an opposing team. There are four arenas with battles waging simultaneously. Before the event can start, an opening ceremony is held to welcome the players and audience, while people bedecked in costumes and wigs shuffle in anticipation for the upcoming games.
Koide hosts one of the largest snowball fights in the country, with over 200 teams battling it out to be the champion. So be sure to sign your team up as soon as possible if you want to participate. You can check out this website for more information – http://seinenbu.uonumakoide.com/yuki/outline/index.html
The Teams and the Costumes
The teams are made up of five players, and while there is no contest for best dressed, the official rules do ask the players to dress in “eye catching” costumes. So you are likely to see men dressed as women, super heroes, T.V. characters, and a whole lot more.
The rules of the games are easy to follow. There are four arenas, each arena is outfitted with four small barriers for players to hide behind and use as shields during the match. There is a chief judge presiding over the match, who determines the winner. As well as official score counters, who make note of how many times a player has been hit, and alert them when they are out of the game.
Each team has five members; at the start of the game each team is given a side of the arena to defend. Once the judge has blown his whistle the game has started, and the teams must try to get members of the other team “out” by hitting them a certain number of times with snowballs before their own teammates are eliminated. In essence it’s just a snowier version of dodge ball.
Men start the game with three points, while women start the game with five. Each time a player is hit, the scorekeepers will deduct a point from that player. When a player has lost all of their points, they must step to the sidelines, and hope their teammates can pick up the slack.
When all of a team’s players have been eliminated, the game is finished. If however both teams still have players standing at the end of the three-minute round, the game is decided by which team has the most players still standing. If by some lucky circumstance the game ends in a draw, the decision is left up to a quick game of jan-ken (rock paper scissors).
The games are over quick, and sometimes it is difficult to see who has won, but the cheering and taunting of the winning team usually clears up the confusion quickly.
The snowball fighting is not the only thing to see while visiting this festival. There is plenty to do for both children and adults. Surrounding the fighting arenas are various activities for children, from sledding and digging snow caves, to climbing giant snow statues.
For adults, small snow huts and igloos line the upper area of the field, where you can wander inside the snowy buildings and buy drinks and food.
There are also a number of craft booths, teaching children and adults alike how to make handmade candles, and chopsticks, as well as various other crafts.
If you get too tired, be sure to check out the inside of the main building, there is swag available inside, as well as toilets and a warm place to get out of the cold.
Take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Urasa Station, change here for the JR Joetsu Line bound for Nagaoka get off at Koide Station.
From Koide Station:
There is a shuttle bus that runs from Koide Station to Koidegobunkakaikanmae (小出郷文化会館前), which is where the event takes place. The shuttle runs about every 40 minutes starting around 11:00am and finishing around 3:00pm. The shuttle is labeled #1, and you can see the name of the location printed in the front of the bus in Japanese characters.
This schedule is likely to change from year to year, so be sure to contact Uonuma’s Tourist Information to find out the new schedule for the year you intend to go. You can find their contact information at the bottom of the article.
From Koidego Bunkakaikan Mae:
From the festival you can take the shuttle bus back to Koide Station. The bus leaves every 20 minutes past the hour, with the final bus leaving at 3:20.
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|Name||Koide International Snowball Fight|
|Address||〒946-0023 1848-1, Himizo, Uonuma-shi, Niigata|
|Price Range||To Participate: 5,000 yen for a child team, 12,000 yen for an adult team ( prices may have changed)|
Sponsored by UONUMA City Tourist Association