Announcing the Winter ZEKKEI Award Winners! Sharing with the world the very best of the Japanese winter, chosen by professional photographers

Announcing the Winter ZEKKEI Award Winners! Sharing with the world the very best of the Japanese winter, chosen by professional photographers

Third in the series after our Summer and Fall ZEKKEI Awards, we’d like to introduce the winners of the Winter ZEKKEI Award. We are also pleased to announce that the last two awards were very popular among our overseas readers. This time around, we’re going to share with you six spots from both Eastern and Western Japan, bringing you the very best of winter in Japan.

Eastern Japan Division

  • The Waters and Ice Rime of Lake Mashu, Hokkaido
  • Rime of Zao Snow Monsters, Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture
  • Snow-dusted Matsumoto Castle, Nagano Prefecture

Western Japan Division

  • Illumination at Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture
  • The Oases and Snow of the Tottori Sand Dunes, Tottori Prefecture
  • Snow and Illumination at Shiroyone Senmaida, Ishikawa Prefecture

Eastern Japan Division

The Waters and Ice Rime of Lake Mashu, Hokkaido Prefecture

More information about the spot here

The first winner we’d like to introduce from the Winter ZEKKEI Award’s Eastern Japan Division is the ice rime-covered trees of Lake Mashu. Even though the lake is shrouded in fog for more than one hundred days a year, winter lets you see the brilliant blue of Lake Mashu.

Come winter, the waters of the lake take on an even greater clarity of color, washing away the cold with their picturesque beauty. Trees covered in frost from frozen fog are cast in the surface of the lake, and as the sun rises, the colors of the landscape slowly transform for a sight that’s worth the wait.

From the Award Recipient...

We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for being chosen as a recipient of the Winter ZEKKEI Award. Lake Mashu boasts some of the most transparent waters in the world, transforming the clear surface of the lake into a mirror that reflects the changing seasons that surround it. Particularly in winter, many visitors find themselves enraptured by the beautiful contrast between the snow- and ice-capped trees along the shores and the unique “Mashu Blue” of the waters that fill the lake like flowing dark ink. We’re certain the snowy landscape of Lake Mashu will come to be a precious memory kept forever in your heart. If you ever have the chance, we hope you’ll visit the snow-dusted world of Lake Mashu.

Tourism and Commerce Division, Teshikaga Town Office

Rime of Zao Snow Monsters, Miyagi Prefecture and Yamagata Prefecture

More information about the spot here

Our second entry for Eastern Japan involves a weather phenomenon sometimes known as “Snow Monsters”: the natural ice rime sculptures of Zao formed by fog that freezes on trees. There is infinite variation in this Mother Nature-original art exhibit, as the shape of the rime formations change depending on the underlying tree and the time one visits.

They are a magical and wonderful vista, especially when illuminated. The awesome panorama and magnificent scope of this rime forest will have your shutter finger itching.

From the Award Recipient...

Thank you so much for choosing the rime of Zao for the Winter ZEKKEI Awards! Dependent on a number of complex conditions in the climate and natural environment that are present from December to March, the soft rime of Zao is a rare work of natural “art”, unusual not only in Japan but across the world. A rarity among rarities formed by rime completely enveloping the trees here in Zao, these massive frozen fog “sculptures” are affectionately known as “snow monsters,” thanks to their resemblance to strange beasts.

Even if you aren’t a skier or mountain climber, you can enjoy Zao’s rime forest from aboard a snowmobile or a ropeway cablecar! And after savoring the beauty of nature, there’s always the beckoning warmth of the waters of the hot springs town at the foot of the mountain. So why not come and enjoy a Zao-style winter?

Tourism Promotion Office, Agriculture and Forestry Division, Zao Town Office, Miyagi Prefecture

Snow-dusted Matsumoto Castle, Nagano Prefecture

More information about the spot here

Capping off the list for the Eastern Japan Division of the Winter ZEKKEI Award is snow-dusted Matsumoto Castle. With a five-tiered, six-story central tower complex, this castle is designated as a national treasure.

The sight of this castle rising out of the clear and crisp winter air is the very definition of “awe-inspiring.” This is a land of winter color contrast not to be missed, blending the blue of the sky above a winter landscape, the red of the dawn-drenched bridge, and the white of fresh snow.

From the Award Recipient...

Thank you for choosing Matsumoto Castle as an award recipient out of all the beautiful winter landscapes here in Japan. The form of Matsumoto Castle has come down through history from the last days of the Warring States period and even now demonstrates to us the beauty of the seasons. On clear days in winter, you can gaze upon the stunning black and white contrast of the castle tower soaring above you, reflected in the waters of the moat together with blue skies and a backdrop of the white-dusted Northern Alps. As the snow builds, the castle tower and the snow-capped pine trees in their winter binding create a dream-like scene. Though the old Shinano Province has a ferocious winter cold, we hope you’ll come to see the beauty of Matsumoto Castle in winter.

Matsumoto City Board of Education, Matsumoto Castle Administrative office

Western Japan Division

Illumination at Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture

More information about the spot here

The first place selected for our Western Japan Division is Shirakawa-go, where nature and modern lifestyle exist in a harmony that preserves the traditional architecture of the area. Called “gassho-zukuri” (literally “praying-hands construction”), the unique and culturally-priceless architectural style of the village is registered as part of the Shirakawa-go UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can only see the illuminations on a few days this year: January 16 (Sat.), January 23 (Sat.), January 24 (Sun.), January 30 (Sat.), January 31 (Sun.), February 7 (Sun.), and February 14 (Sun.). A rare and ephemeral vista, the illuminated village is truly a special sight.

Climb the observation tower and gaze down to a snowy world that looks as if it were plucked straight from a fairy tale. Be sure to try capturing this breath-taking landscape with your camera!

From the Award Recipient...

Thank you for choosing us for the ZEKKEI Japan Winter award. As night falls on this snowy village, the traditional houses of Shirakawa-go come floating out of the darkness, set aglow by gorgeous illumination. The gassho-zukuri homes are cast in a storybook and dream-like light, inviting wintertime visitors into a fantastical, awe-inspiring world.

Shirakawa-go Tourism Association

The Oases and Snow of the Tottori Sand Dunes, Tottori Prefecture

More information about the spot here

For our second selection in western Japan, we’ve chosen the snow-clad Tottori Sand Dunes. When people hear of the Tottori Sand Dunes, they imagine the scorching sun shining down on sand-colored foothills, but in winter these dunes are transformed into a fantasy realm of brilliant white snowy slopes.

Come winter, the dunes are completely blanketed in snow and contrast beautifully with the little pond-like oases that form in the hollows between them. The sight of the pure white snow and the clear blue skies are not to be missed!

From the Award Recipient...

We’d like to offer our sincere gratitude for the selection of the Tottori Sand Dunes and Oases in the Winter ZEKKEI Award. The Tottori Dunes in winter are a perfect example of the “Wow! Tottori!” slogan: it’s a beauty we feel proud of not just nationally but globally as well. To savor the snow-covered dunes at their best, we recommend coming in the early morning, while the snow remains free of footprints. Under the right conditions, you can enjoy sights like the sparkle of the snow under blue skies or the contrast of the whitened dunes with the setting sun. At least once in your life, be sure to come enjoy the vistas of the Tottori Dunes in winter.

Public Relations Office, Secretarial Division, Tottori City Hall

Snow and Illumination at Shiroyone Senmaida, Ishikawa Prefecture

More information about the spot here

The third winner of the Western Japan Winter ZEKKEI Award presents the viewer with a rare sight indeed. And what sight is that, you might ask? Snow-covered rice paddies! There is even a point of view where you can catch both Shiroyone Senmaida covered in snow together with the magnificent ocean: truly a photographer’s dream

And the magical feeling only increases with the setting of the sun. The paddies are set aglow by the light of the Aze no Kirameki illuminations, creating a mystical and dream-like world. From October 10, 2015 (Sat.) to March 13, 2016 (Sun.), over twenty thousand solar LED lights bathe the rice paddies in an otherworldly illumination after sunset.

From the Award Recipient...

We are so very honored to have been chosen for the Winter ZEKKEI Award. Shiroyone Senmaida is the symbol of Noto’s Satoyama and Satoumi, a Globally Important Agriculture Heritage System registered with the United Nations. It represents the rich culture and tradition that have been passed down to us over the years. More than that, you can also enjoy the scenic beauty of the changing seasons here, and in winter the paddies are illuminated with solar-powered LEDs. Whenever you decide to visit, the scenery of Senmaida awaits.

Tourism Division, Wajima City Hall

We’d like to thank you for reading about the six winners of this year’s Winter ZEKKEI Awards.
You’re sure to forget all about the cold when enjoying the beauty and grandeur of these scenic spots.
And if you happen to find yourself traveling in Japan during the wintertime, be sure to head out to these destinations, camera in hand!


7 experienced professional landscape photographers who have traveled across Japan for more than 20 years for photo shooting (in the syllabary order)

  • Mika Asai

    Mika Asai

    She established Off House Design in 1987 and a landscape photo workshop, "Degi-Photo Tosai" in 2008. She has published several picture books and held photo exhibitions. She is very active in landscape photo shooting in Japan such as four seasons in the forest through a year.

  • Iwao Kataoka

    Iwao Kataoka

    He studied under a photographer, Shogo Sato. He became a freelance photographer in 1975. Using a 4x5 large format camera, he has shot mainly landscapes in Japan. His works are used for the advertising posters of JR, calendars as well as magazines.

  • Nobuo Kawaguchi

    Nobuo Kawaguchi

    He started his freelance career in 1987. He travels abroad as a backpacker for shooting. Recent years, he works more in Japan and he has visited all prefectures in Japan. He provides his works for posters, calendars and brochures for tourism.

  • Masami Goto

    Masami Goto

    He started his freelance career as a nature photographer in 1984. He started shooting Sakhalin, the Northern Territories and the Kamchatka in 1989. Currently he takes nature photos of Japan mainly in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region.

  • Hideaki Tanaka

    Hideaki Tanaka

    Throughout his long career, he has captured the beauty of Kyoto, the beauty of Japan, buildings and foods. He appeared in the TV program, Broadcaster when it featured autumn leaves in 2002. His works are used in Japanese stamps such as a memorial picture stamp of the Gion festival.

  • Hideki Nawate

    Hideki Nawate

    After graduating university, he traveled in Australia without purpose. After returning to Japan, he studied under a photographer, Seiji Shimizu.
    He became a freelance photographer in 1997. He continued his career to shoot landscapes of town and nature mainly in Europe. Recent years he works more in Japan.

  • Shigeki Yamashita

    Shigeki Yamashita

    He goes to a photo shoot over 200 days a year. For his lifework, Mt. Fuji photographs, he did 1000 days photo session. Currently he continues his landscape photographer career and keeps capturing views of Mt. Fuji. His works were used for medias such as Japan Post New Year post cards as well as companies' calendars.

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