Hi!! Have you ever ride a hot air balloon? For me, seeing hot air balloon itself is not that common. Let alone ride it. 2 years ago I went all the way to Saga prefecture to check the hot air balloon festival, you can check my blog post about it here. Earlier this year, I found out that there’s a balloon festival that was held in the middle of winter season every year. That’s how I found out about Ojiya Balloon Festival. Similar to Saga Balloon Festival, Ojiya Balloon Festival is also an annual festival every winter. In Japan, it’s the only opportunity where you can see hot air balloon with pure white snow scenery.
Ojiya is a small city in Niigata prefecture. I went there by bus from Tokyo to Nagaoka. Nagaoka is around 30 minutes train ride to Ojiya. I choose to stay at Nagaoka because it’s a bigger station and the bullet train stop there. There are few guest houses in Ojiya, but I really doubt they offer service in English. There’re much more hotels in Nagaoka.
The balloon festival is not that close from Ojiya station. There are 2 venue for the festival, 1 for the competition, where people from all over the county fly the balloon. Another one is for the visitor to enjoy the food stall, attraction (you can try ride the hot air balloon). If you come early in the morning, there’s a shuttle bus that can take you to both of the venue (7:20AM for the shuttle bus).
The bus in Ojiya is not that frequent as well. If you want to stay until quite late in Ojiya I recommend you to rent a car or call a cab.
Ojiya Balloon Festival 小千谷風船一揆
Ojiya Balloon Festival normally takes 2 days in the weekend. The competition happen twice a day everyday (morning and afternoon). The morning competition starts at 10:00 AM and the afternoon competition starts around 14:00. However, people might come 2 hours before the actual start time to get a good spot for photo.
If it’s snowing a lot or if the wind is too strong, the organizer will cancel the competition. When I came on the first day, they cancel all the competitions because it was snowing really hard. Luckily, the weather on the second day was much more better.
At the end of the first day, they have a fireworks and flew some balloons. This fireworks starts at 6 or 7PM. However, because the snow fall is quite big, they did not manage to fly some balloons. I still enjoyed the fireworks tho.
There are 2 venue for the festival. Nishinaka 西中会場 is where they hold the competition and Hirazawa 平沢会場, where they have the public attraction. In Hirazawa you can enjoy the snow mobile and the commercial hot air balloon. However, the hot air ballon might not operate during bad weather.
If you want to ride the balloon, you might have to line early. They allow people to ride the balloon in Hirazawa in the morning and afternoon, limited for 100 people only (morning and afternoon). To ride the balloon, they will distribute a numbered ticket at 10AM for morning slot and 12PM for afternoon slot. However, people are already lining from 8AM. Plan your trip well.
(There are only 2 balloons available for public ride, and they don’t fly that high).
About transport in Ojiya
As I mentioned before, the public bus in Ojiya is not that frequent. There’s a shuttle bus running from both venues, but the schedule is not that frequent too. For example, I went to see the competition in the morning (from 8AM), by the time the competition ends (around 12PM), there’s no shuttle bus to the other venue and I have to wait and ride for the public bus (cost around 130-200 per ride). FYI, Hirazawa and Nishinaka venue is not on walking distance (30 minutes by bus), when I asked the staff if I could walk there, they saw me with this look “are you kidding me?”
I also went to see the fireworks which starts at 6 or 7PM, I actually went back to my hotel in Nagaoka around 2PM and back to Ojiya station at 5PM. Then I ride a taxi to Hirazawa. The shuttle bus (and public bus) only runs until 6PM. If you want to enjoy the firework, you have to find out another mean of transport to go home. I share a ride with Hongkong tourist, they cannot speak Japanese and I don’t want to ride alone, so it’s a win win situation for us.
My advise for anyone planning to see this event is.. check all the transport schedule (shuttle bus, public bus, train). There’s only 1 train to and from Nagaoka every hour, you don’t want to miss your last train back to Nagaoka.
I’ll recommend the competition better than Hirazawa venue. It’s much more crowded in Hirazawa venue and most of the attractions are for younger kids. The balloon ride is not that high as well and you have to fight for the numbered ticket.
I do recommend the Nishinaka venue because you rarely find hot air balloon in the middle of snow field. And here’s some of my recommendation:
- Wear a thick clothes and snow boot. Nishinaka venue is a spacious open venue. The wind can be quite strong and the snow is so deep (I’m not kidding, it went up to my knee. I’m 158cm for reference).
- Stay in Nagaoka rather than Ojiya. The shinkansen stops at Nagaoka, there’s a shopping mall, easier to get food there.
- Take note of the public bus and shuttle bus schedule, plan your trip well. Don’t miss the last train from Ojiya to Nagaoka.
- I do recommend Ojiya if you want to take pictures of something different and unusual. The access is not that easy, so if you’re a first timer to Japan, I would not recommend this event.
And that’s all for today folks, have a good week ahead. As usual, your comments are always loved 😀