The Sapporo Snow Festival: Hokkaido
Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri さっぽろ雪まつり
The Sapporo Snow Festival now attracts more than two million people every year to Hokkaido making it one of the biggest events of Japan's festival calendar. From humble beginnings, it has certainly come a long way.
It was in 1950 that a group of high school children created six imaginative snow sculptures in Sapporo's Odori Park. The sculptures attracted an unexpected amount of attention and gradually it became a custom for the people of Sapporo to build sculptures there every year.
Susukino is a major venue for the Sapporo Snow Festival
Ice Statues in central Sapporo during the Sapporo Snow Festival
In 1955, the Self Defence forces got involved to build the first giant snow sculptures and in 1972, the festival was held during the Sapporo Winter Olympic Games, giving it international recognition for first time.
Since then, the scale of the festival has increased dramatically to include many kinds of music and entertainments as well as an international snow sculpture competition. Snow sculpting teams from as many as 20 different countries, have taken part in recent years. Teams have even come to Hokkaido from countries where it never snows, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, and won the competition!
There are now three sites that play host to the festival. Odori Park is where to see the competition entries as well as sculptures created by the people of Sapporo.
The Self Defence force base at Makomanai (four miles from the city center) is where to bring the kids to play on snow slides and see huge sculptures of well known cartoon characters and the nightlife district of Susukino is where ice sculptors get to show off their crystal-like creations.
Cartoon and manga characters are frequent subjects at the Sapporo Ice Festival
Sapporo Snow Festival and the Sapporo Clock Tower
During the 7-day festival, Sapporo is transformed into a glittering fairytale land of snow and ice sculptures large and small. Stunningly detailed recreations of famous architecture from around the world often feature, as do historical figures and imaginative fantasies.
All in all, the Sapporo Snow Festival is a spectacular and unique event with a welcoming and distinctly international flavour.
The festival is held every year in mid-February and makes a great mid-winter break, especially if you can combine it with skiing or snowboarding at one of the numerous resorts nearby.
One word of advice - book transport and accommodation (see below) as early as possible as during the festival week it is almost impossible to find places to stay. Apart from that, wrap up warm and enjoy the fun!
Many of the ice statues at the Sapporo Snow Festival are sponsored by local businesses