Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
The Sapporo Snow Festival occurs during the freezing month of February in ‘冬’ (ふゆ or fuyu) meaning Winter. People gather from miles around to experience this momentous occasion. The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (‘札幌雪祭り’ meaning Sapporo Snow Festival) usually occurs each year in February. Its popularity is so great that it attracts over 2 million people from across the globe annually.
Sapporo is the biggest city in the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. With a population approaching almost 2 million residents, it is also the 5th largest populace in Japan. It is well known for its milder summers, sub-zero winters and a selection of tasty cuisine. For instance, it’s the birthplace of miso ramen, and home to local favourites like soup curry. Barbecue lamb dishes via the well-established Genghis Khan style restaurants are also especially sought after in the colder months. If you prefer something fishier, seafood is also considerably popular. Here you can feast on some of the freshest salmon, crab and sea-urchin found on the island.
The Winner of Winter Festivals
Originating back to 1950, it has now developed into one of the most famous winter festivals in Japan. Initially, as a small event it only lasted a day too, but now it spans over more than a week. There are three main sites where the statues and sculptures can be viewed including, Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome. The actual dates of the events do slightly vary, but also overlap depending on the site. In total, you can witness over 400 amazing works of icy art.
We arrived on the first Friday evening of our planned Sapporo long weekend stay. The festival was only in its early stages of preparation, but the timing was advantageous for us. Basically as we were able to experience the creative process of these fascinating sculptures as they came to life. Tirelessely, men worked away producing some incredibly elaborate and vivid ice images. Instruments like chainsaws, ice picks and other ice moulding equipment just seemed to be an extension of the workers hand. The attention to detail and delicate approach these men take is highly evident in their final creation.
The Key Sites
Odori Park is where you will find most of the larger stages, statues and sculptures, and is right next to Sapporo TV Tower. The park itself stretches over 1.5kms across a whole 12 blocks and spreads through downtown Sapporo. In each block, there are many different things to do and see. Things like the multiple food and drink stands, differently themed stages and individual artworks. Of particular note was the snowboard mountain, exhibiting professionals snowboarders skill and finesse. They performed extreme stunts, jumps and insane tricks to keep the spectators in awe.
Individual displays are also a key attraction spread out Odori Park’s many blocks. There are many theme displays, originating from movies, anime, manga and mascots. In addition, you can also see many exhibitions that represent a particular country. Naturally, I included Australia’s statue (pictured below) by default.
Susukino is the lively nightlife area of Sapporo. It is populated by a wide selection of Izakayas (Japanese style pubs), bars and the notorious red light district. in February, it plays host to a compelling and spectacular range of ice statues and sculptures. There are many attractions on display here. Some of these may change from year to year, but the same also remain consistent for many years. As an example, they usually have a bar you can enjoy warm drinks and a range of interactive sets too. During 2016’s festival there was the typical bar setup, constructed with large ice bricks. Additionally, there was also an ice slide for smaller children to enjoy. The various animals on display also enabled people to hop on and pose with for an obligatory photo or selfie.
On the other hand, Tsudome is more targeted towards families, providing a range of snow activities for both adults and children. The area offers a range of slides and slopes to zoom down. Furthermore, there is a place to make your own snowman, play snow golf, mess with ice cafes and more. If you have confidence in your throwing skills, there is even a snowball throwing (friendly) competition.
Star Wars: The Frozen Menace!
2016 ‘s event was also full of Star Wars themed attractions. The theme was just in time with the most recent 2015 release of Episode 7 ‘The Force Awakens’. Many of the sculptures featured appearances from R2D2, Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, BB8 and more. Check below for some of these spectacularly detailed and accurate models.
Some people even decided to make their own contribution (albeit Star Wars related) to the festival. This one piece we found by chance in the back alleys of Sapporo city, away from the main arena.
For more information, you can access the official Sapporo Snow Festival website here.