When looking for a cold, snowy place to vacation, most people wouldn’t think of Japan. The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is here to prove them wrong. Every February, Sapporo celebrates winter in style, complete with tons of fun activities and plenty of snow.
Sapporo is the fourth largest city in Japan and the largest in Hokkaido. It has always been a popular destination, and for good reason. In milder seasons, hills are covered with lavender and lush parks. The city truly shines, however, during the winter.
From early to mid February, it is home to the annual Sapporo Snow Festival. As the largest winter event in Japan, it attracts millions of visitors from all over. The festival boasts over 400 ice and snow sculptures, all expertly crafted in a wide array of sizes. The sculptures usually depict famous or local events, buildings, and people. For example, past sculptures featured Star Wars characters and famous baseball player Hideki Matsui.
The festival started as a one-day event put on by high school students in 1950. There were only 6 snow sculptures, and nothing so huge as the ones today. Later, larger sculptures started when the Self-Defense Forces created huge statues. Soon, the local festival became a national event. In years when snow is in short supply, the Forces carry in snow from other areas. The festival has grown considerably and expanded to hundreds of sculptures and events like fireworks and concerts.
The main sites are Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. All three are a fun mix of sculptures, food, and activities. When weather permits, visitors and locals enjoy having fun at the large skating rink. The central road in Odori becomes a unique stage, showcasing hundreds of illuminated ice sculptures. Larger displays sometimes feature a light show or additional performance. Local companies jump in and have fun as well, showing visitors all of Hokkaido’s specialties. The prefecture is famous for seafood, so some sculptures have the cuisine frozen into them. Also highlighted is Sapporo Brewery, the oldest Japanese beer company. As expected, plenty of sculptures have beer encased inside.
Competition is also a part of the fun, and there are a number of contests set up. Space is set aside for children’s sculptures and fun, where one can simply enjoy playing in the snow. One of the most popular events is the international venue, where foreign artists show their detailed masterpieces. Previous winning pieces include a famous Taiwanese temple, Thailand’s elephants, and cranes from Macao.
The second largest site, Tsudome, is a popular sports dome that hosts a variety of activities, such as a unique snow labyrinth. Large snow slides and rafts are perfect for families or young children. Words cannot express the wonder of sliding down those tall slopes, gazing out onto the city and crowds, enjoying the festivities from way up high. There are even ski jumps and snowboarding slopes set up right in the middle of the city. Occasionally, professionals put on spectacular performances, so make sure to check the event schedules.
What’s a festival without food? Japanese festivals are famous for the multitude of food stalls selling traditional and local cuisine. Sapporo is no different, and the place is crowded with people eager to try all the delicious offerings. Hokkaido is one of the top agriculture industries in Japan and is renowned for products like dairy, beef, and potatoes, all of which are available at the festival. Vendors offer warm milk or hot chocolate to stave off the cold. Cheese and yogurt stalls also have no shortage of customers. The warm, cocoa almonds are highly recommended.
Given that the temperature is so low, plenty of tents have been set up as rest stops so people can warm up with some snacks and hot beverages. They also double as information and gift centers, where visitors can learn more about the prefecture. For more information, check out the official Sapporo Snow Festival website. Don’t miss out on the chance to experience this winter wonderland!
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