Sapporo Snow Festival – Get Ready To Freeze Your Toes!

Most people when you tell them the name Sapporo, the number one thing that comes up in their thoughts is beer. For those who are fans of eating Sushi, they will know how good Sapporo beer goes with Sushi. That being said, the missing link here is there is actually a city in Japan with a name Sapporo. To make matter more interesting, this is the place the Sapporo beer is manufactured, a perfect place for brewing as the weather is great and cold.

Sapporo found in Hokkaido Island situated in the west of Japan is the capital city of the island. Recently Sapporo has been recognized for its rapid growing of population, to a tune of more than 2 million people are residences. Sapporo is the 5th largest city in Japan, developed by the assistance of planners from Britain and America, with wide, straight boulevards, and a 330-foot-wide park runs east and west through the center of the city. This city is full of lilac and acacia trees, that mix with green lawns and colorful beds of flowers during the summer. However, this is a contrast in white when it is winter season, particulary during the Sapporo snow festival.

Although, Sapporo is the 5th largest city in Japan, it is not a jammed city like Tokyo. Starting with the island of Hokkaido itself, it is full of vegetation and forests. Most people in Japan tend to use this island as a getaway from the busy lives in other big cities especially during the summer. The Hokkaido island has approximately millions of guests visiting every year.

And as explained earlier, Sapporo beer is made in this city. The beer has been brewed from 1891, and the facility has been made public to visitors who come to Sapporo for tours. That being said, this is not the major attraction of the city…..the real deal is the Sapporo Snow Festival that happens annually.

 

About The Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival also known as Sapporo Yuki Matsuri occurs in the month of February annually in the capital city of Hokkaido Island. The festival is considered one of the most popular winter events in Japan and among the oldest snow festivals around the world, which dates all the way back to 1950, whereby the first people to start this Sapporo festival were high school students who constructed a few snow statues in Odori Park. From that point onward the Sapporo festival grew and became into a big, more commercialized event, that includes thrilling snow and ice sculptures which now brings approximately two million plus tourists from within and outside Japan.

The Sapporo festival which is pretty much a fairyland that transforms a city of sculptures which allow most tourists to create memorable experiences yearly during the first week of February. The park where the Sapporo festival happens is called Odori, gets packed with at least 400 exhibits of great art; ranging from 50 foot dinosaurs, dragons, ice maidens, and more. Even Sponge Bob sculpture debuted in year 2008. The amount of effort and focus spent into building these ice statues is really amazing.

Prior to year 2005, the Makomanai Military Base was known to be one of the 3 main sites for the Sapporo festival. The largest statues were originally carved out on this base. However, because of numerous worldwide operations by Japan such as in Iraq, military was requested to be involved at a minimum only in terms of security.

 

A Recap Of Great Sapporo Sculptures Built In The Past

  • For the 1970 Sapporo festival, ancient history was displays in a amazing sculpted representation, 45 feet high and 100 feet broad, of the Abu-Simbel Rock Temple of Egypt, known to be constructed by Ramses II in celebration of his conquest of the Sudan. This was complete with pharaohs, winged lions and hieroglyphics.

Together with the ancient history, another site during the same time presented the modern history, whereby tourists had the opportunity to make ‘first big steps’ among craters of the moon, but with feet stepping on snow instead of moon dust. Together with this amazing sculpture, two snowman astronauts, a snow lunar module and a snow Apollo 11 rocket lent realism were displayed on the same exhibit.

  • And recently in year 2004, there were statues of Hideki Matsui, the famous baseball player who plays for the New York Yankees.

Apart from the sculptures, the biggest attraction of the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is probably the passion of the residents to create one giant statue annually. When tourists arrive few days prior to the Sapporo festival, they get a chance to join the residents in building this giant sculpture. It is recommended to tourists to book their accommodation ahead of time also as at least 2 million tourists flock into Sapporo for the Yuki Matsuri.

Another great aspect about the Sapporo festival, is the assistance available to English speaking tourists. Even if it happens a tourist does not speak Japanese language, there are a lot of information centers around a lot of employees who speak English fluently, plus map and all kinds of information print outs all available in English. From this, there are no challenges for tourists who speak English only. Another alternative around, if a tourist is looking for English assistance is the Sapporo International Communications Plaza, found just on the other side nearby the Tokeidai Clocktower and right by City Hall. Tourists can find newspapers and magazines here all in English, and probably meet a lot of Sapporo’s residents who speak fluent English here.

 

The Sapporo Experience

The Sapporo Snow Festival is staged on 3 main sites:

  • Odori Site
  • Susukino Site
  • Tsu Dome Site.

Odori Site

This is the main stage of the in Sapporo’s festival. The popular big snow sculptures, which do measure at least 25 meters wide and 15 meters high, are displayed in the Odori site. These sculptures get lit up everyday until 10:00pm.

Apart from a few big snow sculptures, the Odori Site displays more than 100 smaller snow statues and operates numerous shows and events, most of them utilize the sculptures as their stage. In addition to this, Sapporo TV Tower standing on the east side Odori Park provides a great sight of the Odori Site. The tower welcomes tourists starting 9:00am to 10:00pm, and sometimes offers additional hours (8:30 to 22:30) from February 8 to 11.

The Susukino Site

This is site is found within Sapporo’s largest entertainment area, it displays approximately 100 ice carvings. Susukino is just one subway stop from Odori Park south side. The ice statues on this site gets lit up everyday and stay whole day up to 11pm (or 10pm on the festival’s last day).

The Tsu Dome Site

The site is a built to accommodate families with its 3 types of snow slides, snow rafting and more snow statues. In the Tsu dome, numerous food stands are place around and a stage for shows. This site welcomes tourists everyday between 9:00am and 5:00pm.

Let’s face it, majority of kids residing in regions of the world that have snows likes to build a snowman during winter. But in Sapporo, in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, things are more exciting. Snowmen are built in all forms and sizes, and the most thrilling party about adults build them. Some of these sculptures are a 1,000 tons plus, and are thrilling in their artistic detail. There also are snow creatures, snow gods, snow houses, pagodas and castles. This is pretty much a virtual world modeled in snow, whereby solid snow platforms are usually built for each sculpture, and wooden scaffoldings are drilled into the base. These must be sturdy, since thousands of tons of avalanche of snow and ice can be dangerous to the tourists who have come to attend the festival!

But this is all to make sure all goes right as Sapporo festival is definitely a very short event, just 7 days near the end of January or early to mid-February. After that all models created are melted back to snow. During the seven day festival, Sapporo is transformed into a glittering fairytale land of snow and ice sculptures large and small.

 

Important Tips Before You Head To The Sapporo Festival

Accommodation in Sapporo

Hotel and hostel rooms fill up quickly during the festival so make sure to reserve a room well in advance if you want something reasonable. 

Sapporo in early February is also quite cold (25 F, -4 C) and heavy snowfalls are common. As such, the most important thing in enjoying the festival is to make sure to keep warm. If (when) you do get cold, stop by one of the numerous ramen shops and get a bowl of hot noodles – they are a local specialty and are great for getting warm from the inside out!

What to wear

As you know, Sapporo is a winter festival hence the weather is definitely really cold. When said that there is a bit of warm weather, will still be below freezing temperatures which usually are accompanies with snowstorms. Tourists going to Sapporo snow festival spend a lot of time outdoors, and hence always have layers of clothing. Having the proper attire can make or break your festival experience. Several layers of clothing, including long underwear, a warm winter/ski jacket, gloves, and a winter hat that covers your ears, are necessary because while it might be below freezing outside, stores, restaurants, and subways can be quite toasty.

To prevent from slipping on icy streets and sidewalks you will also need winter boots or warm hiking shoes, preferably with skid-proof soles. Tracking bands to attach to shoes called Suberi Dome are available at train and subway station stores for around 1,000 yen.

What to bring

A thermos for tea, coffee, soup, or another hot drink will help keep you warm throughout the day is recommended. Hand warmer packs, called kairo in Japanese, are good for keeping in your pockets and can be purchased for 100 yen at many kiosks, pharmacies, and convenient stores around the city – just be careful not to leave them on bare skin. Spending time outside is bound to get anyone’s nose running and tissues are a must-have for the festival, especially considering many of the public toilets are not stocked with toilet paper. People distribute tissues for free around the city during the festival and they also be purchased in most stores.

How to get to the Sapporo Snow Festival

Take the Sapporo subway to Odori Station for the Odori Park site or get off at Susukino Station for the Susukino Site. The Tsudomu Site is a 10 minute walk from Sakaemachi Station on the Toho Subway line. There will be plenty of signs and volunteers to help you get where you want to go.

Don’t imitate Sapporo Residents

The local Sapporo usually turn out to this festival in heels, skirts and thin black tights. And many of the snowboarder guys all have their pants sagging down at their ankles. This is not recommended to tourists, these locals can easily go back to their heated and warm homes or workplaces at anytime they want. You as a tourist you do not have this luxury.

Where to eat?

It is advised to all tourists to eat at the festival, when in need of dining. Sapporo is famous for its miso ramen, crab, soup curry, scallops and ‘Genghis Khan’ grilled mutton, but you don’t necessarily need to waste time trying to find these dishes at city restaurants. The highlight of the Odori Park event site may be the dozens upon dozens of food booths (yatai) that offer all of Hokkaido’s delicacies in a convenient package. Enjoy all of the dishes mentioned above, as well as grilled corn, homegrown potatoes with melted cheese, curry ramen and vanilla ice cream with melted caramel. Also enjoy ethnic cuisine from authentic Brazilian, Iranian and Russian cooks at the International Cultural Exchange area.

Come with friends and family to the Sapporo festival

Because of the freezing cold nights and general family-friendly atmosphere of the festival, do not expect Sapporo to explode into a Mardi Gras-esque bacchanal when the sun goes down. Although one section of the festival is located in the nightlife center of Susukino, this area is mostly home to hostess bars, cabaret clubs and other red-light establishments. (If you are reading this in English, you will not likely be allowed entry to any of these places.) There is an adequate number of spots for drinking with friends in Susukino, but do not expect to stumble onto big open social gatherings.

 

For tourists who get the chance to attend the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan, definitely it is worthy! Sapporo’s residents are not only proud of their statues but also in providing help to travelers also. Time to go freeze your toes!

Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals happening around the world yearly!