The Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) is the biggest and most famous winter festival in Japan. The festival takes place in Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture for one week in early February.
Originally started when 6 local high school kids built some snow statues in Odori Park in 1950, two million visitors now flock to Sapporo every year to watch teams from around the world participate in the snow and ice sculpture contests – in 2008 there where over 400 works on display, some of which were 50 feet tall and 85 feel wide. The sculptures depict everything from entire historical scenes and famous celebrities to Hello Kitty and other pop icons. In addition to the hundreds of ice and snow sculptures, visitors can also enjoy music concerts, dancing, karaoke, food, and more.
A large snow structure reads “Welcome to the Sapporo Snow Festival” in Japanese.
2010 Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
The 2010 Sapporo Yuki Matsuri will be held from February 5th – 11th at the event’s three sites around the city: Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome (formerly in Sato Land). Visitors can expect to see massive works made of snow, ice, and platforms that depict popular scenes, such as this one of The Chronicles of Narnia.
Located in central Sapporo, Odori Park stretches a mile long and is the main site of the festival. Most of the event’s sculptures are exhibited here, including the largest ones. Odori Park also offers musical concerts and other events.
Here is a photo of a large structure in Odori Park entitled Egypt Square.
Odori Park is illuminated until 10:00 pm everyday and the best view is from the top of the Sapporo TV Tower on the east side of the park (700 yen). Here is what the view looks like at night.
The Susukino site has the second highest number of sculptures at the festival – 100 in 2007 – and is illuminated until midnight. Just one subway stop away from Odori Park, Susukino is also Sapporo’s biggest entertainment section and is a great place to go for a night out on the town after enjoying the day’s festivities.
Here is some great tasting Suntory Hibiki whiskey on display at an ice bar in Susukino – it retails for around 8,000 yen ($85) per bottle!
Sapporo Snow Festival Ice Sculpture Competition
On the first day of the festival, participants carve ice sculptures with chain saws and other power tools for the ice sculpture show. The sculptures are made from 130 kilogram ice blocks and the carvers race against the clock to finish by day’s end. Many of the ice sculptures in the competition take on some kind of nature theme, such as white swans.
Make sure you go in the evening when the temperature is colder if you want to watch sculptors do detailed work, like on this fish.
The ice sculpture show takes place between South 7 and South 4 on Ekimae Dori, Susukino’s main street.
The Tsudomu site has hot air balloons, snow slides, snow mazes, and other activities, making it the best place to go for those traveling with children. Not just for children, though, Tsudomu’s regional cuisine and ice bar make sure it is friendly for adults too.
Tsudomu replaced the old Sato Land site because of a lack of parking and is open until 5:00 pm.
Sapporo Snow Festival Recommendations
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. Check here for Sapporo hostels.
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
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.
More Photos of the Sapporo Snow Festival
A team works on constructing a massive snow building at the Odori site.
Here is a photo of the finished building. Can you tell what it is?
Here is a shot of a Japanese team building a snow temple in Odori Park.
Even people from subtropical Okinawa join the fun in this snow sculpture of a whale shark from Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa Prefecture.
Some ice sculptures use real props to increase their impact, like this one with seafood embedded in the ice blocks.
Susukino is lined with ice sculptures like this one by Chamisul, maker of Jinro – Korea’s most famous soju.
You can practically see through some of the ice sculptures on clear days.
Have you been to the Sapporo Snow Festival? What’s your favorite part?