February is the time for the annual Snow Festival, held in Sapporo, usually in the first or second week/weekend of the month. This year, the city will hold the 66th Snow Festival, the event having begun in humble origins back in 1950.
Now over two million people visit Sapporo each year to see the popular ice sculptures and enjoy the festivities, making the ‘Yuki-matsuri’ one of the largest and most renowned winter events in the world. It has hundreds of spectacular sculptures carved in ice and snow, an international ‘snow sculpture’ contest, and even an ‘Ice Queen’ beauty contest in Susukino. But it wasn’t always like this.
In 1950, a group of local high school students created some impressive snow statues in Odori Park. They did this annually and were joined in their efforts by the Self-Defence Force five years later, which is when the first massive snow sculptures were built. That was the basis for the establishment of the Snow Festival as it is today. The Self-Defence Force still participates, providing assistance in carrying extra snow to the site from outside the local area. The main sites for the festival are Odori Park, Tsudome and Susukino.
In addition to viewing ice and snow sculptures, great fun can be had on various ice slides, participating in snow-rafting, bamboo skiing, negotiating labyrinths made of snow, ice skating, and observing snow crystals. For those who like to keep warm inside, there are many 5-star luxury hotels in Sapporo, not to mention a myriad of great restaurants, cafes, bars, shopping centers, museums, hot springs and so on. Transportation is plentiful, efficient and convenient.
Of course Hokkaido, the (winter) land of snow and ice, is extremely popular for skiing and snowboarding; every winter, thousands of overseas tourists visit resorts in Niseko, Rusutsu, Asahidake, Kiroro, and Sapporo Teine among others.
While in Sapporo, be sure to try some of its famous dishes, including Hokkaido ‘wagyu’ (beef), Genghis Khan lamb, Sapporo ramen (Chinese noodles), and its various seafood dishes such as king crab, ever-popular sushi and fresh sashimi (raw fish). You can even do some taste testing at Sapporo’s famous ‘sake’ brewery as well as Sapporo Brewery, which makes my favorite beer – Yebisu.
The 2015 ‘Yuki-matsuri’ in Sapporo runs from the 5th through to the 11th of February.
See you on the slopes!