Anything that is worth seeing in Japan is outside of Tokyo. You know, everyone says that. Just kidding. I made it up. But really, anything that tends to be cool or exciting, after the initial Akihabara and Nakano Broadway Buzz wears off, is outside of Tokyo. Now that could be Kichijouji where Occultic;Nine was set, Shirakawa-gou in Gifu Prefecture where Higurashi no Naku Koro ni was set, or Okinawa where Barakamon was set. This time too, we jetted off to another part of the country and ended up in the deep north where the spring 2018 anime Golden Kamuy is set, Hokkaido. Specifically, we went to the capital city of Sapporo and made our way to the 69th Yuki Matsuri aka the Snow Festival. There, you can see towering statues made completely of ice and snow, eat a lot of delicious food including copious amounts of seafood, play in the snow, and most likely be interviewed by elementary school children about where you are from. We got hit four times.
|When it Established||The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is in its 69th year this year–no jokes–which means that it was founded in 1950 and is generally held the first week and a half of February when it is supposedly at its coldest. Originally, it was started by six high school students who built snow sculptures in Odori Parl. Five years later, the Self-Defense Force joined in and started making massive, and we do mean massive, sculptures that gradually began to draw more and more people to it. Now, they contribute more than just breathtakingly detailed sculptures. And now, sister cities to Sapporo also create and enter in their own sculptures for people to enjoy.|
|Length of Event||The Sapporo Snow Festival has slightly flexible dates, but this year, the two main sites where sculptures are, are from February 6th to the 12th. The third site, which is quite far away and requires either a 30 minute bus ride or jumping on a train or subway or two, runs from February 1st through the 12th. After that, everything is bulldozed and trucks carry away the excess snow and ice. However, one thing to note is that all lights are turned off at 10pm. Sometimes it is 11pm, but the days seemed to fluctuate, so it would be best to time it at 10pm.|
|Place/Location||There are three locations like we said. They are Odori, Susukino, and Tsudome. Odori is really easy to locate. It is one station away from Sapporo station on the subway and is part of a sprawling park that goes for twelve blocks at Odori Park. Susukino is just one station down from Odori and runs for four blocks from Minami 4 Jou to Minami 7 Jou (The names of the blocks). Japan names blocks & intersections, not roads primarily. The final location is at Tsudome Site which either requires you to take a subway line all the way to the end, OR there is a bus that will take you between the two locations and it takes about 30 minutes.|
|Cost||Free! Well, it is free to attend the festival and see all of the sculptress. However, getting around will cost you money, food will too, as will any souvenirs–there are many shops–, and any alcoholic beverages. Sapporo and Hokkaido in general is famous for sake. If you are ever there and of age, be sure to try some!|
|Hotels||Honestly, you want to plan months in advance. The location will be absolutely swamped with people who want to go like you. Be sure to book at least 3-5 months in advance and know that generally speaking, the closer that you are, the more you are going to pay per night per person in Sapporo.|
|Company/Event Message for Fans/Attendees||The welcoming message from the official website is “Welcome to the world plaza that evokes a pristine snow fantasy.”|
What to Expect
Expect to do a lot of walking in crowds. Be ready to stand in line to see things. If you can and you are on vacation, be 100% sure to go on a weekday as they are much less crowded than weekends and that includes Fridays. Expect a lot of delicious food as well as Hokkaido Milk and ice cream being heavily promoted. There is also a lot of food stalls selling sweets and soups. You can stay and get your fill, but be ready to splash some cash as well.
What to Bring in Order to Enjoy the Event
Here are just a few things that you will need to be able to enjoy the event:
- A phone charger & battery,
- You want to invest in comfortable, thick snow boots. It is a snow festival and there is a very good chance that there will be a lot of ice and snow.
- Warm clothing is also recommended as the temperature frequently sits below freezing even during the day.
- Plenty of money. While it is free to get in, everything else is not. You can take pictures for free though.
- A good or decent camera. If not, your phone will suffice.
- Patience as there are crowds of people.
What to Do While There/What is Available
The main and largest location is the Odori location. It goes for 12 blocks from 1-chome to 12-chome starting with the Sapporo TV tower and ending at the former government building. The location is Odori Park and these 12 blocks actually stretch 1.5 km one way! Here, you can check out stall after stall of delicious food, and there is a skating rink, company sponsored ice sculptures, and professional athletes putting on a snow and ski show, and more. The biggest one though is the annual giant ice sculpture created by the Self-Defense Force. This year was a massive tribute to Final Fantasy XIV has featured the “Battle of Winter Wonderland.” At night too, there is a cool, 1 minute light show that really showcases how detailed and talented the people who made it were.
Speaking of night time, be absolutely sure to purchase a ticket and go to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower! The view overlooks the park and you really have a wonderful vantage point to see just about everything that there is in the Odori area. Plus, there is a shopping arcade next to it if you want to see day-to-day life at its finest.
Other highlights from the Odori location included the Taichung Railway Station, The Stockholm Cathedral, The Large Lecture hall of Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara, a tribute to Osamu Tezuka, The Snow Sculpture Contest, Snow Miku (A special Hatsune Miku just for the festival!) and finally, the citizen entries for the judging contest! Whew. That was a lot. The best part too is that they were all made from ice! Catch some of them below!
The Susukino Site features another 60 sculptures to be judged and also allows you to vote on your favorite! While finally, the Tsudome Site, the far one, allowed for sledding, small snowman building, family activities both indoors and outdoors, and you guessed it, even more sculptures. However, these were not for entry, but rather just to showcase people’s talents. You can catch a few more of them below!
Honestly, this was like nothing we had ever experienced. There was so much to see, do, smell, taste, and feel. If only they had a site for a snowball fight! It would have been perfect! Sapporo really does pride themselves on being open as not only do they feature sister cities in the sculpture contests, they allow non-Japanese citizens of Sapporo to also participate in making these sculptures. There are very talented individuals that have come to support the festival and try to enter their own works, and honestly, it’s a wonderful feeling. Everyone is so happy and jovial, that you don’t even realize you are standing outside in subzero temperatures. If you ever have the chance to see the festival or come to Japan, make sure that you do not miss this wonderfully unique aspect of Japanese culture. And for what it is worth, the Hokkaido Ice Cream is out of this world deliciously rich and flavorful. Try it if you have the chance!