It’s almost that time of year again – February, one of the coldest and seemingly longest months if you live in a wintry place. However, in Hokkaido, Japan, February is the time of year for cheer and festivities at the annual Sapporo Snow Festival – the biggest winter festival in all of Japan. This year they will be celebrating the 70th Sapporo Snow Festival from February 4-11.
The festival began in 1950 as a community event to display several snow sculptures made by local high school students, and it grew every year after that. In 1974, an International Snow Sculpture Contest was added to help gain international recognition. Since then the festival has burgeoned into a huge commercial and internationally popular event, welcoming over 2 million national and international tourists.
There are three different sites for festivalgoers to visit. The main attractions are located in Odori Park, in downtown Sapporo. Here there are over 100 snow sculptures for visitors to feast their eyes upon, with some measuring up to 50 feet high and 80 feet wide. Popular muses for the sculptures include anime characters, movie stars, and famous buildings such as the Taj Mahal. The sculptures are lit up from sundown until 10 p.m., and while appreciating the works of art, visitors can enjoy tasty treats from food stalls, or go for a spin on the ice rink in front of the Sapporo TV Tower.
This location is also home to concerts and events, as well as the International Snow Sculpture Contest, with about 12 teams competing for the coveted first place. For an excellent view of it all, take a trip up to the top observatory deck of the Sapporo TV Tower, which overlooks Odori Park.
For a more adult vibe with some beautiful night scenes, head over to the Susukino Site in Sapporo’s entertainment district. Here there are over 50 stunning and intricate ice sculptures on display. These are also lit up at night until 11 p.m. Susukino can easily be reached by subway, at one stop south of Odori Park.
Finally, the Tsu Dome Site provides daytime fun and entertainment for families with ice slides, snow rafting, a snow maze, and more. Its hours are 9 to 5 every day, and although it is located just outside of the city, it is easy to get to. Shuttle buses leave from Odori Park and Sapporo Station every 15-30 minutes, and it is located at just a 15-minute walk from the Sakaemachi subway station.
If you are visiting Sapporo, home to the world-famous Sapporo Beer, make sure to stop by the Sapporo Biergarten for some local brews. Other famous local foods you should be sure to try are miso ramen (ramen with an earthy, deep miso broth) and dairy products (Hokkaido is well known for its dairy cattle). To warm up on a cold winter night, order some hot plum wine (umeshu) – a favorite wintertime drink in Japan, which has a lightly sweet taste.