Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk through the snowy grounds of a traditional Japanese temple? Or come face to face with a 50 foot dragon? Have you ever wanted to stand nose to nose with a giant polar bear or get within touching distance of a tiger? From
Colossal ice and snow sculptures tower above you. From whimsical cartoon themes to intricately carved goddesses and even replicas of famous landmarks such as the Taj Mahal.
If you’re looking for a bucket list experience like no other and want a chance to frolic in the snow this year, then the Sapporo Snow Festival in February is for you.
Image by: Jennifer via flickr
Sapporo Snow Festival – What You Need to Know
Spread across three sites:
Odori – From February 4-11, 2021
Susukino – From February 4-11, 2021
Tsudome – From January 31 – 11th of February
The “Sapporo Yuki Matsuri” (The Sapporo Snow Festival) is one of the most anticipated events in Japan with some two million people visiting the sites over 72 years to see the pieces and join in the fun. You can enjoy activities such as snow rafting, and various sizes of snow slides.
There is usually a snowboarding section with jumps. There also additional activities such as mini golf, bumper balls (a transparent plastic ball that you can run around in), and a sled slope.
The materials for the event are brought from the mountains every year. Dedicated teams spend several weeks moving tonnes of compacted ice and snow. Then they sculpt and carve the glistening masterpieces into what you see as the final product.
The Difference Between The 3 Sites
As mentioned earlier, the snow festival has 3 different sites (Odori, Susukino, Tsudome) and each with it’s own set up:
Where you can witness the fascinating snow and ice craft over a 1.5k stretch. You will also find tasty traditional Hokkaidan food and an ice skating area.
Want to have a drink at an ice bar? In Susukino you can do just that while watching the ice sculpture shows and competitions, including the beautiful lights at nighttime.
January 31st – 11th of February
The Sapporo Winter Festival is not just about the amazing ice and snow art sculptures. Tsudome is the ‘activity’ area where you’ll have fun riding the snow slides and sliding with snow rafts (which is also great if you’re coming with children).
The Changing Ice Sculpture Themes
The general theme of the Hokkaido Festival changes every year. Past years themes focused on anything from certain celebrities and tv shows to famous buildings. The British Museum, The Imperial Palace and Angkor Wat have all be featured in the past, and landmarks such as the Sphinx of Egypt.
To give you an idea of what to expect for the upcoming event, one theme reflected popular fantasy and science-fiction releases, such as the Final Fantasy game series and a nod to the Star Wars movies (to commemorate the franchise’s 40th anniversary). In 2020 the theme is: ‘enjoy the ice’.
Sculptures of characters and depictions of the most famous scenes were met with the latest technology. This is to provide a new thoroughly immersive experience for the spectators including a state of the art surround sound system.
Other Fun Events Happening
Stages are constructed from compacted snow to host live music events. Variety of bands will play sets throughout the day and evening. The lineup is usually a fantastic mixture of both local artists as well as guest acts. The lineup can vary from anything from the US navy to Hawaiian airlines!
The festival also hosts an immensely popular event in its own right. The beauty pageant known as “Susukino Ice Queen”, with hundreds of local women vying for the title.
The Snow Sculpture Competition
Amongst other activities at the festival, there is also the chance for a little friendly competition with the International Snow Sculpture Contest. For those who wish to try their hand at sculpting, the competition which has been gaining momentum since it began in 1974, is open to sign up to.
A team for the competition usually consists of two members plus a team leader to represent their country. In recent years there have been as many as 15 participating teams.
The Sculptures at Night
A highlight of the festival that is not to be missed is the sculpture illuminations, which happen every night at 10 pm. The ice and snow sculptures will be be lit up by various light displays in all manner of colours.
It makes for an incredibly beautiful experience in the evening. Most years have also featured a light tunnel in the centre which visitors can walk through, crafted from thousands of fairy lights. This is a truly mesmerising experience.
So Why Sapporo Snow Festival?
From a small student gathering to an internationally enjoyed event, the Sapporo Snow Festival has a diverse amount on offer for everyone of all ages to enjoy.
Whether you’re a solo traveller, a couple on a romantic break, a group of friends on a trip or on a family holiday – there’s something for everyone here. From light shows and snow sculptures to ice skating and sledge rides, there are heaps of fun activities, as well as live music and an array of delicious culinary delights to indulge in.
Hokkaido itself is a great holiday destination with much to offer. It well worth putting on your bucket list of festivals and events to attend! Book your Sapporo snow trip now
The Sapporo Ice Festival in Hokkaido is at three sites: Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome.
Sapporo Ice Festival Tips
Here are our top tips for useful things to know about the The Sapporo Ice Festival event:
1# Entry is free
This a free event. Do not listen to anyone touting tickets or telling you that you have to pay for the event. However, although the entrance to the event is free, you may have to pay to participate in certain activities or go on rides.
2# Ensure you have enough cash
It is possible that your international credit or prepaid card potentially may not work, or the stalls may only accept cash.
3# Prohibited Use
Flying drones is prohibited at the Sapporo Ice Festival event so please refrain from using such equipment.
February is coldest month of year in Japan so be sure to dress up in warm appropriate clothes. Wear layers and take shoes with good grip as the surfaces may be slippery.
5# Best View
For a spectacular experience, go to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower to get a panoramic view of the festival.
What to Do?
The festival is spread over three sites: Odori Park, Tsudome and Susukino, all within the city of Sapporo, which is the capital of the Japanese island Hokkaido.
The two most central and easily accessible sites are Odori and Susukino. Tsudome, which is considered the most family friendly out of the three sites, is a little further outside of the city centre, but not particularly difficult to reach (see our transportation section for further details).
Hokkaido is the second largest island in Japan. The island is steeped in plenty of history and being Japan’s northernmost prefecture has the coolest climate.
Skiing and Snowboarding
As Hokkaido is Japan’s coldest region, and due to the amount of snowfall that it receives during winter months, it’s a hugely popular destination for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, which is why it is the perfect location for a festival such as this!
Volcanoes and Hot Springs
Hokkaido is also famous for its volcanoes and natural hot springs (“Onsen”) which draw in large amounts of tourism to the area every year.
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Where to Stay?
During this time of year, given the popularity of the festival, it is wise to book as far in advance as possible as the accommodation can get booked to full capacity very quickly.
For individuals traveling to the event there are several options to explore; the most cost effective when traveling alone is to consider staying in a hostel dormitory.
A private room can be a budget friendly alternative for couples instead of a hotel room, although there are many good quality hotels in the area as well.
A hostel with options of dorm beds, twin rooms or private rooms with a double bed in a traditional Japanese style. Sappo Lodge is a beautifully decorated and cosy accommodation choice, just 0.9km from the city centre and a 2 minute walk from Hosui-Susukino subway station
A beautiful hotel complete with a sauna, pool, and in-house onsen. The hotel has an excellent restaurant serving traditional and international cuisine and comfortable rooms that can accommodate up to 4 people.
Book your accommodation as soon as possible to get the best rates with booking, before they’re all booked up!
Where to Eat?
Foodies won’t be disappointed with what’s on offer at the Sapporo Ice Festival. There are various food and drinks stalls scattered across the three sites of the festival.
The Festival Stalls
Stalls selling craft beers, hot sake and mulled wines are the perfect winter warmers in the sub-zero temperatures! Head to the ice bar for something a little fancier, such as a White Russian from their cocktails menu.
Try some of the traditional Japanese festival fare, regional food and snacks from takoyaki (octopus balls) and yakitori (chicken skewers) to okonomiyaki (a type of savoury pancake).
The Savory Hokkaidan Seafood
If you’re a seafood lover, then you’re in luck, because the speciality around these parts is the famous crab hot-pot, known as Nabemono.
Other popular seafood dishes that you can pluck from many of the food stalls with their grills lined up outside include sea urchins and fresh scallops.
Perhaps grab a bowl of steaming ramen, a spiced sweet potato curry, or sample some of the all-you-can-eat barbecued mutton.
How to Get There?
Get a flight to the nearest airport (New Chitose), from there you can take a train or even a bus into the city centre.
Around the time of the festival, expect prices to be inflated in comparison to what they may usually be like.
Alternatively, it could be possible to get a bullet train ticket to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, disembark and then hop on the Hokuto express train to get to the station in Sapporo.
Other options may include getting an overnight ferry from various ferry ports on the mainland, although this very much depends on the weather at this time of year, so it is best to check in advance whether the services are running.
The two central sites Odori Park and Susukino, are very much in the city centre, so all you need to do is get transport to there, or ideally book somewhere within walking distance of the city centre.
Shuttle to Tsudome
A shuttle bus to the other (Tsudome) site will frequently run (approximately every 10 minutes or so); a one-way ticket will cost you around 100 yen.
Subway to Tsudome
Alternatively, you can make your way there by subway and walk from Sakaemachi Station which will take around 15 minutes.
Sapporo Snow Festival History
From Odori Park
The Sapporo Snow Festival all began in Odori Park in 1950. The tradition was started by a group of local high school students; at first, there were only six crudely made snow statues, but over time the movement began to build momentum.
In 1955 the Self Defense force got involved and joined in to make perhaps the first large-scale snow statue that the festival would later become most famous for. By 1959, the national media was reporting on and covering the event, and some 2,500 people were participating in the event to build snow sculptures.
The second site of the festival was officially opened in 1965, and the festival gained international interest when the Winter Olympics Games were hosted in the area in 1972.
The International Snow Sculpture Contest first kicked off in 1974, with the number of participating countries increasing over the years.
The ice sculptures and illuminations are aspects that were later incorporated into the festival around 1983.
The third site of the festival Tsudome was added much later in 2009.
The festival, on the whole, has really gone from strength to strength, growing in size and popularity since its early days.