Sapporo Snow Festival
In just a few weeks Japan’s largest snow festival will take place in Hokkaido’s capital, Sapporo. The seven-day snow and ice event features hundreds of elaborate frozen sculptures, and has been an annual tradition since 1950, attracting more than two million visitors from Japan and around the world each year.
The festival attractions are located in three different areas: Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome.
Odori Park is the main site, with more than 100 snow carvings lining the length of the common area. Truckloads of snow are transported into the city center each year to build dozens of the sculptures. Some of the figures are as large as 25 meters high, while others are used to host music concerts and events throughout the week.
It’s true Odori Park is most famous for hosting the most grandiose of the ice carving entertainment, but for many tourists the highlight is the dozens of food booths offering Hokkaido’s specialties such as crab, grilled scallops, sea snails and delicious miso flavored ramen. If you don’t like seafood or Japanese food, the food courts are also filled with international dishes to fulfill any craving.
Susukino is a smaller display than Odori Park, but is not to be missed. Just one stop from Odori Park on the subway, the district exhibits roughly 100 smaller ice sculptures along Eki-Mae Dori (Station Avenue). For the past 40 years, Susukino has hosted an ice sculpture contest with teams from across the globe. Each team begins on February 5 by creating the most monumental statue based on a given theme. Tourists can participate by voting for their favorite, and are also welcome to view the award ceremony on February 6 at 11 a.m.
Tsudome is the least central location, however it’s loaded with sights and activities for the whole family. Upon arriving you will find three different snow slides, snow rafting and a dome full of local cuisine kiosks and children’s activities. The site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the festival week. You can reach Tsudome by a shuttle bus departing from Odori Park site or Sapporo station for just ¥200.
Make sure to dress accordingly for the brisk winter weather in Hokkaido. Layer on the long underwear, gloves and hats, and bring your snow boots for the white powder that covers the event site walking paths.
Getting There: Sapporo is about one-and-a-half hours from Tokyo by plane. Once arriving at Shin-Chitose airport it takes about 40 minutes by JR train to get to central Sapporo. There are several flights a day from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo, as well as a few from Tokyo Narita. The lowest fares are usually available from Skymark, Jetstar and Vanilla Air. To get to Sapporo from Tokyo by train, take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Aomori Station (3.5 hours). Then, take the JR Hakuho limited express to Hakodate (two hours), and finally the JR Hokuto limited express to Sapporo (3.5 hours).
Where to Stay: There are several hotels, from small business hotels to luxury chain hotels, located in central Sapporo near Odori Park. Check sites like Agoda, Rakuten Travel, and Hotels.com to find the best rates. If you plan to attend the snow festival, be sure to book your room as far in advance as possible.
More Information: For further details, see the official English website of the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Bottom photo ©Hokkaido Tourism Organization/JNTO. All other photos ©Yasufumi Nishi/JNTO.