As if you needed another reason to love Japan. You already knew about the cherry blossoms in March, and the beautiful leaves changing colors in late Fall. You've checked out the different castles throughout the country, and perhaps spent a few hours submerged underwater in a slightly catatonic state at some of its onsens. But have you had the chance to head north to Hokkaido to see massive snow sculptures of your favorite anime characters yet? My sister, Neetha, went this year and loved it.
Wait, what is it?
The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual winter event where millions of people gather to admire amazing snow and ice sculptures. It takes place during the second week in February, although Neetha and her friends visited Sapporo just for the weekend. While Sapporo is the main attraction, other cities like Otaru and Asahikawa also have snow festivals. Let me clarify by saying that there is a lot more types of statues to see than ones of just anime – some of the larger sculptures include an impressive Taj Mahal snow sculpture, a beautiful ice sculpture of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, and an incredibly detailed Tsuruga Castle snow sculpture. There are about a dozen larger snow sculptures, and they can be as big as 50 feet high, and more than 80 feet wide.
The different sites
The Sapporo Snow Festival has 3 different sites: Odori, Susukino and Tsu Dome. Neetha said that each place wasn't too crowded and it was pretty easy getting from Odori to Susukino (and Tsu Dome is only a short distance outside of the center of town.) Odori Park is where you will find the larger snow sculptures, and the park is full of about one hundred smaller sculptures as well. And by smaller I mean that they are around 6 – 7 feet each, still pretty impressive. Odori hosts the International Snow Sculpture Contest at the International Square, and about a dozen national teams from all over the world compete for first prize. This year's winner was Hong Kong with a stunning Leaping Dragon statue. Here is the list of all the participating teams and their beautiful sculptures. Even though Odori Park tends to be the main attraction, the ice sculptures at Susukino are no joke, either. At night these sculptures are lit up and really come to life. Also head to Tsu Dome if you want to have some fun on their ice slides.
Escaping the cold - must eats in Hokkaido
Neetha had a great time at the snow festival, but she couldn't stop talking about how cold it was (well, duh.) To keep the frostbite from settling, Neetha and her friends would break up their time at the festival with several visits to some of the restaurants in the area. Hokkaido is known for its dairy products and miso ramen, and they found a small ramen alley next to the ice sculptures in Susukino that she raves about. Neetha also highly recommends going to the Sapporo Biergarten for its Genghis Khan mongolian beef (unlimited beer addition optional.)
About the festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival started back in 1950 when high school students made a few smaller snow sculptures in the park. The following year members from the Self-Defense Force erected a giant snow statue, and since then the event has grown to include other citizens, businesses, and people from other countries. If you're curious about the process of making one of these bad boys, here is a brief step by step for the snow sculptures (although I have a feeling this may be a harder DIY than you had hoped.) The festival is definitely on my list of must-sees – hope I can make it out there next year! Anyone care to join me?
All photos taken by Neetha Mony.