In the coldest month of the year, the hottest ticket in Japan, and maybe the entire world, is for the Sapporo Snow festival on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido.
More than two million visitors from around the world descend on.
Hokkaido’s capital to watch it transformed into the glistening, glittering, and gleaming world of a frozen fairyland.
For a week each February, the skyscrapers of Sapporo become upstaged by edifices and statues of frozen snow forming a second city in Odori Park and the streets at their feet.
Ice sculptures of the past have depicted everything from ancient Japanese temples, samurais, and dragons to contemporary athletes, ice maidens, political figures, and fifty-foot high dinosaurs.
The current Snow Festival is the descendant of a much smaller 1950 festival, the effort of a group of Sapporo high school students who built six snow statues in Odori Park and so impressed the park’s visitors that the tradition continued.
Five years later, the Japan Self-Defense Forces housed at Makomanai base introduced, as a training exercise, the technique for building the enormous snow sculptures typical of the Snow Festival today.
The Snow Festival Venues
Makomanai Base is now one of the three main venues for the Festival, and is the site of the biggest sculptures; the third site, where the ice carving competition is held, is in Sapporo’s Susukino district.
During the 1972 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, the Snow Festival gained international acclaim, and the Snow Statue Competition began two years later.
The Snow Festival is truly a community effort, with citizen’s groups both creating ice sculptures and assisting tourists, especially the disabled.
They also provide tourist information and act as interpreters for the flood of foreign guests. Hotel reservations for the Snow Festival should be made at least six months in advance.
Hotels near the Snow Festival
The Korakuen Hotel Sapporo offers four-star accommodations convenient to all of Sapporo’s parks and scenic areas, and is ideally situated for commercial travelers.