Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival is a world of wonder—one made combining snow and fantasy to create one fantastic festival. Held every February in Sapporo Japan, the festival draws some 2 million people to Odori Park, Tsu Dome, and the entertainment district in this island city. They come to experience the amazing ice sculptures and experience one of the most distinctive cultural events of a Japanese winter. They bring along their mittens along with their sense of wonder to the island of Hokkaido’s largest city.


The first festival started small—it all began in 1950 when a group of high school students started building a few sculptures in Odori Park. They were building on an old tradition of snow festivals that was halted by World War II. Their work, while charming, were not the giant sculptures seen today; it wasn’t until 1955 that the large-scale sculptures debuted. Members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces helped built the sculptures and start the new tradition. From there, the Sapporo Snow Festival began to grow, drawing more visitors and participation. In 1972, the city hosted the Winter Olympics, gaining even more attention for its snowfall and wintertime wonders. Teams from Sapporo’s sister cities, including Munich, Germany, have come to Japan to turn snow into magic in Japan’s fourth-largest city. They continue to come every year to showcase their skill.

Types of Carvings

Types of Carvings
Types of Carvings  Image: iyoupapa (flickr), CC BY_SA 2.0

For seven days in February, sites throughout Sapporo draw attention with their snow sculptures. Every year, hundreds of the statues pop up throughout town for the Sapporo Snow Festival. Some of the sculptures are small, intricate works of art, while others are impressive for their scale. With a stroll along Station Avenue, Ekimae-dori, you’ll find ice sculptures—and carvers putting on a show. These sculptures often reflect Sapporo’s island heritage, featuring real salmon, squids, and other maritime creatures.


  Image: David McKelvey (flickr)

While the Sapporo Snow Festival spreads out throughout the town, most of the festival is concentrated in three sites. Ever since the beginning of the festival, many of the events have taken place in Odori Park, a ribbon of green that cuts through the center of town. The home of the Sapporo City Archive Museum and the Sapporo TV Tower has plenty of room for the festival and the crowds who come to see it. As the festival grew, it expanded beyond Sapporo’s version of Central Park. Many of the activities take place in Susukino, the city’s nightlife district. Here you’ll have the chance to watch the ice carvers at work and see the coronation of the Ice Queen. If you’re looking to get into the action, you’ll want to visit the Tsu Dome, where you can slide down a giant snow hill or make your way through a snowy maze.

Top image: David McKelvey


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