If walking in a winter wonderland is your idea of a good time, Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival is the next adventure worthy of your bucket list. With hundreds of sculptures created from snow and ice, this festival welcomes two million visitors every year and puts regular old snowmen to shame.
A Bit of History
In 1950, a few high schoolers built six larger-than-life snow statues in Odori Park. Even when 50,000 people filed through the park to see their creations, the students didn’t realize they had just created an international phenomenon. That was the beginning of the Sapporo Snow Festival, now in its 69th year.
Today, the festival is much bigger and grander, and it seems to grow every year. Held at three sites around Sapporo, Japan, the 2018 Festival will feature a total of 201 sculptures. Some will be massive, some will be illuminated after sunset, and some will be carved from ice. But all are guaranteed to impress.
What to Know
The 2018 Festival will partially open on February 1, although two additional locations will open on February 5; the entire festival will run through February 12. (And if you’re already looking for information about the 2019 Festival, we can help you with that too. The first site will open on January 31, with all locations open from February 4 through February 11.) Admission is free!
First-time festival-goers should make sure to bundle up. Sapporo’s average temperatures dip between 19 and 30°F (-7 and -1°C) at this time of year, and blizzards are fairly common, so you’ll want to wear winter boots and at least three layers of clothing. If that’s not enough to keep you warm and dry, you can purchase hand warmers and ice cleats in subway stations around the city.
The snow sculptures, especially the large ones, will blow you away. Some of the massive designs from recent festivals include a Star Wars tribute, the Taj Mahal, and a Cup of Noodles, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg — building the large sculptures requires artificial snow, wooden frames, and cranes.
Unfortunately, international guests aren’t eligible to construct any of the sculptures. That work is completed by several local groups including the Self-Defense Force, Sapporo City Hall staff, citizen’s groups, private organizations, and volunteers.
To volunteer at the event, Sapporo residents have to enter their names in a lottery, with the winners attending sculpture-making workshops and creating miniature clay models of their design before attempting the full-scale version with snow.
And while teams from many different countries have competed in the Festival’s International Snow Sculpture Contest, you probably haven’t reached that skill level quite yet. Attend the festival first, and who knows — maybe next year you’ll submit the winning design.
Where to Go
The festival’s three sites are found at Odori Park, the Tsudome, and Main Street in Susukino — each site is unique.
At the main site in Odori Park, you’ll find 118 sculptures, including submissions to the International Snow Sculpture Contest. This site is open all day and night, and the sculptures are illuminated from sunset to 10 p.m.
Best of all, street vendors line the rectangular Odori Park on every side. They sell various Japanese food items at low prices, so make sure to grab a snack on your way in or out of the Festival!
To reach the Odori site, hop on the subway and take the Nanboku line, Tozai line, or Toho line to Odori Station.
At the Tsudome, there will only be 23 snow sculptures in 2018, but there are plenty of other things to do. Guests can glide down snow slides and go snow rafting outside the dome. Inside the dome, you’ll find attractions for children and refreshments for all. The Tsudome is open every day of the festival from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Tsudome site isn’t as centrally located as Odori Park, but it’s still accessible by subway. Take the Toho line to Sakaemachi Station — it’s a 15-minute walk to the dome. Just follow the crowd and you’ll make it in no time!
The Susukino Site
Finally, the Susukino site is open all day long. Also called Susukino Ice World, this spot features 60 sculptures made from ice rather than snow. The site is illuminated from sunset to 11 p.m., and plenty of hot drinks are available on site. You can ogle the submissions to the Ice Sculpture Contest, and even touch (or ride … yes, you read that right) some of the sculptures.
If you’re bound for the Susukino site, take the Nanboku line to Susukino Station.
All three Snow Festival sites are also served by a shuttle bus that departs from various locations around the city.
Cover photo by Claire Suni