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.

Photo by Claire Suni

A Bit of History 

In 1950, a few high schoolers built six larger-than-life snow statues in Sapporo’s 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. 

Today, the festival is much bigger and grander, and it seems to grow every year. Held at three sites around Sapporo, Japan, the festival now features about 200 sculptures each year — some massive, some illuminated after sunset, and some carved from ice. But all are guaranteed to impress.

Photo by Claire Suni

What to Know 

Each year, the festival partially opens in late January or early February, with two additional locations opening a few days later. 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 also 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. 

Photo by Karen Nye

It takes artificial snow, wooden frames, and cranes to build the largest sculptures, but 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.

Photo by Claire Suni
Photo by Claire Suni 

Odori Park

At the main site in Odori Park, you’ll find about 100 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.

Photo by Young joon Jang

The Tsudome 

The Tsudome is home to fewer snow sculptures but 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!

Photo by Young joon Jang

The Susukino Site

Finally, the Susukino site is open all day long. Also called Susukino Ice World, this spot features several dozen 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 gaze at 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. Enjoy your time in winter wonderland!

Photo by Claire Suni

Cover photo by Claire Suni