The Sapporo Snow Festival is easily one of Japan’s more creative, fun, colourful and entertaining festivals. It has been happening every February (pandemic year aside) since 1950 and has grown year after year to one of Japan’s most visited and looked forward to festivals. The City of Sapporo has 2 million year around inhabitants and yet the snow festival itself attracts another 2 million people to visit the city over the course of the week long Snow festival (Yuki Matsuri).
The following are 7 reasons you should consider planning a trip to Japan to coincide with the Sapporo Snow Festival!
1) The Snow Sculptures
The grand highlight of the festival, it is truly incredible to see these enormous snow sculptures in real life.
Entirely samurai castles that are not too far off true life size are built up over weeks in the lead up to the even, and extreme care is taken to carve out precise details, to demonstrate the skills of these true snow artisans.
Many of the sculptures feature popular characters from Japanese pop culture or celebrities of some kind or another.
Some of the snow sculptures are literally the size of real life buildings and make for spectacular backdrops for stage performances, especially when illuminated by lasers at night time.
The city does have a bit of a Disney land type of feel, with make-shift palaces and magical sites all around the city. Of course, the festival wouldnt be complete without a few sculptures of Mickey Mouse & friends.
The sculptures are all entertained in competitions, with prizes for different categories based upon size. Teams from all over the world compete each year for the judges choice, but in reality, it doesnt matter to the visitors who wins or loses. Each visitor will no doubt pick their own favourite that may or may not match up with the judges decision.
2) The Ice Sculptures
Whilst the snow sculptures dominate the Odori site of the fesitval, the Suskino (downtown drinking district) is the centre for the ice sculpture competition.
The ice sculptures usually include an ice bar that services hot bailey’s amongst other hot alcohol drinks.
Its fun to watch the same sculptures over more than one day as they continue to evolve and become more detailed as the ice sculptors continue to work on their masterpieces late a night to make better day after day.
3) The Illumination at Night
As night falls, the city really comes to life as LED lights and complex laser projections are used to give an injection of colour is given to the entire festival.
The below photo is taken from the TV Tower (viewing deck accessible to the public for a small fee) and gives a decent overview of the main festival site at Odori Koen.
Some of the snow sculptures really come to life as light and sound performances at night, many with snow machine effects and quality speakers to immerse the passing audience into each snow sculpture before walking on to check out the next.
4) The Festival Food
Festival food in Japan is always tasty & cheap, but the variety and quality of the food offerings at the Sapporo Snow Festival might be second to none in Japan!
Hokkaido is famous within Japan for its dairy industry (due to its cool summers supporting grass growth for dairy cows). As such, another of the famous food and drink companies in Hokkaido is Royces Chocolate. The below is a fun party bus selling Royces Hot Chocolate drinks that are simply out of this world!
5) The Music & Performances
The larger snow sculptures form the backdrop to stages that feature a string of live performances throughout the day and dont finish up until long after dark.
The festival grounds become the centre of pop music, jazz bands, choirs, dance groups and so much more. Earlier in the day, many school groups perform with professional performers taking the stages later in the day.
6) The Fun & Entertainment
The snow festival is hugely popular with kids, but even adults are allowed to enjoy a lot of the fun activities and photo opportunities around the festival grounds.
Often large snow sculptures are made by company sponsors such as the above one created by a pot noodle company (with pot noodles stuck in the snow above their perfect holiday photo opportunity.
The festival operates over three main sites, with the Tsudome site being the most child friendly (accessible from the other sites by shuttle bus or subway). The Tsudome feature snow mazes, countless snowmen of all shapes and size and large ice slides that even adults get a thrill out of riding (especially after a few Sapporo beers)!
7) The Beer & Hot Sake
Sapporo city is home to the world famous Sapporo beer and there is no better place to drink Sapporo beer than the Sapporo Snow Festival. Drinking in public places is not only legal in Japan, but positively encouraged at outdoor festivals. Through the entire sprawling festival grounds across the city centre, you will never been further than a few metres from a vendor in a caravan or makeshift festival tent selling draft beer along the side of the street!
Sapporo Classic is a particular type of Sapporo (or at least a style of can) that is exclusively available in Hokkaido. Many people think it tastes better, but then again this could be a placebo with the excitement of being in Hokkaido to dink it. If you are not such a beer fan, hot sake will help to keep your hands and body warm as your stroll around the snow festival!