Beyond Ordinary: Ultimate Guide to the Sapporo Snow Festival

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Every February, millions of visitors gather at Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido’s largest annual celebration, the Sapporo Snow Festival. The festival features some of the world’s largest and most elaborate snow and ice sculptures, some over 50 feet tall and comprised of hundreds of tons of snow, such as the Star Wars themed sculpture constructed at this 2015 festival.

The completed & dramatically-lit sculpture at night during the 2015 festival.

Local Youth Fostering Joy In Post-War Japan

The origin of the Sapporo Snow Festival may seem rather humble considering how grand it has become over the last 74+ years. In the 1950s post-war Japan, Odori park primary was a dumping ground for cleared slow from the city’s road ways.

During one of Hokkaido’s cold and dark post-war winters, a group of high school students gathered in Odori park. With little to none training in the arts, in a continuation of a tradition put on hold during wartime, these high school students took what would normally be seen as undesirable excess and transformed it into six works of art, such as this sculpture titled simply ‘Kuma’ (bear):

Photo of ‘Kuma’, one of the original six ice sculptures at Odori Park

From Bear to the Olympics

Year after year, the tradition of transforming the city’s freshly-plowed snow into enormous temporary sculptures continued to grow, advancing in 1955 when the nearby Japanese Self-Defense Force decided to participate as a kind of ‘training exercise’ for service people stationed there. Four years after, in 1959, the festival reached a new level of expression as 2,500 JSDF personnel participated in the construction of several record-breaking large sculptures, attracting domestic television and print media to the event for the first time. Over the years, the JSDF performed a vital role in aiding the festival’s growth as they constructed larger and larger snow sculptures and, in years when snowfall was light, they would use military vehicles to ship in snow from other regions of the island. The festival gained world-wide prestige in 1972, when Sapporo hosted the winter Olympic games and drew an international audience.

Today, the festival has grown to encompass much more than the original space at Odori Park; featuring ancillary installation spaces that host enormous snow and ice slides, beautiful ice sculptures and enchanting artificial ice caves.

Snow sculptures in Odori Park in 1963, alongside the new TV antenna tower
Snow Festival Ice Sculpture (4)
‘Attack on Titan’-themed sculpture at the 2016 Sapporo Snow Festival

A Better Way To Tour

Since the festivals original founding, local business have each come to contribute their own verse to Hokkaido’s winter poem – building an entire ecosystem of wintertime activities. Our handcrafted itinerary includes:

  • a perfectly timed visit to the Penguin March at the Asahiyama Zoo. These birds hit the road twice a day to keep up the exercise in the winter time.
  • a ride on Abashiri ice breaker cruise to witness the resilient spirit of a true arctic experience,
  • an excursion out onto the frozen Lake Shikaribetsu to enjoy a dip in the open-air onsen (hotspring),
  • a once in a lifetime drift ice walk experience on the Okhotsk Sea and learn survival tips on what to do if you were to fall into a fishing hole,
  • a visit to the fantastical ice bar, where visitors can enjoy a respite from the cold with a constitution-bolstering libation of their choice inside a bar made entirely from blocks of clear ice.
Asahiyama Zoo’s ‘Penguin March’

If you’re interested in learning more about our special Hokkaido Winter itinerary featuring the Sapporo Snow Festival, visit our website for additional details.

Space on these two departures are limited, so don’t miss out on your chance to experience the magic of the Sapporo Snow Festival yourself!

Snow slides at the festival
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Supera guests geared up to walk on drift ice
Frozen aquarium display “Unfortunately fish are frozen and dead – maybe still edible”