The Sapporo Snow Festival
The 64th Sapporo Snow Festival kicks off Feb. 5 and the latest version should be bigger and better than ever.
For seven days, as many as 400 eye-catching snow statues and ice sculptures will dot Odori Park and other sites in Sapporo, dazzling by day and by night an estimated 2 million visitors from near and far.
The Snow Festival, which began in 1950, has grown in stature from a local event to an international carnival. Starting from six snow sculptures made by some Sapporo high school students, the festival added ice sculptures five years later when members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces took part in the fun.
The 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics helped to bring international recognition of the festival, and two years later the International Snow Sculpture Contest began, with teams from many countries around the world joining in.
The U.S. military has been part of the festivities for some time, with teams from several bases in Japan taking part. Naval Air Facility Misawa has participated 29 times and Yokota Air Base has competed in the international snow carving contest almost 40 times.
The main exhibition sites are Odori Park, in the center of downtown Sapporo; Tsudome, where kids can enjoy snow slides and mazes, and a snow experience corner, and adults can sample regional dishes; and Susukino, where the 32nd Suskino Ice Festival will be held. This festival, also located downtown, presents ice sculptures featuring live crab, squid and salmon, and other forms of entertainment.
The sculptures are on display 24 hours a day at Odori Park and Susukino, and are illuminated until 10 p.m. at Odori Park and until midnight at Susukino.
Tsudome is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Snow statues and sculptures are all destroyed the day after the festival, a site that can be enjoyed by visitors that have not yet returned home.
As delightful as it is, however, the Snow Festival is not the only thing to see on Japan’s northernmost major island of Hokkaido.
Hakodate, an important port city south of Sapporo, offers a night view from Mt. Hakodate that is considered to be one of the top three in the world. The city also features a number of Western-style buildings along the waterfront that have been converted into restaurants, shops and even a beer hall. Another interesting tourist site is the Trappist Monastery, outside the city, whose butter cookies have become famous.
The Asahiyama Zoo is another wonderful attraction, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. It features an interactive approach to viewing its animals that almost makes you feel you can reach out and touch them.
Hokkaido’s “onsen” hot spring resorts are also a major draw as are its many ski resorts, including Niseko, which has achieved fame for being a prime destination for Australian skiers and the development of hotels catering to Western tastes.
Even within Sapporo, there are many historical places to see, including a clock tower and building from the Sapporo Agricultural College, now Hokkaido University. The school’s founder, an American named William S. Clark, said, “Boys, be ambitious!” in his 1879 parting speech to his students, an inspirational phrase that has become nationally known in Japan. A visit to Sapporo Beer Garden is also considered an essential part of enjoying the city.
So whether you come for the festival or to experience other winter delights, a visit to Hokkaido should be high on your list of things to do this winter.
Sapporo Snow Festival Tours
Kadena Air Base
Feb. 3 to 6; 118,000 yen for adults; 115,000 yen for kids 3 to 11. Tours include flights, transfers to and from the airport, daily breakfasts and one dinner. Tour visits Lake Saikotsu Festival, Asahiyama Zoo and the Sapporo Snow Festival. For details call 959-4100 or see
Feb. 4 to 7; $1,799 for adults double occupancy; $1,729 for triple occupancy; $1,059 for kids ages 3 to 6; tours include flights, transfers to and from the airport and daily breakfasts. No tours. For details, call 959-4322 or see the ITT Facebook page.
Feb. 3 to 7; $1,815 for adults and kids double occupancy; $1,775 for triple occupancy. Tours include flights, transfers to and from the airport, and daily breakfasts. No tours. This is a free-time getaway to Sapporo. For details, call 646-3503.
Omega World Travel
Will plan customized tours for clients; for details, call 645-1099 or visit www.omegaokinawa.com