The Sapporo Snow Festival is almost here!!! Every year, during the first week or two in February, Hokkaido hosts one of the world’s most spectacular winter festivals. People come from all over the world to participate and view these masterpieces. Some reaching nearly 50ft high, these snow sculptures are massive, intricate and some even have lights!
In 2016, I went for the first time and was completely blown away. The enormity of the sculptures and all the tiny details in each of them was truly amazing. They weren’t just huge snow sculptures though. The festival was also filled with ice sculptures and many smaller ones with just as much detail and beauty. There was an international competition section with sculptors from Thailand, Finland, Indonesia, Australia and even Hawaii! You could watch them working on and displaying their magnificent works. For tools, they had everything from chainsaws to the tiniest of chisels. It was something else to see the works in progress. A definite おすすめ (recommendation). In addition to the most amazing snow sculptures you may ever see, there was also a school section full of smaller projects designed and created by students around Japan.
When is it happening?
This year, the festival will be held from February 6th to 12th. The Tsu Dome Site will be open from February 1st to 12th (See below).
Where to go
The main event is held at Odori Square, a short walk from Sapporo station. Here, you’ll find the biggest snow sculptures as well as the international and school sections. This site is packed with food and trinket vendors, and just beyond the Sapporo TV Tower there are also concerts and events going on. Last year there were performers and idol bands as well as a snowboarding competition.
Susukino is another very popular sight. This street displays the coolest ice sculptures and is a very walkable distance from Odori Square. (Or just a short train ride away).
If you are young at heart and/or plan on going with family, the Tsu Dome Site has snow activities such as slides and rafting. There are more snow sculptures, food vendors and events. *NOTE: this site is open from February 1st.
Another less-advertised area is the Otaru Snow Light Path (小樽雪あかりの路). This area turns into a little snow village at night. Lanterns, snow goblets and smaller sculptures are lit up everywhere. My favorite things here were the candle/light holders made entirely of snow and decorated with leaves. Walking back to the train station, there is a scenic river pathway lined with lights and even more beautiful snowy things. *NOTE: the Otaru Path is open from February 3rd.
There’s a lot to see at this festival so here’s just what I would recommend if you only have a day to see it all. First of all, get to Sapporo by midday at the latest. Once you walk out of the station, you’ll be within minutes of Odori Square. You could easily spend a few hours here just walking around taking in the sculpture and maybe catch a few performances or events near the TV Tower. From Odori Square, I’d head over to the Susukino site and catch the ice sculptures before the sun goes down (around 5pm in February). Then I’d hop on a train to Otaru and check out all the lit up snowy things once
the sun goes down. From Otaru, you definitely want to head back to Odori Square to catch all the huge sculptures as they turn into light up displays.
How to get to Sapporo
The festival is free, so transportation is where you will spend your monay, unless of course you already live in Sapporo. If you are coming from Tokyo (or almost anywhere else in Japan), your best bet is probably the shinkansen (bullet train). In March of 2016, a new line opened up that now goes from Tokyo up to Hakodate, Hokkaido. There is talk of it extending all the way up to Sapporo but, for now, you can easily train there from Hakodate. Here’s how:
Hop on the bullet train to Hakodate. You’ll end up at the Shin-Hakodate station (this is the final stop on the line so you won’t have to worry). From here, there are a few options to get to Sapporo station. You can either take the JR Super Hokuto for about $90 (3hr 50min) or a bus (新函館北斗駅前) for about $50 (4hr 50min). [Keep in mind there are usually train specials going on during this event which could save you on train fare so be on the lookout for those.]
Alternatively, if it’s more convenient, you could also fly from Tokyo to Sapporo for roughly $150-200 (and far less travel time).
Sapporo is cold. Especially in February. Be sure to wear tons of layers, gloves, snow-appropriate shoes and pack a few hand warmers. Last year we were freezing but luckily ended up finding a Bailey’s hot chocolate vendor. Maybe hit that up for some extra warmth. 😉