The Sapporo Snow Festival is a week-long event and the city’s biggest festival. During this week about 2 million visitors come to see the beautiful snow and ice sculptures, effectively doubling the population of the city!
It is without a doubt Sapporo’s most international event, with visitors from all over the globe coming to experience this unique winter wonderland. The event consists of 3 locations in Sapporo’s downtown, the main event ground spanning several blocks in Odori park, the Susukino entertainment district which hosts the ice sculptures section of the event, and Tsudome (Sapporo Dome) which hosts snow sculptures with a focus on providing a play space for children.
The event originally started somewhat informally in 1950, when 6 local high school students built 6 snow sculptures in Odori park. This became an annual tradition, and in 1955, as part of a training exercise, the Japan Self-Defense Forces from the nearby Makomanai base built the first massive snow sculptures for which the festival is now famous.
It then grew from there to become on of Japan’s most popular winter events, now organized by the City of Sapporo, the Sapporo Tourist Association, the Sapporo Board of Education, the Sapporo Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and administered by the Sapporo Snow Festival Executive Committee
So many sculptures are now built for the event (around 400 in total) that snow has to be trucked in from the surrounding countryside. Preparation for the event and construction of the sculptures starts weeks in advance, making downtown Sapporo bustle even during the coldest part of the winter. The scope of the event is truly impressive; in addition to the sculptures themselves a number of stages made out of snow are also constructed where music and dance performances are held, at the Satoland site visitors can enjoy long snow and ice slides as well as a huge maze made of snow, and the Susukino section holds the Susukino Queen of Ice beauty contest.
There are also dozens of food stalls set up throughout the Odori park and Tsudome sites where you can enjoy a variety of regional foods from all over Hokkaido such as fresh seafood, potatoes, corn, and dairy products, and the Susukino section features an ice bar where you can go inside and warm up with a cup of hot sake.
The sculptures themselves are impressive, some are over 25 meters wide and 15 meters high! Although a variety of sculptures are presented, ranging from popular anime and cartoon characters to heroes like the baseball player Hideki Matsui, the most impressive are extremely detailed reproductions of famous buildings such as the Taj Mahal.
There is also an international snow sculpture contest, with about a dozen teams competing each year from around the world. These sculptures focus on important cultural elements from each country and add to the international flavor of the event.
Access to the main event in Odori park and in Susukino is available with a short walk from any of Sapporo’s downtown hotels (book early as they all fill up during the event!), and the Tsudome section by shuttle bus (100 yen one-way, departures every 5-10 minutes) or by a 15-minute walk from Sakaemachi Station, the terminal station of the Toho Subway Line (10 minutes, 240 yen from Sapporo Station).
Shuttle buses to the Tsudome Site also depart from the Odori Site and from Sapporo Station (200 yen one way, every 15-30 minutes). Note that no parking is available near the Tsudome Site.