Snow doesn’t always mean skiing and snowboarding. Sometimes, it also means giant snow statues in the middle of a city and believe us – it’s incredible.
During a whole week in February, the city of Sapporo becomes a giant snow museum with ski slopes, snow, ice carvings, and of course – local foods that will get you hungry just by looking at them.
The most northerly island of Japan – Hokkaido – is considered the place to be when it comes to skiing. People come from all over the world to enjoy the slopes and unique types of snow found in the mountains of Hokkaido. During summer, the island transforms itself and becomes the perfect place to have days-long hikes in highly reputed natural parks along with perfect refreshing weather.
You can enjoy Sapporo all year round, but we would recommend winter as the snowy landscapes are simply magical. Sapporo itself offers some interesting sightseeing inside the city: The North American style of the streets, the open-air Sapporo Art Park Museum, the almost unbelievable underground street system with its shopping centres, and the Sapporo beer factory! The seafood is as delicious and fresh as it gets, but don’t forget to try the local Sapporo ramen and the Genghis Khan – a mutton barbecue specialty.
The Snow Festival
Since 1950, Sapporo is holding the snow festival for one week in February. The legend says that it was started by 6 local high-school students who carved 6 snow statues in Odori Park – shortly joined by the Japan Self-Defense Forces! More than 70 years later, the festival is now a huge hit and you have to book your lodging weeks in advance if you want to join the party. The best part? It’s free! Everything is set up in the streets or outside and there is no entrance fee.
The festival is mainly held in 2 different locations, easily accessible or close-by. The main part is in the center of Sapporo city, shared between Odori Park and Susukino. There, you will find around 400 statues carved in snow or ice for the International Snow Sculpture Championship – and by the locals too! -, usually going along with the yearly theme. Nearby, you can find yatai – food stalls – serving local specialties to warm you up while strolling in the alleys. More incredibly, a skating rink and snowboarding air jump facilities are also installed right in the middle of the city! The festival committee puts up many different events and happenings linked to popular dramas, mangas, or YouTubers making every year’s edition different.
In Tsudome, giant slow slides and snow rafting, attractions for children are installed. This site is a little further so you would have to take a shuttle bus to go there, but the snow fun will be endless. It’s the perfect place to go if you have a family and want to explore the amusement side of the snow! If you’re a couple, Susukino and Odori Park will be ideal as you can take long strolls and enjoy the statues exhibitions as well as the romantic light-ups.
Tips from the Team
Renting an apartment inside the city can be tempting but we would not recommend this option as prices tend to go crazy during the festival and you could also get bad surprises regarding quality – the festival is attracting around 2 million visitors, so some folks are trying to get their share by lending places for more than they are. On the other hand, hotels in the neighbourhood of Sapporo will offer attractive packages including breakfast, a shuttle bus to the city center, and spacious rooms with amazing views. Even if it might seem counter-effective, getting a little farther from Sapporo is actually a good deal!
The festival is attracting visitors from all over the world – and Japan. If you are in Japan for a holiday, prioritize weekdays to weekends to avoid the crowd. Also, try going during the day if you want to take your time gazing at the statues. The night is also a good choice but will attract way more visitors – as it is really beautiful.
Prepare yourself: you will be cold! Sapporo’s average temperature for February is minus 3 Celsius degrees, it will get humid, and the wind can make things even worse (that’s when the underground street network comes in very handy!). Pack everything you need to stay warm even when staying outside for a long time.
The festival was cancelled 2 years in a row (2021 & 2022) because of the coronavirus pandemic and was held online, the 2023 edition should be a joyful and heart-warming show and we’re sure that the committee will organize amazing events and happenings for this comeback. In 2023 it will take place from the 4th to the 11th of February. Interested? We’ve got a one-week tour plan for you in Hokkaido, don’t hesitate to have a look and get in touch with us!
When it comes to Yuki Matsuri, the earlier you book, the better. If you consider visiting and want to make the best of your snow festival escapade, you should consider having your plan set 6 months before the event.
You can check the official website to get the latest information about the festival, including the dates!
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