The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most popular, free, annual events in Japan. It is held every February, and attracts over 2 million people every year. The venue, Sapporo, is the prefectural capital of Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture which receives large amounts of snowfall during the winter season. The popular festival started off in 1950 when high school students built a few snow statues. Since then, it has grown into a annual, one week long festival, which attracts visitor from all over the world. Attending seasonal events will help you understand the impressive changes and features of each season in Japan while interacting with locals as well. Here is the ultimate guide to Sapporo Snow Festival which allows you to make the most of your winter time in Japan!
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What is the Sapporo Snow Festival?
The Sapporo Snow Festival is a big winter event that is annually held in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It is carried out by Sapporo city and other public organizations as one of the most popular events that draws visitors not only from other areas of Japan, but also from other countries. It is one of the three biggest snow festivals in the world along with Quebec Winter Carnival in Canada, and Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in China.
The history of the festival dates back in 1950, when the students at local schools started to built some snow statues at Odori Park, one of the main sites of the festival nowadays. Besides the snow sculptures, some other activities were organised including snow ball fights and a carnival. To everyone’s surprise over 50.000 people visited the festival and since then, the festival is organised every year in february.
As the festival became more and more popular, the size of the snow statues also got bigger. In 1953, local high school students made a giant snow exhibit, which was 15 meters high with an extraordinary amount of snow collected by trucks and bulldozers. It enabled them to create a number of large snow statues much to the join of the visitors. Around the time, citizens started to participate in creating their own exhibits, which brought a variety of exhibits with different designs.
In 1972, when Sapporo Olympic Games were held, and the snow festival was widely introduced to other countries, bringing more fame to the festival. Since the Winter Olympics of 1972, the number of visitors from around the world increased and so did the activities. The International Snow Sculpture Contest was started in 1974, aiming for a greater international relationship through the impressive event. From 1984, the two day event was extended to seven days. Since then, the symbolic winter event has grown in of the largest snow festivals in Japan and even in the world, with many other attractions and events including dancing on ice, dogsled racing, and even movie events.
How to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival 2021
The Sapporo Snow Festival is held at three separate sites. Each of them features different kinds of events and exhibits, which gives you totally different experiences with beautiful snow. Here are the three main sites and their respective highlights.
Odori Site (Main Site)
Odori Site is where in 1950 the foundation of the snow festival was laid down. It was at this park, where local high school student built the snow sculptures for the first time. Nowadays, you’ll find hundreds of the festivals here, some measuring more than 25 meters wide and 15 meters tall. The sculptures are illuminated every night until 10pm. In addition, there are concerts and events on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this year the will be no large snow sculptures exhibited because of Covid-19.
Highlights Odori Site
- Explore the magical world created by giant snow statues and sculptures.
- Rent skate shoes and enjoy the exciting skating experience at the open-air rink.
- Try local specialties at lively small stalls to satisfy your appetite.
How to get to Odori Site
From JR Sapporo Station, it is about 10-20 minutes’ walk to the site Odori Park. Take the West Exit and continue to walk down to the basement. Take the underground walkway called Sapporo Ekimae-dori underground walkway and go up to ground level at the exit no. 5.
The second largest site, Tsudome Site, is the family-friendly, but less central location of the Snow Festival. It features several large snow slides and outdoor snow rafting areas where visitors can enjoy a snow-ice experience as well as snow sculptures. Inside the snowdome, there are many other attractions to enjoy the winter wonders as well as some food stalls. The Tsudome Site is planned for Jan. 31 – Feb 11, but this might be subject to change because of Covid-19.
Highlights in Tsudome Site
- Perfect spot for families and who enjoy outdoor activities.
- Enjoy winter sports such as snow slides and snow rafting.
- Take a break at indoor facilities with restaurants and play areas for kids.
How to get to the Tsudome Site
From JR Sapporo Station, take the Toho Line and get off at Sakae Station. Access the ground from exit no. 2 after a 10 min walk. A shuttle bus service is also available from Odori Park Site.
The third main site of the Sapporo Snow Festival is Susukino Site, located near Odori Park. Here you can enjoy some drinks at the ice bar, ride on the ice sculptures and take stunning pictures in the Illumination Street. The ice sculptures are lit up daily until 11pm. Although the Susukino site is the smallest of the three sites, it still features about 100 ice sculptures. The Susukino Site is planned for Feb. 4 – Feb 11, but this might be subject to change because of Covid-19.
Highlights in Susukino Site
- Romantic spot with a number of beautiful ice sculptures brightly lit up.
- Spend a relaxing time appreciating the stunning exhibits created by local artists.
- Take a memorable photo with the fascinating illuminations in the white world
How to get to Susukino Site
From JR Sapporo Station, take the Namboku Line and get off at Susukino Station. The easiest access to the festival ground is from exit no. 3.
Where to stay during the Sapporo Snow Festival
Hotel Resol Trinity Sapporo – Luxurious hotel across Odori Park, with spa facilities at the top floor.
Mercure Hotel Sapporo – Comfortable hotel in the lively Susukino area.
Randor Residential Hotel Sapporo Suites – New luxury hotel at the heart of Sapporo.
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Some people might have a negative impression of winter in Hokkaido because of the severe cold and heavy snowfall. But these conditions offers some of the best conditions for some amazing winter festivities. When you visit the Sapporo Snow Festival you will soon realize that the cold and the snow are part of the charms that Hokkaido offers to visitors, allow them to experience the beauty of nature closely. The Sapporo Snow Festival can be your first step to understand how people in Hokkaido have maintained their daily lives in harmony with the extraordinary weather while enjoying it. Immerse yourself into the white world full of beautiful snow statues and other attractions.
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