Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) – Hokkaido
The annual festival boasting gaudy, incredibly large, intricate and simply amazing ice sculptures took place earlier this month in Sapporo in the north of Japan. The focus of the week-long Sapporo Snow Festival or Yuki Matsuri, which takes place around the 2nd week of February, is rightly on the sculptures and their sculptors. This year was no exception with exceptional works of icy art and fantastic fun to be enjoyed by visitors of all ages.
The Sapporo Snow Festival began in 1950, when local middle and high school students exhibited six snow sculptures at Odori Park. Today, it has become a major wintertime spectacle in Sapporo attracting over 2 million visitors from all over Japan and abroad. Snow sculptures and ice sculptures large and small line Odori Park for over a mile and the statues are lit up at night, giving it a wonderful surreal quality.
There are multiple sites, and one is dedicated to international participants, where teams from around the world display their works, and you can also watch their works in progress during the Sapporo Snow Festival. The Tsudome site has giant snow slides and other ways to have fun in the snow, while the Susukino venue features an ice sculpture contest, an ice bar, and colorful lighting for night-time viewing.
But of course the Sapporo Snow Festival is not the only reason to visit Sapporo. The exceptional world class skiing within 2 hours at Niseko and numerous other resorts awaits those looking for an incredible ski or snowboard experience. And for those foodies out there, Hokkaido is rightly known for its exceptional seafood and the winter season brings some of the most anticipated treats available only here and only at this time of the year. Delicacies, like kanburi (fatty winter yellowtail), winter uni, and seasonal crabs of all variety and taste. Our favorite of course is the local ‘ippon-zuri’, (single-hook hand-line) caught maguro (blue-fin tuna), as much for the method in which it is caught as for its exceptional taste. Think Old Man and the Sea or Moby Dick and you get a sense of the epic man versus nature battle waged every winter in treacherous icy waters between these large, strong-swimming fish and individual fishermen continuing a long-standing tradition of single hook sustainable fishing.