It’s not difficult to get a measure of just how big the Sapporo Snow Festival is, even though I only got to visit one site. What I saw in Odori Park was enough of a confirmation that this festival was one of the biggest celebrations of the winter season in Japan. Apart from that, to me this was also a celebration of craftsmanship and creativity.
I’ve always considered the Japanese a very creative lot not just because they’re good with the anime and the console games. It’s because they seem to consider many things as a form of art, and thus give the kind of care and respect an artist would to their craft.
Their attention to detail is pretty impressive. They never do anything half-baked, even if it’s something as simple as wrapping your take out to-go. I suppose some people would call it work ethic, but I call it showing a lot of heart for the work you do.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is a great exhibition of how the Japanese showcase their heart in their work. It’s 12 blocks’ worth of impressively built, pristine white sculptures in all shapes and sizes that make you feel like you’re in a fantasy world of snow. This 2017, the Snow Festival ran from February 6 to 12, but we were here on February 5th– a day before the official opening of the Festival.
When we visited under the supervision of the Sapporo City Tourism Office, we started our tour at the 9-chome area. We were told that many of the ice sculptures here featured copyrighted material, so I decided not to take any Pikachu and Star Wars pics. But… I couldn’t resist snapping this one:
This is like taking Western-Asian fusion to a whole different level: US President Trump was carved holding a pen and an apple! This wasn’t the only nod to that viral PPAP song thingy by Japanese comedian PIKATORO, but it was the most attention-grabbing one. It was so hard to miss this sculpture even from far away, and regardless of how you feel about this man, you have to admit the resemblance is staggering! They got the mouth perfectly shaped! 😆
After a quick walk through 9-chome, we next headed to 8-chome. (Indeed, we’re doing this from the back to the front.) I’m not one for crowded places and festivals to be honest with you, so I was relieved that the crowd was still manageable on this day.
They did record 2.6 million total visitors for the weeklong event last year, so the actual Festival period is mostly a different story. At the moment, it was easy enough to weave through the crowd to get to 7-chome to appreciate yet another jaw-dropping sculpture:
Behold, the Arc de Triomphe in snow version. I’ve never been to France but even I could identify this representation of the famous arch. The only thing they added to make this one different is the jockey, which symbolizes the hope that a horse born and bred in Hokkaido can one day win at the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Notice the national flags on either side. If you look at the sculpture as a whole, it actually aims to portray the friendship between France and Japan.
When I zoomed in to check the detail with my camera, I came away pretty wowed. I’m sure it’s hard to make sculptures out of snow so the details aren’t as sharp, but you can’t deny how much work they put into this.
That’s pretty much the recurring theme among all the sculptures so I’m only going to say it once haha! This sculpture was one of my favorites hands-down.
Halfway through the length of the 12-block Odori Park is a Food Park at 6-chome. There are tons of things to eat around here, but frankly speaking, they are a bit on the expensive side.
It is really nice to scope out the food choices though. Most of the food stalls highlight the different food choices across Hokkaido, including numerous potato-based street foods. (Hokkaido produces a lot of great tasting potatoes.) You can get anything from fries, to different types of Hokkaido ramen, to even Kobe beef on skewers. One of our fellow bloggers bought an order of takoyaki and they were huge!
If you’re feeling hungry and maybe a little cold but don’t want to stray too far from your journey to finishing the entire Sapporo Snow Festival exhibition at Odori Park, there’s nothing wrong with shelling out a little more money to eat here. That’s my opinion anyway. It’s food after all! And I’m certain there are some interesting things you won’t be able to resist.
Speaking of, anytime I was in the vicinity of Hansen’s Almond Factory, I just could not resist the amazing smell of cinnamon and chocolate and freshly roasted almonds. My goodness. This stall is run by German gentlemen by the way, and so they sell flavored nuts in a style that is very popular in Europe.
At this point, we were getting closer and closer to the finish line. The reason why we went through Odori Park in reverse is actually because it was much easier to designate the Sapporo TV Tower at 1-chome as a meeting place. Can you see it standing tall at the end of the lane? This is how I would suggest you do it too, because it’s not easy to stick together when the Festival is packed with people.
Arriving at 4-chome awakened the videogame geek in me. Something you probably don’t know about me, I am a HUGE fan of J-RPGs. (Or maybe you already know it if you’ve read this Super Mario post I made before.) When I was in uni, I used to spend a good chunk of my trimestral break inside my room finishing an RPG. True story.
Now if you’re a fan of the game like me, you might’ve heard that Square Enix will be remastering Final Fantasy VII after 20+ years, so we can all play it on the more current consoles with better graphics. YAY! I suppose that’s why they decided to put this up.
Apart from the fact that it seems like the people who made Cloud’s body is different from the ones who made his head– see how it is strangely disproportionate?– I couldn’t help but love this one! This piece is called “Final Fantasy: Winter Showdown”. On the surface, it shows our hero Cloud Strife engaged in a battle against his arch nemesis Sephiroth. On a deeper note, Cloud symbolises the forces that fight for Mother Earth against world-destroying science, personified by Sephiroth.
In the same plaza, there is this really amazingly sculpted ice piece of a horse and a jockey. The horses especially look like they will suddenly turn into real horses!
In a land full of snow sculptures, ice sculptures definitely stand out. But speaking of standing out, this Shiroi Koibito PARK AIR Jump ramp really sticks out from the rest of the park’s many sculptures. Located at 3-chome, this large jump hill is 24-meters high and 60-meters long, and inclined at 39 degrees.
While we were here, none of the snowboarders were free-styling at all, so I got no action shots to show you. Boo. 😣 On a scale of 1 to 10, how dangerous is this sport really? I feel like I want to try it out haha! Them young ones sure look happy to be joining in on the snowboarding action.
I can’t remember which part of Odori Park I came across these souvenirs, but I just wanted to point out that there are plenty of places you can get souvenirs to forever remind you of your time at the Sapporo Snow Festival. It could be anything from wiggly toy lights…
…To lovely Matryoshka Dolls. And yes, the shop-owners are Russian who speak some pretty good Japanese.
Now that I’m writing this, I really regret not getting one of these dolls. I’ve always wanted to own a matryoshka doll, each one smaller and smaller than the last. I find it so novel! See that doll in the middle of the picture with a painted image of St. Petersburg on its tummy? So cute right?! I probably would’ve bought that one. I wonder if they have a Super Mario version?
Anyway, we’ve finally almost reached the end of the 1.5 kilometer stretch of Odori Park. The 2-chome display mainly consists of ice sculptures that were based on drawings made by elementary school children. Last year, the Hokkaido Shimbun Press held a contest for the students and invited them to submit their interpretation of “My Dream House”. The below sculpture called “Whale Home” was selected as the grand winner from 444 submissions and rendered in ice.
Amazing work by the student who came up with the idea of a whale-shaped home you can drive around on land or sea. At the back of the whale house sprout apple trees, signifying that those who live in the house will never go hungry because they can grow their own food. The icing on the cake for this sculpture is the fact that it has the Sapporo TV Tower as a backdrop!
As we finally cross over to 1-chome where the TV Station itself is located, the first thing you will see is the J:COM Square Skate Rink.
I’ve never tried this activity because as a child, I got a scare when my cousin lost her nail after slipping and catching her finger against the ice haha! But I would be ready to actually go ahead and try this if I had a proper teacher. I mean, the kids make it look so easy and fun.
So after spending a little bit of time watching the skaters either weave through the ice gracefully or slip and slide, our party gathered around and went back to our hotel. My friends and I were deciding whether or not to come back for the evening illumination, but when we realized how close our hotel was, the deal was done.
And what a difference a little light in the dark makes.
Check out the Arc de Triomphe with its evening illumination on. The lights go from yellow to orange as a Japanese song plays, until finally settling on the colors of the French flag. I liked it in the morning; I like it as much in the evening.
And for whatever reason, the food seemed even more appetizing in the evening. Must be because I’m seeing all the steam from the hot food more clearly at night, or it could be because the evening breeze carries the mouthwatering scents in the air more effectively!
Check out those scallops! Before I forget, it’s very important that you properly dispose of your trash after you eat.
I don’t know if you noticed how I skipped two of the chome earlier during my narration, but that’s because I wanted to talk about them in their evening setting. There were sculptures I felt looked their best at night, and one of them was this display at 8-chome. It is without a doubt my absolute favorite large scale sculpture in this whole park:
This is a snow reproduction of the Central Golden Hall at Nara’s Kofukuji Temple, and it was built by Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces in cooperation with Hokkaido Television Broadcasting. Standing at 13 meters tall and 22 meters wide, it is impossible to miss this sculpture thanks to its massiveness, but you cannot deny it is absolutely stunning as well! You can imagine it turn into a real temple hall quite easily.
We were lucky to have witnessed what I am guessing was the first run of the lights show. When we got here, a crew was filming a feature of the sculpture for television. Since I can understand very little Japanese, I was delighted when the show suddenly started! This was easily one of the best and most jaw-dropping things I saw during the whole trip. I’m going to include a longer clip of the illumination when I share my Travel Video next week so stay tuned for that!
Before we headed off to a late dinner, we stopped by 5-chome once again to take a photo of the Taipei Guest House. This is a building that was designed by a Japanese architect in 1901, and it served as former residence for Taiwan’s Governor-General. Now it is a National Historical Monument in Taiwan. As you can see, since it is made of ice it was nearly impossible to capture some good details of it under the gray afternoon sunlight of Sapporo. This way was much better.
If you’ve made it this far down my Travel Diary on the Sapporo Snow Festival, congratulations! It’s a much more personal (and longer) account of what I saw there since I didn’t want to add too many nitty-gritty details to my “8 Unforgettable Winter Experiences in Sapporo“ post.
I wanted to write a dedicated post about the Sapporo Snow Festival because it’s the least I could do to show my appreciation for the hard work that was put into all these sculptures. Being able to walk amongst them was an honor. I hope that more people come to discover the wonders of the Sapporo Snow Festival. Remember, it’s held every February of the year!
How to get here: The closest station to Odori Park is the Odori Subway Station. It is also just a 10-minute walk south of JR Sapporo Station. Since all of Sapporo’s three subway lines intersect at Odori Subway Station, you can easily visit this park regardless of the season.
You can learn more about Sapporo and the Sapporo Snow Festival through their website! It’s never too early to prepare for next year’s holiday right?!