Hokkaido is a popular destination in winter, mostly for people who love winter sports.
However, there’s also something else you should definitely check out: Winter Festivals!
The biggest and most famous one is the annual Sapporo Winter Festival (さっぽろ雪まつり) which I’ll introduce today.
When is the Yuki Matsuri?
The Sapporo Winter Festival is held every year in early February and lasts for about a week.
You can check the current schedule on the official website.
Schedule for 2015: February 5 (Thu) – 11 (Wed)
How do I get to the Sapporo Winter Festival?
From the JR Sapporo Station you can walk to the biggest event space in Odori Park.
The 3 Yuki Matsuri Festival Sites
The Sapporo Snow Festival has become quite popular in recent years (over 2 million visitors) and nowadays you can find ice and snow sculptures on three major event spots.
Odori Park (大通公園) is a large park in Central Sapporo and is the main site of the Sapporo Winter Festival.
You can walk there in about 10 mins from JR Sapporo Station. There’s also the Odori Subway Station nearby.
If you’re short on time, then this is the site you should visit. It has the largest and most spectacular sculptures and they’re lit up daily until 22:00.
There’s also an international snow sculpture contest every year with teams from all over the world participating. Make sure to check out their work!
You can purchase special Coca Cola cans (I did) and I even spotted a German Maibaum at the International Sculpture Contest site.
You can get a really good view onto the Odori Festival Site from the Sapporo TV Tower which has extended opening hours during the festival (8:30-22:30, entrance fee about 720 yen).
There are all sorts of events you can enjoy like ski and snowboard jumping performances.
They even set up a temporary post office for the Snow Festival with limited postcards and stamps.
There are various performances and concerts, especially in the evening.
Furthermore there are food stands all over the place and some shelters where you can sit inside to warm you up. Absolutely necessary at night where it sometimes has -20°C! Luckily there are also a lot of department stores around Odori Park, so you can escape the cold there as well.
What kind of snow sculptures are displayed at the Odori Site?
Here are a few of my favorite sculptures, so you get a basic idea of what to expect and you can decide if it’s worth a visit or not:
Most impressive are the massive snow sculptures that are several meters high.
Every year you’ll find famous buildings almost in their original size. It’s amazing!
Very amusing are all the smaller sculptures of mascots, anime characters or famous people.
Hello Kitty and even Totoro.
In previous years they had a large castle, but I was happy even with this smaller one.
Lupin III anyone?
And for the kids, they get their beloved Anpanman.
The Coca Cola polar bear! So cute! (*_*)b
The site is named after Sapporo’s largest entertainment district. You’ll find lots of ice sculptures displayed on the street and they’re lit up until 23:00 every night (until 22:00 on the final day).
Every year there’s also a female beauty contest held at this site. It’s called “Susukino Queen of Ice”.
Susukino Site can be reached by subway (it’s only one stop away from Odori, 2 stops away from JR Sapporo Station), but you could also walk.
What kind of ice sculptures can you see at the Susukino Site?
There are various impressive ice sculptures displayed.
Some are several meters high. Very impressive art!
As it’s close to the entertainment district, you can just go inside quickly to warm up.
Outside there’s music in the evening, even an ice bar. It won’t get boring.
Tsu Dome Site:
This site is a bit more difficult to reach – and if you’re short on time, I suggest skipping this one.
Personally I didn’t visit it. It’s family oriented and probably a lot of fun for little kids as there are various types of snow slides and snow rafting.
Kind of similar to this here, although the Tsu Dome Site focuses on winter sport fun activities more than any other site.
The Tsu Dome Site is open daily from 9:00 – 17:00.
Shuttle buses between Sapporo Station, Odori and Tsu Dome Site run frequently. Be careful as there’s no parking available. You can also walk from the Sakaemachi Subway Station to the site.
Origins of the Sapporo Snow Festival:
The Yuki Matsuri was first held in 1950 when a few local high school students created six snow sculptures in Odori Park. Since then it has developed to a popular, commercialized event, attracting millions of visitors every year.
5 years later the Japanese Self-Defense Forces from the nearby Makomanai base joined and created extraordinarily large sculptures for which the snow festival is famous nowadays.
Sometimes there isn’t enough snow, so the Self-Defense Force brings it in from nearby locations. It’s considered part of their training.
Since 1974 an international snow sculpture event is being held at Odori Park.
In 1983 the Susukino Site was added, giving the festival a new atmosphere providing ice sculptures as well.
How much time will a visit to the Sapporo Snow Festival take?
You can visit all three sites in one day. However, if you are not already in Hokkaido, please note that it will take quite some time and money just to get there, so I highly recommend to stay at least 2-3 days there. Don’t forget that there are several other winter festivals (smaller, but still nice) around the same time. I suggest you check out nearby Otaru as well.
*Please Note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.