I just had one of my greatest weekends in Japan at the Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) in Sapporo, Hokkaido! The festival started 57 years ago, when a group of students assembled an exhibition of ice sculptures in Odori Park. This little project of theirs developed into Hokkaido’s most internationally acclaimed festival! On Friday morning, a group of seven English teachers (me, Stacey, Jennifer, Dana, Alexis, Marc, and Nikki) from Hiroshima prefecture all flew two hours to Sapporo to see a very different part of Japan. We have been spoiled in Hiroshima with little snow this winter (or no snow, on my island!) Arriving in Sapporo, where the snow banks were as high as the street signs, was a major shock….and that’s coming from a Canadian who knows a lot about snow! There was just SO MUCH of it everywhere! I kept myself bundled with many layers for the entire weekend. At times I felt so packed in that I found it difficult to move….but it’s better than being cold!
The festival is split between three sits, of which Odori Park is the largest and most famous. Our first night was spent at Odori Park where the surroundings were gorgeous: beautiful, crisp, and white. Most of the snow and ice sculptures were representations of cartoons, like Snoopy, Winnie the Pooh and some Japanese characters, while others were almost life-sized replicas of castles or government buildings. Many of the large building sculptures had snow platforms built in the front to work as a stage. In the evenings there were singers, dancers and other presenters keeping the crowds entertained. The performers appeared content and smiley on stage, but I’m sure some of it was an act….they must have been freezing with their frostbitten bare legs and mid-drifts! It was not only the performers though that suffered in the name of fashion….the teenage girls roaming the streets of Sapporo were decked out in their boots and mini-skirts! I went for the more practical choice of long-johns, jeans and about 5 sweaters! One of the musical performances sticks out in my mind because it was absolutely hilarious! A hard rock band was out of control…..the main singer slipped, and instead of trying to get up, he just continued to scream into the microphone while lying on the ice!
Seeing all the sculptures was better at night I think. They are all lit up with colourful flood lights, enhancing a very magical atmosphere. The Odori Park is overlooked by the Sapporo TV Tower, which glows a vibrant orange at night. Some of the more spectacular carvings included the scene from the Narnia movies, a giant replica of Ai-chan’s head (she’s a Japanese golfer) and the model of Angkor Wat. The funnier sculptures we saw were the busts of Hard Gay….the oh-so-popular Japanese comedian!
The second park was the army base Makomanai Site or Sato Land Park, and it was a children’s paradise. There was an enormous ice slide, huge snowmen, and other fun and games for the family. There were crowds of really excited children, who were all too cute for words….especially all bundled in their snow gear! The lineups for the ice slide and maze were too long for our limited time, so unfortunately they were a miss. We saw the many snow sculptures, and the field of mini snowmen. Stacey and I did join a bunch of Japanese kids making cups of ice, at the Ice Bar. They gave us a block of ice and a pick….if we successfully made it into a cup, they would fill it up for us! A news reporter from Hong Kong also got our picture there sitting at the ice table, with ice chairs and the ice cup! Brrrrr.
The Susukino site was located through the centre of one long road in downtown Sapporo. It was a display of exquisitely carved ice. Most of the sculptures’ themes were majestic animals, like dragons and unicorns. My favourite was a massive block of ice with fish and other sea creatures frozen in its walls. A lot of companies and businesses also took the opportunity for a unique form of advertisements…..ice signs! There were many carved beer mugs for Kirin and Sapporo beer, a Nissan car, and even large running shoes from Adidas!
Hokkaido (Sapporo) is famous for many kinds of food, including ramen and crab. We tried out both, and they were as delicious as people had raved about. Yum! We also visited a namehodai and tabehodai (all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat) restaurant to celebrate Mark’s birthday! On Saturday afternoon we stopped by the Sapporo Beer Factory and Museum. Unfortunately we were too late to take a guided tour, so we took a quick spin around, and then did a little taste testing.
Sunday morning we went to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower for a wonderful view of the city, and the festival. A scene of giant castles in the snow, tall buildings, thousands of people, and mountains in the distance. I had been waiting for this weekend with anticipation since October, and now it’s come and gone. It flew by so quickly, because I enjoyed every second.