Growing up in Australia I never saw real snow, even when I lived in England for 3 years, it only snowed once and it had all melted by the end of the day anyway. Maybe that’s why I’ve always thought of snow as idyllic and beautiful; and why I chose to live in an area of Japan that is covered in it for a good 5 months of the year. So you can imagine that an annual snow festival caught my attention rather easily.
The “Yuki Matsuri” is held in Sapporo at the beginning of February every year and it has become one of the most popular festivals in Japan, a country where you can find a festival almost every weekend somewhere on one of the many islands. Sapporo isn’t as well known as Tokyo or Kyoto; however the festival is drawing more and more international visitors to this northern city. Of course there are many other reasons to visit Sapporo, but if you’re going to, then I highly recommend doing it in February, when it truly comes alive.
When my friends and I first arrived in Sapporo we headed straight for Odori Park, which is at the heart of the city. Odori Park is essentially the main road that separates Sapporo into north and south, and it’s also the place where the main snow sculptures are displayed. I’d heard a lot about the festival from many of my Japanese friends and I had researched it on the internet, but I wasn’t really expecting the sculptures to be as big, or as captivating as they were.
The subject of the sculptures, or works of art, changes every year. Sometimes they’ll have famous people or events, sometimes famous buildings, or animals. No two years are the same though which means you can go back year after year and enjoy it every time. In addition to the big snow sculptures there are hundreds of smaller statues too, in fact every year there’s a contest where teams from around the world compete in making the best one.
Although seeing the sculptures during the day in the brilliant sun is stunning, it’s even more beautiful at night when they’re all lit up. It’s also a good time to head over to Susukino, basically the red-light district of Sapporo, where they have ice sculptures on display too. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to catch the men with their chainsaws actually carving while you watch, and of course it’s the best place to get out of the cold in one of the numerous bars or restaurants.
One of the best parts of the festival, especially for kids, or even big kids like my friends and I, is Satoland. Satoland is a little outside the city but there are free shuttle buses that run there from the other sites and basically it’s a small winter amusement park. With the ice maze, big ice slides, and ice rafting you’ll soon forget about the cold. And if not, there are several small stalls selling hot food and drink to warm you up.
The Yuki Matsuri for me, being the snow lover that I am, is one of the best festivals that I’ve attended in Japan, and a great way to spend a weekend with friends in the middle of winter. Definitely not to be missed if you’re thinking of visiting Japan in the colder months.