Before I left for Japan, my Uncle bought me a book entitled “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” Although a bit overwhelming (as I want to see them all!) the book mentioned a few places in Japan that I was hoping some of which might be possible to visit this year.
One of the places mentioned was Sapporo, which is in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, particularly for the Yuki Matsuri, the Snow Festival (yuki means snow and matsuri means festival). Every February, for 2 weeks, Sapporo is transformed into a winter wonderland, in which 3 special areas of the city contain numerous, elaborate, intricate snow and ice sculptures beyond belief. As this event is so popular, with thousands of visitors during the 2 weeks, 5 of us booked our air tickets and hotel in October! It was well worth it, and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to see this festival, as well as the city of Sapporo.
Sapporo is about a 2 hour flight from Hiroshima. We arrived and my body went into a bit of a shock with the cold temperatures. With my long johns on, I quickly adapted, and got all nostalgic about winter. Although this winter has been a nicer, warmer break compared to the temperatures at home, I truly would miss winter if I didn’t have it! And the snow…wow! The snow banks were well over my head. It was so exciting! I particularly loved seeing and listening to some of my friends’ reactions, as they come from Scotland and New Zealand, where the temperatures never dip that low, and the snow never gets so high (if there’s any snow at all!)
We only had about 2 and half days to check out all of the sites, and we wanted to make sure we got it all in, so we hit the streets as soon as we had checked into our hotel. The largest concentration of snow sculptures is in Odori Park, which is in the centre of the city. Here we saw enormous sculptures featuring the Japanese golf prodigy, Ai Miyazato, the Chronicles of Narnia, and another one dedicated to Taiwan, appropriately named “Happy Taiwan.”
Out of the other 2 sites, one is also in the city, and is a street lined with intricately carved ice sculptures. The third site took an hour bus ride to get to, (it probably should have only been about half an hour, but the traffic was so heavy due to the festival it took that much longer), and is called Satoland. It was a snow winter wonderland for children, featuring an ice slide and snow maze.
Every place in Japan is famous for something food related. It’s one of Japan’s many quirks, and I love it! It gives me a great excuse to try out all of the local cuisine. Hokkaido is famous for its ramen (Chinese noodles), ice cream (it was a great excuse…I have to eat this! When in Sapporo…), and crab. Of course, being the good tourist that I am, I tried all three, and I can honestly say Hokkaido can rightfully claim fame for all of these foods! If you’re ever in Sapporo, don’t miss out on the all-you-can-eat crab restaurants…so good! Sapporo, of course is also famous for its beer, and we visited the brewery, where we were treated to inexpensive samples and snacks (this is where I also tried the ice cream!).
The people of Sapporo were friendly and I was so impressed by how much they tried to speak English to us (maybe they’re used to foreign visitors at this time of year?) It’s a great city, with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. My friend Heather and I both felt like we were in some kind of Japanese version of Toronto.
I was warned before I left about how slippery the streets were. I had managed just fine, until the night of day 2, when walking through a crosswalk, actually thinking, ya know, it hasn’t really been that slippery at all, I completely slipped and fell, right on my butt! My Hokkaido Hello Kitty went flying (another interesting quirk about Japan is each city and prefecture features their own special miniature Hello Kitty…of course I’ve been collecting them all. Hokkaido’s has Kitty dressed as a fox), a taxi cab had to stop mid-turn, and I swear if you can break your bum, I did so. However, Kitty was quickly recovered, I dusted myself off, and reminded myself never to jinx myself, whether out loud or by thinking internally, again.
All I can say, despite the fall and sub-zero temperatures, is I love Sapporo! I think my time spent there has been one of, if not my best weekend since I’ve arrived in Japan. I hope to return in warmer temperatures to view more of what the city has to offer, and to dutifully eat some more ice cream!
Please forgive all of the photos…it was so difficult to choose which ones to include!