Sapporo Snow Festival: Yuki Matsuri

Sapporo Snow Festival: Yuki Matsuri

Did you know that there’s a place in Japan that get’s over 10 feet of snow, held the 1972 Winter Olympics and has the best seafood in the country!? This beautiful city is known as Sapporo, and it holds the most mind blowing Snow Festival in the world! Featuring enormous and intricate snow and ice sculptures created by artists from Japan and around the world, this event attracts more than 2 million people every year from every corner of the globe.

Sapporo Snow Festival Beginnings

snow festival

How did this city from Hokkaido become the Snow festival King? It seems it may have been a complete accident. In 1950, a few high school students got together to create six snow statues. Word spread about their creations and fifty thousand people arrived to see their work. After the unexpected success of the first one, five years later the Self Defense Force also participated in making a snow sculpture. Then in 1959, an unbelievable twenty-five hundred people joined in on creating some frozen art which got massive media attention for the first time!

Snow sculpture of a bear at the first Snow Festival. Source: Nippon
Snow sculpture of a bear at the first Snow Festival. Source: Nippon

During the mid 60’s, because of it’s rapid growth the festival got a second site in Makomanai. Thanks to the arrival of the 1972 Olympics, the Sapporo Snow Festival became a marvel known worldwide. 1974 was the year of the first International Snow Sculpture Contest with teams from China, Canada, Munich, Australia and the United States of America.

With the festival getting bigger, the Susukino site was open in 1983 along with the addition of ice sculptures that were illuminated by streetlights and then a year later the event extended to seven days.  

The Makomanai site was closed after a whopping forty years in 2005, and became the current location of the Tsudome site since 2009. When can you see these great works of art?

International Snow Sculpture Contest 2017 

Of course, no good event isn’t complete without some friendly competition! The International Snow Sculpture Contest teams consists of a team leader plus two other members. Sculptures planned this year includes Piko Taro, a giant paper plane, the French Arc de Triomphe, and Final Fantasy. Cool right?!

Picture by Yummy Japan
Picture by Yummy Japan
Final Fantasy! Picture by Yummy Japan
Final Fantasy! Picture by Yummy Japan
I have a Pen! Source: Neko Darake
I have a Pen! Source: Neko Darake


Snow Festival
Picture by Yummy Japan
Snow Festival
Picture by Yummy Japan
A cute Penguin bartender. Picture by Yummy Japan
A cute Penguin bartender. Picture by Yummy Japan

This year’s participating teams are; Australia, Daejeon Metropolitan City (Korea), Finland, Hawaii Indonesia, Latvia, Macao, Poland, Portland(United States of America), Singapore and Thailand.

February 5th: Opening ceremony (Teams begin building sculpture).
February 8th: Snow statues are completed.
February 9th: Judges decide winner and there is an award ceremony.

Odori Site & Susukino Site: February 6–12, 2017
Tsudome Site: February 1–12, 2017

How to get to the Sapporo Snow Festival

If arriving by airplane to the New Chitose Airport, the JR train or a bus can be used to get to Sapporo. There’s the option of rental cars at the airport. If you don’t know a word of Japanese, don’t panic! Head down to the basement floor of the airport next to the JR ticket counter, there’s an information center for foreigners that can help you in English, Chinese, and Korean.

The Odori site and Susukino site are in central Sapporo, but to get to the Tsudome site requires some travelling. There is a shuttle bus to the dome that comes a few a times per hour from Odori and Susukino for a 100 yen.

Odori Park

Odori Park is the home to the unbelievable snow sculptures that can be as big as 15 feet high! It is a magical land of snow and ice with Illuminations on from sunset until 10 p.m. Expect works of passionate artists taking up about 1.5 km of space in the park.

There are typically about a dozen massive ones and 100 small statues. There are even concerts and other wintery events that take place on the actual sculptures!

Susukino Site

This is the location to experience an icy fantasy! Susukino is not only home to the Ice Sculpture contest, but is Sapporo’s entertainment district and is just a stop away from Odori Park. The “Fureai Hiroba” plaza is where you can go to get a more personal feel of the work by riding and feeling the sculptures. The illuminated streets make it a great place for photos, and there’s also hot drinks at the Ice Bar!

Tsudome Site

Tsudome is an actual dome, and the place to experience some winter fun! This is the most expansive location of the festival, and has activities that viewers of the art can participate in. Here is a list of events to enjoy:

Tube Slider, Ice Slide, Waku Waku Slider, Snow rafting, Wake Waku Tapy Land, Family Tube Slider, Sled Slope, Mini Snow Foot Golf, Snow Strider, Bumper Ball, Snowman Labyrinth Wonderland, Snow Park Golf, Ice Glass-Making, Snowball Challenger…

This site will be open everyday from 9 a.m to 5 p.m during the snow festival and a week before. Inside the dome there’s resting area and refreshments can be found!

How To Make A Snow Sculpture

If you feel inspired to get your snowy artistic juices flowing for the Sapporo Snow Festival after reading this article, but don’t have the slightest idea how to make white fluff to look like Darth Vader or Tokyo Tower. We have you covered with a few steps to help you out!

  1. A base is required! You’re going to have to get yourself a bulldozer to bring all the snow to where the structure is going to take life. A LOT of snow is needed especially for a large sculpture to hold its weight.
  2. Next it’s important to pile up the snow to 7 metres! The process takes an entire day.
  1. Second part to the piling up stage is installing wooden panels inside the frame that has been created around the pile of snow like scaffolding. Using a crane snow is filled into the scaffolding from above.
  2. Once the tightly packed snow inside the scaffolding is hardened, the wooden panels are removed.
  3. This is where the creative part beings! Outlining the snow to create a contour of the sculpture.
  4. Now the carving beings using the outline and snow must be ready at hand for a final coating.
  5. As you get further in the carving process, the final details are added along with snow.
  6. Once all the adjustments are made the frame is removed.
  7. Your masterpiece is completed! Give yourself a pat on the back!

Eating At The Sapporo Snow Festival

When in Japan, always, always, always eat lots of food! The Sapporo Snow Festival is no exception. Hokkaido is known for it’s abundance of fresh ingredients and some must eats include; Miso Ramen, Sushi crab, Jingisukan, Yakitori, Soup Curry and Okonomiyaki. You can’t leave without trying some dairy. Hokkaido cheese is one of the best in the world! Food vendors are situated all over the

Snow Festival
A delicious Jingisukan for lunch! Picture by Yummy Japan

Where To Stay

There are many hotel options situated throughout Sapporo that are an easy access to Odori and Susukino. We’ve listed a few accommodations below!

Sapporo Grand Hotel
060-0001 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo-ku Kita 1-jo Nishi 4-chome, Japan

Holiday Inn ANA Sapporo Susukino
064-0805 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo-ku South 5 West 3-7, Japan

Mitsui Garden Hotel Sapporo
060-0005 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo-ku Kita 5-jo Nishi 6-18-3, Japan

Hotel Sunroute Sapporo
060-0807 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Kita-ku Kita 7-jo Nishi 1-1-22, Japan

Nest Hotel Sapporo Ekimae
060-0002 Hokkaido, Sapporo, Chuo-ku Kita 2-jo Nishi 2-9, Japan

Premier Hotel
062-0904  Hokkaido, Sapporo, Toyohira-ku Toyohira 4-jo 1-1-1, Japan

And for those looking for a more homey experience, there are plenty of apartments that can be found using airbnb.

How To Prepare

Coming prepared for the cold climate of Sapporo is ideal in order to avoid becoming a snow sculpture yourself. Winter boots are a must to street clear of blue toes, or even ice cleats would be great so you’re not slipping and sliding everywhere. A pack or two of tissues for runny noses and the amazing invention of disposable Japanese hand warmers. And layer on as much clothes as you possibly can to stay happy and warm while taking selfies with ice sculptures.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is awe inspiring and comes with a deep respect for the dedicated work of the talented artists that participate in this event. This is more than just a matsuri, this is experiencing winter in a way never done before. For course there is delicious food, performances and snowy games to add to the awesome attraction of the sculptures.

If Sapporo Snow Festival is out of reach this year for you, there’s literally thousands of other matsuri to enjoy in Japan! If you’re overwhelmed by the unlimited choices, we can recommend a few like Setsubun and Onbashira Festival!


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