Imagine yourself strolling through a winter wonderland. Snow blankets the ground, painting the city a shining white. Trees are decked with twinkling lights, and statues crafted of ice and snow tower over the mingling crowds. At night, the sculptures are illuminated by entrancing, moving colored lights that give the park an enchanted atmosphere. The scents of delicious, exotic foods greet your nostrils and your taste buds.
Welcome to the Sapporo Snow Festival. Called Sapporo Yuki Matsuri in Japanese, the snow festival is held for one week each February in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island.
What wonders does the Snow Festival have to offer? Should you make it a part of your next Japan adventure? Read on to learn about the Festival’s history, locations, and things to do.
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History and facts
The first Sapporo Snow Festival was held in 1950. High school students built six snow statues in Odori Park. Unexpectedly, the creations attracted fifty thousand visitors. By 1955, the Self Defense Force was enlisted to build a massive snow sculpture, and in 1959, 2,500 people participated in the snow sculpting process. It was in that year that the Snow Festival garnered national media attention for the first time. When Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1972, the Snow Festival’s fame reached international proportions.
Each year, the Snow Festival attracts more than two million visitors, both from Japan and from around the world. It is one of the nation’s premier winter festivals, as well as one of its foremost admission-free events. Below, you’ll find a guide to each of the Festival’s three locations, the activities offered at each, and how to get there.
Sapporo Snow Festival Venues
The Snow Festival takes place at not one but three different locations in and around Sapporo. In 2019, the Tsu Dome Site will open on January 31, and the Festival itself will take place from February 4 to 11. The coming year marks the seventieth anniversary of the Snow Festival.
The Odori Site, Sapporo’s Odori Park, is the historic home of the Snow Festival. The one and a half kilometer park remains the primary venue. It is the staging ground for the Festival’s largest statues, some of which span 25 meters and rise 15 meters in the air.
In addition to a dozen or more large sculptures, the park is littered with hundreds of smaller snow statues. The statues are illuminated until 10 pm each day. Several concerts and events are held in Odori Park during the week of the Festival. Food and souvenir stalls are located streetside, and an ice skating rink can be found in front of Sapporo Tower.
If you’d like to view the park from above, this can be done from the Sapporo TV Tower at the eastern end of the park. The tower is open from 8:30 am until 10:30 pm. Admission to the observation deck costs ¥720 for a single visit or ¥1100 for a day and night pass.
Tsubame, or the Tsu Dome Site, is a family-friendly playground. Inside the dome, you’ll find food stands and an event stage. Outside are three unique snow slides, a snow rafting slope, a snow maze, snowman building area, and additional snow sculptures. The Tsu Dome Site typically opens a few days prior to the official start of the Festival, and is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
The Susukino Site is located in the city’s entertainment district. About one hundred ice sculptures are exhibited and illuminated until 11 pm daily.
To reach Sapporo from Tokyo, take the JR Tohoku/Hokkaido Shinkansen to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. Then, transfer to the Hokuto limited express to Sapporo. The entire trip takes about seven and a half hours and is covered under the Japan Rail Pass. Reserved seating may be required on some trains.
Odori Park is a ten-minute walk from the JR Sapporo Station.
Susukino is located one subway stop to the south of Odori Park.
The Tsu Dome Site is located outside the city center. It can be reached using shuttle buses, which depart from the Odori Site and from Sapporo Station every five to 10 minutes. It is a 15-minute walk from Sakaemachi Station. This station can be reached by taking the Toho Subway Line from Sapporo Station.
Things To Do
There is always plenty to do at the Sapporo Snow Festival. You can:
- View an photograph the snow and ice statues by day.
- Sample delicious Japanese cuisine at numerous food stalls.
- View live concerts and events.
- Play on the slides and snow slopes of the Tsu Dome Site.
- Enjoy the nighttime illumination of the statues, up close or from the observation deck of the Sapporo TV Tower.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is a must-see on any traveler’s bucket list. Start planning your trip today.