Sapporo festival puts spotlight on ice and snow

An ice sculptor puts on safety gloves before cutting ice off of his sculpture in Sapporo, Japan's Susukino District Feb. 3, 2016. The Sapporo Snow Festival is scheduled to start Friday, Feb. 5 with the final displays being taken down by February 18.


By JAMES KIMBER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 4, 2016

Sapporo, the largest city in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido and fifth-largest in the country, is famous for two things: breweries and snow. Beer is always celebrated here, but snow takes center stage just once a year.

The Sapporo Snow Festival, now in its 67th year, turns the metropolis into a snowy parade of masterful sculptures made of snow and ice, temporary slaloms for sledding and ice rinks, and food booths serving grilled meats and fresh desserts for the expected two million tourists.

The festival dates to 1950 when local high school students built six snow statues and attracted 50,000 spectators. The city’s hosting of the 1972 Winter Olympics drew worldwide media to the festival. The attention brought international teams to future festivals to compete.

The festival still holds its sanctioned, international competition but is also open to unofficial participants, including a U.S. military team from Misawa Air Base, Japan.

This year’s event begins Feb. 5. Most of the displays will be removed Feb. 11, with the festival wrapping up Feb. 18.

The festival also has spurred neighboring cities to host their own winter events. The city of Otaru hosts a Snow Light Path Festival (event-carnival.com/japan/otaru-snow-light-path-festival) from Feb. 5-11 through its world-famous canal winding through whiskey distilleries, and the nearby Asahikawa Winter Festival (tinyurl.com/jndq9qy), from Feb. 6-11, might be a good choice for those who prefer much smaller crowds.

Sapporo Snow Festival

Admission is free, but rides, food and drink may incur a fee.

  • Odori Park, Nishi 1-chome to Nishi 12-chome (main event). From Sapporo Station, take either the Namboku or Toho subway line for one stop to Odori Station. You also can walk through the Sapporo Access and take the Sapporo TV Tower exit.
  • Tsudome, Sapporo Community Dome (children’s play area): From Sapporo Station, take the Toho subway line six stops to Sakaemachi Station. There will be signs to the Sapporo Community Dome, which is a 10-minute walk.
  • Suskino: Minami 4-cho to Minami 7-cho (considered family friendly, but alcohol is served on the streets and Suskino is a popular nightlife district). From Sapporo Station, take the Namboku subway line two stops to Susukino Station. You also can walk through the Sapporo Access and take the Susukino exit, which is the end of the underground mall.

Twitter: @james_kimber