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The Navy's 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival entry featured an eagle, anchor and American flag.

The Navy's 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival entry featured an eagle, anchor and American flag. (Caitlin Doornbos/Stars and Stripes)

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TOKYO – The Sapporo Snow Festival has been canceled for the second year running due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases across Japan, organizers announced Wednesday.

Before the pandemic, the annual event attracted large crowds of visitors from all over the world to view snow and ice sculptures in Sapporo’s Odori Park. The city on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, will hold an online event in lieu of the festival.

The sixth wave of COVID-19 in Japan gained strength Tuesday, adding 32,197 new cases nationwide and exceeding the previous peak reached six months ago, according to Japanese media.

The country’s coronavirus situation is expected to worsen, making it difficult to hold a large event with visitors gathering from throughout the country, snow festival organizers said on the event’s website.

Star Wars characters and spacecraft were among the many sculptures at the 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival.

Star Wars characters and spacecraft were among the many sculptures at the 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival. (Caitlin Doornbos/Stars and Stripes)

Teams from the U.S. Navy participated in the festival for 36 years before the pandemic. In 2019, 11 sailors from Naval Air Facility Misawa spent five days transforming a block of compacted snow into a frosty monument to the Navy that included a large eagle and an anchor.

The festival is a popular destination for troops and their families taking leave in Japan.

The Information, Tickets and Travel office at Yokota Air Base, home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo, posted a cancellation notice on its Facebook page Wednesday for two three-day snow festival tours planned for next month and offered refunds.

Sapporo’s online snow festival will take place Feb. 5-28 on the event’s website, officials said. It will feature a photo contest, videos of crews making snow sculptures and an online shop.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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