Winter has come to Japan, and a great deal of fun arrived with it. Contrary to the common tourist beliefs, Japan is charming not only in the spring — during the winter, the northern part of the country turns into a gorgeous white landscape straight out of a fairytale!
The Yuki Matsuri Festival in Sapporo
One of the most famous winter events that take place in the land of the rising sun is the Yuki Matsuri Festival. In Japanese “yuki” means snow, but it can also be interpreted as happiness — a fitting name for an event this enjoyable.
The festival takes place in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Running for an entire week, the event is usually held at the beginning of February. Since the snow festival started gaining recognition, Sapporo has become a much-visited destination, with an overwhelming number of international and Japanese tourists choosing to spend some time there. Interested parties can feast their eyes on gigantic snow sculptures and ephemeral masterpieces made from ice during the festival.
History of the Yuki Matsuri Festival
It all started in Odori Park in Sapporo in 1950, when a couple of high-school students built six statues from snow. To their surprise, their small exhibition attracted approximately 50,000 visitors. The locals came to love the idea, and because of that the students made an exhibition the next again the following year, and the year after.
In 1955, the Self Defense Force was invited to build a massive sculpture. By 1959, the event was already so large in scope that 2,500 people took part in the building of sculptures. This was the year when the Yuki Matsuri Festival first got national coverage.
During the Winter Olympic Games that were hosted in Sapporo in 1972, the festival was noted and appreciated by international tourists, quickly gaining international fame afterwards. At that point, the first Snow Sculpture Contest was organized and it continued taking place alongside with the snow festival. Since then, teams from all around the world have started participating in the event, each giving their all in the hopes of winning the prize for best snow sculpture.
Sites of the festival
These days, the area that hosts the event has been large expanded, with the display locations increasing from one to three. The most famous location remains the Odori Park with its 1.5km alley. This is the site where the Snow Sculpture Contest is held, and where you can enjoy seeing the progress of professional sculptors and witnessing their statues as they grow. If you want a different view on the Odori site, you can always visit the Sapporo TV tower, where you can get a good view of the display from above.
The other two sites are Susukino and Tsudome. Susukino is located in close proximity to the main site, and it fits more than a hundred snow and ice sculptures. Tsudome is a bit further away from the center, but it’s still visited by a large number of people. The locals describe it as more of a family site, as it’s a place with a lot of entertainment sites such as ice rinks, snow slides, and rafting spots.
What to expect?
The 2020 Yuki Matsuri Festival, starting from the 4th and ending on the 11th of February, marks the 70th anniversary of the snow festival. Great fun and breathtaking views are guaranteed at every site, as well as tasty snacks from the numerous food stands. There are also going to be a lot of concerts and live events on the stage.
People who’ve already visited the festival in Sapporo during previous years strongly advise newcomers to dress in multiple layers and keep their feet warm in order to fully enjoy everything the coolest festival in Japan has to offer.