This winter festival with humble beginnings is now one of the most famous festivals in Japan, drawing over 2 million visitors.
This festival really has that “wow” factor especially if you are visiting with children, or are young at heart. The creativity, and artistic ability of the teams making the ice sculptures is ridiculously high, and the massive size of some of the main sculptures will take your breath away. I personally like to visit after dark to see the sculptures lit up, adding another beautiful layer to an already awesome experience.
Photo by JNTO
The Sapporo Snow Festival has humble beginnings. In 1950 local middle and high school students exhibited six snow sculptures in Odori Park, and it has grown to an incredible seven day event with hundreds of sculptures. The festival happens every February, and because of its popularity, hotel rooms are hard to book. Don’t be left out in the cold, book early!
The festival itself has three different locations; Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. Odori Park and Susukino are in the city center, and Tusdome is a bus or subway ride outside of town, so if you want to visit all three, please make sure you plan appropriately.
Photo by JNTO
Odori Site is the main location and attraction for the Sapporo Snow Festival. This is where you can see the festival’s famous large snow sculptures, some more than 25 meters long and 15 meters high! Odori is also where the international competitors show their work and compete for the top prizes. If you are lucky, some competitors will be working on their art sculptures and you can talk or take photos with them as they work.
Besides the large sculptures, more than 100 smaller sculptures are also on display in and around Odori Park. Depending on the day, music concerts and events are held at the Odori Site, sometimes even using the larger sculptures as a stage. There will be schedules for events posted around the sites.
Photo by JNTO
A fantastic bird’s eye view of the Odori Site can be enjoyed from the Sapporo TV Tower at the eastern end of Odori Park. The tower has extended hours (8:30 to 22:30) during the festival. Admission to the observation deck costs 800 yen per adult. A 1200 yen ticket allows a day visit and a night visit.
For festival goers like me who like the seeing the sculptures at night, the lights are turned on at sunset, and turned off at 22:00
Although less centrally located than either Odori or Susukino, Tsudome Site is the second largest site of the Sapporo Snow Festival and should not be missed. It’s only a shuttle bus away, you can do it!
Open from 9:00 to 17:00, Tsudome is a family oriented site with a variety of snow and ice attractions focused on kids and family fun. Some of the more popular activities include the “Waku-Waku Slider” course that mimics a bobsled run. Who hasn’t imagined themselves as an Olympic bobsledder? I know I have, and I had a great time. The “Snow Zip-Line”, allows you to fly through the air for around 80 meters, I’m not Superman, so I’ll leave the flying around to braver souls, but the smiles of the kids on the ride proves I’m just a chicken.
Photo by JNTO
There are other attractions and interactive games with some sculptures, most of which I was just a tad bit too old for, but they looked like a lot of fun.
When you get tired of being outside, or just need to get warm, you can enter the dome located on premise for some refreshments and local foods, or go for a skate on the indoor ice rink that doesn’t actually use ice at all. Why it doesn’t use ice in winter in Hokkaido is a mystery, but there you go.
The Susukino Site is located in downtown Sapporo, near the Odori site. Susukino is a bustling area with a lot of restaurants, and nightlife. This is the most “adult” area of the festival, just because of it’s location within the city. The addition of ice sculptures makes Susukino a great place to spend part of your day or even better, most of your evening.
Susukino is also where the ice sculpture contest is held. Please check for the exact date and time to see if it coincides with your trip. Even if you miss the contest, winning sculptures will be labeled, so you will know who took home the prizes.
Photo by JNTO
In addition, there is a beauty contest with the winning beauty labeled the Ice Queen. Not really at title most women want to hold, but in this case it works. The Ice Queen does meet and greets with the public in Susukino many days of the festival. Timings will be posted, and good luck melting her heart.
Susukino’s ice sculptures are smaller in size but larger number compared with the Odori site, there are around 100 ice sculptures to view and interact with. There is even a “Touching Square” for guests to touch, interact, and in some cases even ride on the sculptures themselves. The “Touching Square” is very popular, and a great idea. I hope they expand it in the years to come.
Finally, a very popular destination for both the young and more mature, the “Ice Bar” which is in fact a bar made of ice, serving hot drinks for those cold Sapporo evenings.
Just like at the Odori site, illuminations begin at sunset and lights are turned off at 23:00
Odori and Susukino Sites are in central Sapporo; however, the Tsu Dome Site is located outside the city center. Access is possible by shuttle bus (100 yen one way, departures every 5-10 minutes) or in a 15 minute walk from Sakaemachi Station, the terminal station of the Toho Subway Line (10 minutes, 250 yen from Sapporo Station).
February is cold in Sapporo, so please prepare the correct attire before arriving. Warm layers, boots, hats, and gloves are a must for spending any amount of time outdoors. Underground walkways and subway stations are heated and quite warm, so easily removable top layers are advised as you move throughout the city. Access through the walkways is available for the Odori and Susukino sites only.
The Sapporo Snow festival is very kid friendly, and more international than other famous Japanese festivals. Children from many different cultures have a chance to play and enjoy the snow and sculptures together. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and a vacation highlight if you are a parent.
For those travelers heading to the mountains for a winter holiday of snowboarding and skiing, the Sapporo Snow Festival is a great side trip to take before or after your adventures to round out a fantastic Hokkaido holiday.