68th Sapporo Snow Festival 2017: Winter wonderland Experience in Japan
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I’ve been to Japan for more than half a dozen times already throughout my past years of traveling. Despite that, however, I still have about a dozen of reasons why I want to keep coming back. One of those reasons is that I’ve always wanted to experience the winter season in Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture of Japan.
It’s always been a dream of mine to visit winter Hokkaido after I saw the Snow Festival photos on the Internet a couple of years ago. However, I was never able to set a trip in time for winter nor in time for the festival because of my very busy schedule.
It was only about two months ago when I received an invitation to visit Hokkaido on February for a familiarization trip when I finally got that one chance. I guess that’s what they call serendipity. 2017 must be really my year. And with that, I smilingly prepared to cross out one of the major items off my bucket list.
The invitation was sent by Sapporo City Tourism Office, and asked me and other fellow travel bloggers to visit the city for the Snow Festival or Yuki Matsuri. Snow and festival. Those were two things that I love. The invitation was a dream come true.
How to get to Sapporo from Manila
- There are no direct flights from Manila to Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan.
- Travelers need to fly to Tokyo via PAL, ANA, JETSTAR, or JAL.
- You will have to take another flight from Tokyo to Sapporo.
- The flight from Manila to Tokyo took us 4.5 hours, and the flight from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido took us 1.5 hours.
First time in Hokkaido
Hokkaido is a mountainous island prefecture that turns into a snowy, subzero paradise from the months of November to March. During my visit to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital and largest city, the side streets were covered with three- to four-meter thick snow which looked like absolute heaven for people who live in tropical countries, like, ehem, yours truly.
I’ve seen snow when I went to Toronto, Canada before, but because it was early December that time, the only snowfall I witnessed was the one that appeared during early morning. My encounter with snow was therefore very brief. I’ve had a slight obsession with seeing snow, so my recent visit to Sapporo was truly magical, because there was endless snow where ever and whenever I looked!
About Sapporo Snow Festival 2017
Before its grandiose display, the Sapporo Snow Festival started off with just six snow statues made by high school students. Years later, more and more people started joining in. When Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972, the Snow Festival also gained its much-deserved international fame.
Two years later, the International Snow Sculpture Contest was officially added to the festival’s list of events, where team of snow sculptors from countries like the US and Australia participate.
Since then, the Sapporo Snow Festival only kept growing more fantastic. Along with the additional number of ice sculptures came concerts, stalls, and other festivities. Through the years, the Odori Park in the middle of downtown Sapporo has been a favorite venue for the week-long festival.
My Snow Festival Experience
I’ve read that the theme for the ice sculptures in the snow festival was dependent on the highlights of the previous year. That made perfect sense. When we came to visit the festival grounds before the official start on Monday, we were able to see towering sculptures of Star Wars movie series characters like Darth Vader; Pikachu, the most famous character of the hyped Pokemon Go game released July last year; and even an icy replica of US President Donald Trump! I was also not surprised to see a sculpture of the Japanese comedian Pikotaro, the singer of the viral YouTube video “Pen Pineapple Apple Pen” that became the shortest song to ever reach the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.
Aside from characters, there were also ice monuments. One was a snow-and-ice replica of the Arc de Triomphe, which I heard was scaled one-thirds the original size of the Parisian monument. Another was the notable Kofuku-ji Buddhist Temple in the Nara Prefecture, which is considered a National Treasure in Japan.
It was just the day before the launching of the festival yet the place was very crowded by people from all over the world. It was still so cold, despite of the crowd! There were about 200 ice sculptures displayed but there were more people than that.
Food and Souvenirs from Sapporo
Aside from setting foot outside to get a good view of the sculptures, we also went out to check some of the several food and souvenir stalls around Odori Park. Since I am a foodie by heart and soul, I just had to try them out, even when my fingers were freezing. While roaming around Odori Park, we tried some classic street food like konomiyaki, takoyaki, karaage, and some extra-long Japanese potato fries. There was no need to wait for the food to cool down before eating. We simply chomped away before it got too cold.
The food literally sold like hot pancakes.
I was really impressed with the intricacy of the snow sculptures. Seeing them in pictures is nothing compared to seeing them in real life. Seeing not just snow, but snow turned into art, was truly an amazing experience for a person who lives in a country with no winter season. I really hope I can come back again next year to see a new set of snow sculptures, and to try out more of Odori Park’s street food, of course.
I can’t put into words the feelings I had while enjoying my time in the Sapporo Snow Festival. I was a full-grown man squealing with enthusiasm and joy like a five-year-old. But I didn’t care. It was my dream, and I would like to offer my thanks to Sapporo City Tourism Office for letting me achieve it.
Hokkaido in the wintertime… now that’s another item off the bucket list!
Recommended Hotels near Odori Park
- Dormy Inn PREMIUM Sapporo Hot Spring (Check hotel rates and availability)
- Sapporo Grand Hotel (Check hotel rates and availability)
- APA Hotel Sapporo Susukino-EkiNishi (Check hotel rates and availability)
- Sapporo Prince Hotel (Check hotel rates and availability)
- Nest Hotel Sapporo Ekimae (Check hotel rates and availability)
- ANA Hotel Sapporo (Check hotel rates and availability)
- Hotel Gracery Sapporo (Check hotel rates and availability)
- Top Picks: 10 Best Hotels in Sapporo, Japan
Traffic map around Snow Festival
Sapporo Snow Festival Travel Tips
- Book a hotel near Odori Station, Sapporo Station and Susukino Station if you want an accommodation near the festival grounds.
- Don’t forget your CAMERA! And of course an extra battery for your Camera or Smartphone Camera.
- Dress like a Polar Bear! Winter in Hokkaido is Really Cold, make sure you protect your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Wear your gloves, mittens, hats, scarves, long johns/thermal underwear, thick warm socks, and boots with good tread.
- Buy full-out winter shoes, if in case you don’t have one, get anti-skid bands from convenience stores.
- Visit Odori Park during Weekday mornings if you want to take photos of the snow sculptures without too much crowd
- Visit Sapporo TV Tower to enjoy the greatest views the Snow Festival has to offer.
68th Sapporo Snow Festival 2017
February 6 -12, 2017
Location: Odori Park, 1-12 Chome, Sapporo Hokkaido, Japan
Many thanks to Sapporo City Tourism Office for letting us experience Sapporo Snow Festival 2017 in Hokkaido Prefecture.