Edited by Holly Stark
Held in the scenic Odori Park, Susukino Site and Tsudome Site, the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan is an annual winter playground of enchanting snow slides, rafting, concerts, night time events, interactive light displays and extraordinary ice sculptures and intricate statues. Occuring in the first and second weeks of February, the Sapporo Snow Festival welcomes around 2 million visitors; sculpture and art lovers, families with children, couples looking for some winter romance, solo travelers and Hokkaido locals. The Sapporo Snow Festival Japan began in 1949 when a group of students carved a few ice sculptures in the park. It is an now an iconic Japanese winter wonderland and a must-see when in Sapporo during the winter months, especially during its 70th anniversary this year. Odori and Susukino sites are open from February 4th to February 11th 2020, and Tsudome Site is open from January 31st to February 11th 2020. Knowing how best to plan your trip and get the most out of the whimsical festival can be a challenge, so get to know this ultimate Sapporo Snow Festival Guide and ensure you get the best out of your visit.
The Snow Festival is executed on three areas: the Odori Site, Susukino Site and Tsudome Site. The main area is centrally located in Odori Park, which serves as a picturesque green space during the warmer months and a natural frosty beauty over winter. It is 1.5 kilometers long, spanning over twelve city blocks and separating Sapporo into its north and south regions. During the Sapporo Snow Festival, the park is home to the gigantic snow sculptures; some which stand over 15 meters high and 25 meters wide. They can be admired both during the winter sunlight, and at night when they glimmer under colorful lights after 10 pm. As well as the Odori Site’s huge elaborate sculptures, the area exhibits over one hundred smaller statues. Concerts and events can also be enjoyed here. From the Sapporo TV Observation Deck, a spectacular view of the Hokkaido capital can be seen. During the festival, the tower extends its hours to 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Admission is 720 yen.
A load of fun
The second site is Susukino, located one subway stop after Odori Park. Named after Sapporo's largest entertainment district, the Susukino district is packed with many great places to eat, drink and enjoy the city’s nightlife. As well as Sapporo Snow Festival food spots, the area holds many more ice sculptures, which are illuminated daily until 11 pm, except on the Sapporo Snow Festival closing ceremony, when they are lit up until 10 pm.
The third site of the Sapporo Snow Festival Japan is the Tsudome Site. Unlike Odori and Susukino, Tsudome is not centrally located. The site is child friendly and family orientated, home to the best Sapporo Snow Festival activities, like snow rafting, snow sliding, and more of the festival’s beautiful snow sculptures. It has lots of food options and is open from 9 am to 5 pm. To get there, take the shuttle bus which departs every 5 to 10 minutes from Sakaemachi Station. It takes about 15 minutes to walk there from Sakaemachi. There are also shuttles from Odori to Tsu Dome every 15 to 30 minutes.
Sapporo Snow Festival tickets fly fast, so it’s advised to get your tickets and accommodation booked as soon as possible in order to score them at a reasonable price. If you can arrive a few days before the festival begins, tickets won’t be quite as pricey. Likewise, leaving a few days after the Sapporo Snow Festival closing ceremony will mean you save on your tickets. The dazzling crystal-like sculptures are at their most beautiful at the beginning of the week; so make sure to see them in the early February days.
During the Sapporo Snow Festival Hokkaido, the climate is very cold with occasional heavy snowfall. It’s important to get bundled up by wearing at least three layers of clothing. Typically this means wearing a thermal first layer, a jumper or fleece, and a thick waterproof coat or winter ski jacket. Take a knitted hat, scarf, ear-warmers and gloves. Wear winter boots or shoes with ribbed soles to prevent slipping and sliding on the icy paths. Alternatively attach ice cleats, spikes with rubber bands that are attachable, under the soles of your shoes. In Japan, disposable hand warmers which are air activated are commonly used during the colder months. They can last up to 24 hours and can be bought in subway stations and shops.
The Sapporo Snow Festival food scene is not to be missed. The Hokkaido region is well known for its agriculture, and supplies many parts of Japan with fresh vegetables, dairy products, meat and seafood. Sapporo’s impeccable culinary world is accessible and available year-round so you won’t miss out in February. The Hokkaido capital has plenty to offer your taste buds, through Sapporo street food, cheap eats and Michelin star restaurants; you will never be bored of dining out in this delicious city. When exploring the festival’s Susukino site, head to Ramen Alley for world class ramen. Ebisoba Ichigen, meaning "One vision for Shrimp Ramen”, can be found here. The restaurant serves up one of the most unique types of ramen in Hokkaido, and with three soup flavors to try from: salt based, soy sauce based and miso based being their most popular. Alternatively, head to Sushiya no Yamada in the Susukino district for a truly local sushi dining experience. As well as specializing in the fish and seafood of Hokkaido, the menu also features edible wild plants in springtime, autumn mushrooms, homegrown local tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms from Otaki-mura. There are plenty of street food options on all of the snow festival sites to enjoy the best of Japanese cuisine.
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