The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual festival held each February for just under two weeks at Sapporo, the fourth largest city in Japan, situated on the northern island of Hokkaido. My friend had told me that if I were to ever go to Niseko, that I should time my trip to coincide with the festival, and boy was it worth it!
The festival spans over three locations, Odori Park, Tsudome and Susukino. Over my brief 24 hours in Sapporo, I was able to make it to Odori Park and Susukino as they’re both quite central and close to one another, but since Tsudome is a bit out of the way, it’s best to allocate more than just an afternoon like I did.
Odori park is a huge park in the middle of Sapporo (similar to Hyde Park in Sydney but much bigger), stretching over 13 blocks in total, with the snow festival spanning most of it. It’s the main site of the festival and houses the majority of the snow sculptures, food stalls, activities and a variety of shows/performances. I’ve seen snow before but the sculptures here are absolutely insane – there are small ones the size of a person and then there are the big ones, ranging from three to four storeys tall and more than half the width of the block. Each block’s sculptures are based off a variety of themes including TV shows and characters, official buildings, countries, cultural artefacts, people and more.
At a chilling -8°C upon arrival that got progressively colder throughout the night, walking from block to block got quite tedious. Even with my thick boots, socks, thermals and pants on, the chill eventually crept through my soles and got to my feet. Thankfully there are a bunch of food stalls selling hot snacks and even warming stations where you can take a break. As a foreigner though, I found it too cold to take my hands out of my gloves to get money and to hold food – instead, we just huddled in the warming stations every half hour or so.
Aside from the sculptures, at the end of the park was also a makeshift ski slope with professional skiers doing all sorts of jumps to entertain an audience. Seeing a giant slope erected in the middle of the park was so interesting to watch! Great entertainment if you get bored of looking at sculptures.
If you venture six blocks south of the park, you’ll hit Susukino, an entertainment district filled with bars, restaurants and some red-light options (it’s like Sydney’s Kings Cross but much bigger once again). In the middle are the Snow Festival Ice Sculptures which seem to be sponsored by brands. It’s not as impressive compared to the Odori Park site, but is much smaller and can be completed without rest breaks to stay warm.
Overall, the Sapporo Snow Festival is a must if you’re ever visiting Sapporo in February. More information can be found on their website which is updated towards the end of the year to cover the following year’s festival.
Top tips for the Sapporo Snow Festival:
- Wear lots of layers of clothes and boots especially for walking (don’t wear trainers, they’re way too thin). It’s super cold (expect -10°c) and then there’s wind chill as well
- Plan out which sites you want to visit. Allow more time to get to Tsudome if you want to check out that site, and be aware that Tsudome has more limited visiting hours compared to the other two sites
- Take breaks in the resting stations to warm up
- Take advantage of free hot drink samplings (I got given free green tea). Even if you don’t want to drink it, just hold it as a hand warmer
- Walk slowly. You’re walking on ice and it’s easy to slip
- Try and visit during the day and night. All sculptures are lit up when it’s dark and look different at night