I am so happy to say that I was finally able to check Sapporo Winter Festival off my bucket list this year! This event had been one of my goals ever since I moved to Japan. Held annually every February, the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri in Hokkaido, Japan is one of the biggest and most spectacular winter festivals in the world.
I attended the event in Sapporo from February 8th to 11th, along with many other English teachers living in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan. (Thank you MAJET for the fabulous trip organization!)
Hands down, this is now one of my favourite experiences since coming to the land of the rising sun. I am usually a diehard summer girl and do not care much for any activities related to winter, but I got to admit, winter in Japan is something special. Yuki Matsuri definitely convinced me of that.
In this post, I share the things you need to know for visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival, from what to expect, to tips on getting the best experience. So put on your beanies, hats, and scarves! Into the snow we go!
Note: Please consult the official event website for information such as dates and hours. This article is for reference only.
*This post contains affiliate links, which means at no extra cost to you, I may receive a commission if you make a purchase.
Sapporo Winter Festival Introduction
The “Sappori Yuki Matsuri” (In Japanese: yuki= snow, matsuri= festival) has a long history. The event started back in 1950 and has become a very famous festival in Japan as well as around the world. Every year, millions of people flock to Hokkaido for the one week in February where hundreds of magnificent snow and ice sculptures are on display for public enjoyment. And it’s free free free! There are also food, contests, and tons of fun winter activities. It’s really an event for all ages! The festivities are spread over three main sites in the city: Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. Read on to discover what each site offers and see some stunning photos!
You may also enjoy:
2 Days in Sapporo Travel Guide & Itinerary by Patti from The Savvy Globetrotter
Hokkaido (Sapporo/Otaru) Travel guide by Michelle from The Munching Traveller
9 Things to Do in Hokkaido, Japan by MG from The Wandering Suitcase
Snow sculptures in Odori Park
Location: Odori Park (Sapporo, Chuo, Odori 1-12)
Access: Odori station exit 2, 5, 6, or 8. Odori Station is accessible from JR Sapporo Station by either the Toho or Nanboku line.
Hours: All day. Illumination turns off at 22:00.
Starting with my favorite site, the Odori Park is where you would find most of the snow sculptures. Stretching as far as 1.5km (13 blocks) through downtown Sapporo, the park looks like a magical white wonderland. You can see humongous statues sculpted out of pure white snow and clear ice. The artistry is just amazing. The subject of the sculptures are interesting and varied. The topics showcased range from historical buildings, to popular culture, to cartoon characters.
2018’s supersized snow works included:
Final Fantasy XIV – Battle of Winter Wonderland
A labour of love by the Ground Self Defense Force. You could see a photo story and watch a time lapse video of how this sculpture was made in the little booth right next to the piece.
This piece was built to commemorate the legendary cartoonist Osamu Tezuka’s 90th birthday. The Astro Boy theme song was playing in the background while I cried over my long gone childhood when I used to watch this cartoon.
The details on this recreation of the iconic Buddhist structure in Nara was impeccable. More stunning was the night time projection mapping show that combined colors, music, and special effects perfectly! I had to pick my jaw off the floor after the performance. It was wizardry!
Taiwan – The Taichung Railway Station
This historical site in Taiwan had been reimagined with ice and colorful lights! It also served as a backdrop for the main entertainment stage where many musical performances took place at night!
These are just a couple examples of the huge monster sculptures. The smaller sculptures were equally delightful. I loved the cartoon and anime character pieces, including:
And the most popular character of all:
And more Minions…What’s with the obsession guys?
Other things to look out for at the Odori park site:
The International Snow Sculpture Competition
Countries from all over the world flaunt their best snow works. A piece usually reflects something from the culture of the home country. Ironically, many of these places don’t even have snow. Australia? Hawaii? How did they prepare for the contest?? I was disappointed by the fact that Canada didn’t enter in 2018. After all those years of threading through thick snow every winter in Toronto, I don’t get to see Canada at a renowned snow event? It just didn’t make sense. You better enter next year Canada! I’m watching you.
Medusa by USA
The first prize in 2018 went to Thailand with their spectacular piece depicting cock fighting, a popular Thai pastime. Cock means rooster everyone I am not speaking dirty…just clearing that up.
Shiroi Koibito PARK AIR – skiing competition
On the block of Odori 3 chōme, a huge jump platform is set up for ski and snowboard enthusiasts. You can watch professional and amateur skiers and snowboarders show off their skills. I was the most impressed with the junior participants. Some of these 9 year old kids can do 360 backflip jumps! What the heck was I doing at that age…
Food Food Food!
You can’t leave the park without trying some regional Hokkaido food like crab on a stick, grilled oysters, and fresh dairy products. There are also classic winter festival drinks like hot wine and kid friendly snacks like chocolate covered fruits. There are several booths with heaters where you can take a break and warm up with your food and beverages.
Minion bananas anyone?
Ice sculptures on Susukino Street
Location: Sapporo, Chuo, Minami 4 – Minami 7 roads in 4-chome
Access: Susukino station exit 3 or 5. Susukino is accessible from Sapporo Station by the Nanboku line.
Hours: All day. Illumination turns off at 23:00 (turns off at 22:00 on the last day of the festival)
A 10 minutes walk away from Odori Park is the Susukino site of the festival. Here the main attraction is…ice ice baby! Check out the ice sculpture contest and the interactive section where you can touch the icy artworks. So many photo ops! The sculptures are the prettiest at night when they are illuminated.
Some pieces from 2018:
Sapporo Beer of course
Frozen sea creatures…
Winter activities at Tsudome
Location: Sapporo Community Dome (Sapporo, Higashi, Sakaemachi 885-1)
Access: Walk for 15 minutes or take the free shuttle bus from Sakaemachi station to the site. Sakaemachi station is accessable from Sapporo station by the Toho line. There is also a shuttle bus that takes people directly to the Tsudome site from Odori Park 3 Chome for 100 yen.
Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
Tsudome is where you can really get in on all the fun! This site is especially perfect for families with children. There are gigantic snow slides and a huge snow maze. You can hear the beautiful sound of kids giggling everywhere. Half a day will pass easily here and you will totally forget that it’s cold when you are frolicking so hard.
Several awesome sculptures here too!
And of course…more Minions.
Tips on attending Yuki Matsuri
You should be booking flights and accommodation for the Sapporo Snow Festival like today! Millions of people attend the event every year, so you can only imagine how packed it gets. Our trip organizer booked the trip for us in September and locked everything down. Oh ya rockstar planning!
Aim for the first half of the festival
Although the festival lasts all week, it’s best to go early if you can. That is if you want to see the sculptures fresh at their best. As it gets towards the second half, the snow sculptures get quite dirty and the ice sculptures slowly start to melt. A sweating mermaid is frankly a bit sad to see.
Dress for success
Hokkaido is cold, cold, cold! Sapporo gets especially freezing at night so it’s crucial to protect yourself with a heavy coat, scarf, warm hat, gloves (with touch pads) and thick socks. Pack an extra pair of socks in your bag just in case a change is needed. There is nothing worst in life than wet feet! The choice of shoes is also important. Consider getting some attachable treads for the bottom of your winter boots as the streets can get slippery from the ice.
You will inevitably find yourself with frozen fingers while trying to snap photos. In that case, some hand warmers will feel like heaven in a packet.
Other things to consider are tissue paper for runny noses and sun glasses for preventing snow blindness. You’d be surprised at how bright it can get during the day! My eyes! It burns!
Take advantage of the underground paths
A secret passage way? Sort of. Because Sapporo is so cold, there is a whole underground city for people to get around downtown without being outside. Head down to Pole Town and it barely feels like winter anymore! There are also tons of shops and restaurants in here so it’s kind of an attraction in itself.
Leave your drone at home!
This is for the photographers/bloggers. There is a strict no drone policy at the festival sites so don’t even try. I know you are thinking about how epic the view would look from above, but the rules are rules. I had to leave my drone at home and was a bit salty about it. You can still get tons of cool shots though!
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Read up on the best advice: Love a good old fashion guide book. Suggested reading: Lonely Planet: Japan Travel Guide
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