From January 31 to February 11, more than 200 ice statues will hatch all over the capital of Hokkaido. On the program, enchantment, and art of living in a Japan far from the images of Epinal.
In the game of associations of ideas, the land of the Rising Sun evokes in bulk the cherry blossoms, temples, and onsen, its famous thermal springs. Rather rarely snow. White gold tourism is however particularly developed in Japan, and in particular on the island of Hokkaido. Located in the far north of the country, it is covered in a white coat for a third of the year, with the highlight of the tourist season being the famous Sapporo Snow Festival, which takes place every winter.
The Sapporo Snow Festival, fifty years of history
The Sapporo Snow Festival ( Yuki no Matsuri, in the original version) was born in 1950, with the aim of attracting tourists to this region of northern Japan. For the first edition, students from six high schools in the city are making giant snow sculptures in Odori Park. From the end of the 1960s, foreign tourists began to pour in. Today, they are 2.5 million each year to make the trip.
For a month, professionals and amateurs compete in creativity with hundreds of snow or ice sculptures, each more magical than the next, some of which exceed fifteen meters in height. The attractions are spread over three main sites: Odori Par, in the heart of the city; the lively Susukino district, and the Makomanai military base.
This year, the festival is held from January 31 to February 11. The details of the program are available on the official website of the Sapporo Festival (in English).
Which route to take?
It is best to start your visit with the large avenue Odori, the local equivalent of the Champs-Élysées. It is there, over 1.5 km, that the various parks which house the sculptures are spread out. The classic route starts at the foot of the Sapporo TV tower and descends towards each of the parks. At night, the sculptures are illuminated, which gives them an even more grandiose appearance.
The Susukino district is home to the famous sculpture competition. It is preferable to stop there at the end of the day, to dine in one of its many restaurants. The Tsudome stadium, accessible by bus or metro, is dedicated to fun activities for children, such as toboggan runs.
There is a little American side to Sapporo, probably related to the brick architecture and the wide, straight streets. The city is one of the most famous night landscapes in Japan. The view from Mount Moiwa, accessible by cable car, is breathtaking.
The good tables of Sapporo
Hokkaido is famous for its gastronomy. With its large arable areas, its access to the sea, and its many rivers, the region is particularly rich. Miso ramen soup was invented in particular in Sapporo. Another specialty is crab, which can be eaten in several forms: in ramen, therefore, raw in sashimi or in Kaisen Don (bowl of rice with crab, scallops, sea urchins, and salmon eggs). Head to the Crab Gang restaurant for some delicious crab ramen for a rather low price.
Overall, the freshest seafood makes Sapporo a perfect place to enjoy sushi and seafood. But the specialty not to be missed is Ikura, that salmon roe served on a bowl of rice. The best place to enjoy a bowl is Umi Hachikyo Bettei Oyaji restaurant. The meal is delicious and Ikura’s service to the brim is a spectacle in itself.
Sapporo barbecues offer “Genghis Khan”, a selection of pieces of lamb cut into thin slices to grill on a griddle, accompanied by cold beer.
What to do around Sapporo?
This open-air museum is a reproduction of a typical Hokkaido village from the end of the 19th century. Between the horse-drawn tram and the traditional art shops of the Ainu, the aborigines of northern Japan, it’s a real leap in time.
Accessible by bus in an hour from Sapporo station, the Jozankei springs group together around ten hotels irrigated by local natural springs. The city is placed under the sign of Kappa, these aquatic monsters from Japanese folklore. Please note that some of the hotels close at 5 p.m., plan to arrive earlier.