Updated: Sep 25, 2021
Hokkaido’s capital becomes a frosty wonderland during this five-day family event.
The Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri) is one of Japan’s most popular winter events, attracting more than 2 million domestic and international visitors every February. And it’s no surprise why people flock to see it. The city is transformed, with icy sculptures and all kinds of snow play as well as unique dining options, entertainment and cultural attractions.
History and development
The snow festival had humble beginnings. It started in 1950, when some junior high and senior high school students built a few sculptures using snow in Sapporo’s Odori Park. The occasion was marked with a carnival, snowball fights and some snow-related exhibitions.
Three years later, the festival saw its first massive sculpture, at 15 metres (49 feet). Soon after, Japan’s Self Defense Forces began joining annually to make giant works of snow art. By 1959, 2,500 people were making sculptures at the festival every year.
The International Snow Sculpture Contest was first hosted during the festival in 1974. Today, as many as 20 teams from various regions of the world participate annually.
Thrice the fun
Today, the festival is spread across three sites in the city: Odori, Susukino and Tsudome.
Located in central Sapporo, the Odori and Susukino sites are the heart of the festival. Attractions include ice sculptures of all sizes. Each year the themes change, but visitors can typically find monuments of national significance, famous people, wildlife and characters from popular culture.
Among the amazing snow art is an ice rink, the Snow Plaza and the Park Air Jump where top-class skiers and snowboarders show their skills. The site also hosts the Hokkaido Food Park, which offers local delicacies, and numerous exhibitions related to Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido. There are even illuminations and projection mapping shows.
The Tsudome site hosts all kinds of snow play, including slides, rafts, sledding and golf. There are lots of experiences on offer, such as ice glass making.
But Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri is more than just snow and ice. The whole city gets into the festive mood and offers a wide range of fun activities including music and dance performances as well as pop-up ice bars serving special ice festival cocktails.
Every year the festival seems to offer an even bigger carnival atmosphere.
If you plan to visit the festival, make sure to book accommodation well in advance. You might want to consider staying outside Sapporo and travelling in by train to avoid the crowds.
Find out more
The 2022 Snow Festival is scheduled for 5th to 12th February. For details, check out the official page.