Okay, the Sapporo Snow Festival isn’t in Ishikawa, but it probably draws more Ishikawa JETs than most events in our prefecture, so it’s well-worth reviewing. If you don’t know what it is, read on.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of those must-see events in Japan. It lasts for a week in early February in Sapporo (that’s in Hokkaido, the northernmost island), and its main sight is snow sculptures. BIG snow sculptures. This year marked the 60th anniversary of the snow festival, and it is so popular that it draws millions of people every year. This is no small feat, considering that Hokkaido is an island, so you have to fly there. Oh, and it’s also considered to be balmy weather if it reaches 1 degree Celsius.
That said, if you can swing it, you should go.
The main attraction is 12 blocks of enormous snow sculptures, which are a sight to behold. 400 – 700 trucks full of snow are imported from the nearby roads and mountains to build each snow sculpture. This year, 3 of the sculptures were made by the Japanese Self-Defense Force, which begin building in January, and literally melt the finishing touches on with the warmth of their hands. These sculptures are a labor of love, and it’s clear that the whole city is extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
In general, each block is dedicated to its own behemoth, with lines of people slipping and sliding their way on the icy pavement to rightfully “ooh” and “aah”. In addition to looking fabulous, some of the sculptures are interactive — this year featured a snow maze, as well as ice slides that sent small children down chutes on their backs. Of course, while you’re walking around, there is also plenty of food to much on, as there would be at any Japanese festival.
The snow sculptures themselves can be covered in an afternoon (or night, if you want to see them illuminated). “Small” sculptures are also sprinkled around, throughout the larger sculptures, providing plenty to see. Nearby is also a street with a few blocks of smaller ice sculptures that are also illuminated at night.
As long as you’re in Sapporo, there’s plenty else to do. Sapporo has an expansive underground shopping mall, providing respite to the cold. The beautiful nearby city of Otaru has an attractive light-up which is worth seeing. Skiing is an extremely popular option, and readily available. Onsens abound. And did I mention there’s a Chocolate Factory? Yeah.
The Shiroi Koibito (White Lover) Factory is only a few subway stops away from the Snow Festival, and is an omiyage that will have your co-workers saying “natsukashii” as soon as they see it. Turns out that Shiroi Koibito makes the most amazing cookies that have captured the hearts of people all across Japan. You owe it to yourself to visit this factory.
At the factory, you can be prepared to enjoy your free cookie sample, be mesmerized by thousands of cookie, wonder in amazement that it’s actually someone’s job to pet cookies all day, learn about the history of chocolate, see a random toy museum, and enjoy a beautiful atmosphere. Someone put a lot of love into this factory. It’s worth seeing. There’s also a large rose garden you can see if it’s not winter.
As a JET, you’ll probably want to take a day or two of nenkyuu so you can spend a leisurely few days in Sapporo. Be nice, ask your school ahead of time, and be sure to make your ticket and hotel reservations well in advance (like, in December).
You only have a short time in Japan, so take this opportunity to see one of the most remarkable festivals the country has to offer.