Let it Snow- The Sapporo Snow Festival - Japan's Yuki Masturi

Article by: Art Gimbel

Sun March 17, 2013 | 00:00 AM

Sapporo Snow Festival

I have always loved snow. It’s an endless medium bound only by a degree on the thermometer. On the shores of Hokkaido Island, the city of Sapporo has turned the tables on nature and transformed snow into art with its famous snow festival.

The Yuki Matsuri, as the locals call it, celebrates everything about winter and its temporal medium. As a passionate lifelong skier (read: powder worshipper), I was thrilled and humbled to be amidst some of the world’s greatest snow temples. Right in the heart of downtown Sapporo, Odori Park had been transformed into the magical snow kingdom full of snow castles…


ice unicorns…

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and other winter creatures drawn from Hokkaido’s local fauna…



Japan’s largest winter festival has three festival sites: the snow giants of Odori Park, the detailed crystal sculptures at the Suskino Ice Festival, and the ice slides and kid-friendly playground of Tsu Dome.

It’s a family friendly event and everyone was caught up in the excitement.

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Snow on Hokkaido Island is one of the wonders of the world and is duly celebrated. Cold Siberian air travels across the sea of Japan and drinks up moisture before hitting the coastal mountains with relentless snow storms. Hokkaido Island ranks consistently as one to the top 5 snowiest places on Earth and is home to legendary powder skiing. The snow is so deep, skiers have been know to drown in the bottomless powder.

Local Snowboarder Miyuko gets more than a taste of Hokkaido’s legendary snow in nearby Niseko…

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Does building sandcastles translate into carving ice sculptures? After Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, international visitors began to focus on the region. Two years later an international snow sculpture contest was introduced to the festival. Today, over 40 years later, artists from around the world come to Sapporo to compete – including those from surprisingly tropical locales.

Some of the 2013 crowd favorites at this year’s festival were:

Thailand consistently wins prizes in the international snow sculpting contest and 2013 was no different with the contest-winning “The Artist from the Wild”

Thai Artisit in the Wild

I particularly liked sister city Portland’s entry, Oregonian’s Wild Ride,  “A sasquatch, beaver,and duck have all left the rainy forest of Oregon to go sledding in Sapporo. The duck is pouring sake for the beaver, who are both enjoying themselves, but the sasquatch in back is very frightened.”…


Snow Miku - An icy incarnation of the humanoid synthesizer (vocal android) application and anime character Hatsune Miku. Snow Miku comes to the aid of Hokkaido during the winters and is one of the festival’s most beloved characters…

Snow Miku

Ise Jingu: A Modern Legend - An elaborate and Impressive sculpture honoring Japan’s most important Shinto shrine. Enormous and incredibly detailed, it took a huge team three weeks to build from start to finish…

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Melon Kuma: If you dare get a close look into this Melon-Bear hybrid’s mouth you just might find him to be a friendly creature. This strange fruit is one of Hokkaido Island’s most clever mascots…

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Corporate sponsors had creative ways of marketing products and the most impressive was Audi’s snow sedan, making a great sell for winter driving with real snow tires…

Thai temples made of ice wouldn’t last very long in the balmy Andaman Sea but here in Sapporo the massive Wat Benchamabophit was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Thai royal family’s first visit to Japan…

Thai Temple

The Sapporo Snow Festival is the tip of the iceberg of regional snow festivals; almost every town in Hokkaido celebrates the massive amounts of snow in their own unique way. If you have time, it’s worth joining a tour or renting a car (don’t forget your international driver’s licence) to explore the region. We checked out the nearby Otaru Snow Gleaming Path and the Sounchyo Ice Waterfall festivals, each a worthy destination with thier own particular charms.  Sapporo is easily accessible by low-cost airlines such as AirAsia and JetStar, and ground transport via an underground tunnel that connects the two islands. With over two million visitors, accommodations can be quite scarce so it’s wise to book in advance.


Not a minute after the festival ended, we were spellbound as the hundreds of chainsaw wielding, snow samurai methodically chopped down these masterpieces. In a short week, snow temples had been built and destroyed.  Given how much snow falls on Hokkaido island, they have a surprisingly short winter. The spring thaw will soon come again to return all the snow back to the nearby sea.