Culture + Style

This Japanese City Will Put Your Snowman to Shame

Most people come to the Japanese city of Sapporo for the popular beer it brews under the same name. But for one week in February, snow is the real star.

That’s because an estimated 2 million people flock to the country’s fourth largest city — roughly the size of Philadelphia — for the Sapporo Snow Festival that usually takes place in the second week of February.

In addition to a large variety of food stalls, concerts and other exhibits, the stars of the show are elaborate sculptures, some towering multiple stories high, that depict iconic buildings from around the world and scenes featuring pop culture characters from films, TV shows and video games.

It’s all so very Japanese: quirky and cool.

Sapporo Snow Festival
Characters from Square Enix’s hit video game franchise “Final Fantasy” battle at the Sapporo Snow Festival. (All Photos: Marc Graser)
Star Wars
“Star Wars” made a return to the Sapporo Snow Festival with a display that rose 50 feet high above the crowd.

Each installation — all intricately carved out of massive blocks of snow — line the sides of the city’s main park, that stretches through the city for nearly a mile from the base of the Sapporo TV Tower, which provides a great vantage point to take in the festival from above.

In addition to the Facebook and Instagram-worthy attractions, separate stops along the path have snowboarders fly through the air pulling off tricks, and local music acts performing with the sculptures lit up behind them, creating an impressive stage, to say the least.

There are also numerous food stalls grilling up local specialities like gigantic scallops served in their shells, steamed sea urchin, various meats on sticks, and piping hot bowls of salt-based ramen noodles.

Consider it Sapporo’s own Food & Wine Festival, with sake instead of the wine.

What’s put on display changes each year in the city that’s a quick and easy 90 minute flight from Tokyo.

Previous years featured a dozen towering replicas of Seoul’s Great Southern Gate; the Bavarian State Opera, in Munich; London’s British Museum; China’s Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City, in Beijing.

In 2017, the highlights were highly detailed versions of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, the Central Golden Hall of Nara’s Kofuku-ji Temple, and Taipei City’s Taipei Guest House.

Sapporo Snow Festival
A Japanese band performs with a massive snow sculpture behind them at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Food vendors like this one grill up massive scallops at the Sapporo Festival.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” a 50-foot-tall sculpture of C-3PO and R2-D2 beside BB-8 and Kylo Ren was created. It was called the largest-ever scale of its kind created for the blockbuster sci-fi series.

All were impressive during the day. But at night, they became awesome, lit up in various colors and used as the backdrop for elaborate light shows.

Sapporo Snow Festival
The Central Golden Hall of Nara’s Kofuku-ji Temple at the Sapporo Snow Festival. The structure is lit up during a light display above.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Paris’ Arc de Triomphe lit up during the Sapporo Snow Festival.

In addition to the large-scale sculptures, more than 100 smaller displays of animated Japanese characters like Pikachu and Doraemon, and others for Godzilla, are also featured.

Even President Trump was frozen in place in the middle of an angry rant, proving a popular photo op for visitors from around the world.

Sapporo Snow Festival
Anything can be turned into a snow sculpture during the Sapporo Snow Festival, even CupNoodles.
Trump at Sapporo Snow Festival
President Trump in full rant mode on display during the Sapporo Snow Festival.

A competition between countries and cities also took place, with Hawaii and Portland representing the United States, as 12 teams competed against Australia, Latvia, Poland and Taiwan.

Sapporo Snow Festival
Team Poland constructing their snow sculpture at the Sapporo Snow Festival.
Sapporo Snow Festival
Team Portland represented the United States with the city’s iconic sign and food trucks during a competition at the Sapporo Snow Festival.

The Sapporo Snow Festival was first hosted in Sapporo in 1950, when local high school students created just six statues

Now, the impressive installations at Sapporo’s Odori Park are just one of three lcoations for the event.

Suskino, Sapporo’s largest entertainment district, features 100 equaly intricate ice sculturpes, also lit up at night. And another at Tsu Dome offers families a variety of snow rafting, slides and other activities to keep children occupied.

All we can say is, thanks, kids for coming up with one cool event.