Sapporo Snow Festival
Join the most popular winter festival in Japan in February.
- 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival dates: Jan. 31, 2019 – Feb. 11, 2019
Far away from the rather snowless cityscapes of Tokyo or Osaka is Sapporo, the site of the week-long festival in the country’s northern-most prefecture of Hokkaido. Hokkaido sees a lot of snow in winter and Sapporo — a city with a lively vibe — is a perfect venue for the annual event the beginning of February.
The Snow Festival has hundreds of snow and ice sculptures ranging from big to down-right enormous. Sapporo City’s Odori Park is where the main event takes place. Visitors can take a short walk from Sapporo station and be entertained all day and night.
Each year, the fest includes creative snow and ice sculptures often accented with Japanese or world pop culture. In the past, fan favorites have included sculptures dedicated to Star Wars, Final Fantasy, and even numerous anime characters.
Among the intricate artwork made from mother nature are pathways lined with food stalls with everything from meat skewers to fresh seafood to “hot milk” (a Hokkaido special), plus live performances ranging from J-Pop to rock.
The multi-day festival’s popularity has skyrocketed, especially among foreign tourists and especially on the weekends. However, it comes from humble roots starting in 1950 when a few high school students made snow sculptures, according to the fest’s official site. Despite just six statues, the fest ended up drawing a crowd of 50,000! In 1955, the Self Defense Force joined in to help make the massive ones you still see today.
Before you go
The Snow Festival has three sites, with Odori Park as the main one to see snow sculptures. Odori Park (Nishi 1 chome～ Nishi 12 chome) also has illuminated snow structures so you can see them at night untli 10 p.m. Second is the Tsudome site, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., has tons of snow activities like snow rafting and is great for families.
Last is Station Avenue (Ekimae-dori), which has illuminated ice sculptures not to be missed. These are usually open for viewing until 11 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the last day of the fest.
Most people stay in Sapporo city, but you may need to branch out a little, depending on how early you book it. Reasonably priced accommodation — like hostels and Air BnBs — book up months in advance, so plan early. Some may end up staying in Chitose City, which is closer to New Chitose Airport. However, it’s 30-60 mins away from Sapporo depending on the train you take.
While you’re in the Sapporo area, it’s worth heading out of the city after you get your fill of the snow festival, which you could easily enjoy for at least two days. You can also sightsee in the charming port town of Otaru, with its lighted canal and amazing onsen, or Jozankei for skiing and even more onsen.
Whatever you do, if you’re in Japan during winter, don’t miss this fantastical fest!