Over 50 years ago, a group of high school students on the Japanese island of Hokkaido decided to build snow sculptures. They invited the public to visit, and come they did. “The festival attracted about fifty thousand people and soon became a major winter event of Sapporo,” the 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival official history reads.
In modern times, millions of people visit Hokkaido’s largest city – Sapporo, like the beer of the same name – each February to celebrate the Sapporo Snow Festival. It’s easy to see why:
Though I wasn’t lucky enough to be there myself, my former colleague-turned-composer Dale North flew to Sapporo for the festivities. Here’s a tour through his eyes of the best snow sculptures from this year’s festival!
The 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival ran from February 1 through to February 12. Sometimes snow is brought in for the festival, but Sapporo gets plenty snowy on its own as well.
The city of Sapporo is beautiful unto itself, and acts as a beautiful setting for the annual festival.
This view of Sapporo from above helps to illustrate how nice the city is unto itself. It’s a sister city with Munich in Germany and Portland in the US, among others.
The festival is held in designated parts of town. Snow sculptures, for instance, take up their own area. Here’s one starring characters from “Final Fantasy XIV,” a relatively recent entry in the long-running “Final Fantasy” video game series.
Though not all of the festival’s sculptures are large, there are some absolutely massive structures like this one:
And this monument to famous manga artist Osamu Tezuka featuring Astro Boy:
And this tribute to everyone’s favourite 2AM munchie: Cup Noodles!
In addition to snow sculptures, there are ice sculptures as well!
The ice section is called “Ice World” — pretty on the nose!
It, too, is home to noodle homage.
This extremely elaborate, circular dragon isn’t too shabby either.
Dragons, as it turns out, are a popular subject for ice sculpture.
Even the smoking section is encased in ice walls!
And this tribute to the beer named after Sapporo, served all around the world, is similarly fantastic.
There are dozens of ice sculptures at the Susukino section of the Sapporo Snow Festival, and visitors are encouraged to slowly walk along and take it all in.
It’s an easy sell: Just look at this gorgeous night scene.
But let’s not kid ourselves — you’re here for the elaborate snow creations, right? Check out these chickens engaged in battle!
And this whale making a big splash!
And yes, as expected, there are plenty of recent cultural references here. Check out these sweet manga cats!
It’s not all Japanese cultural references, either. Your favourite “Minions” showed up in Sapporo.
Even Charlie Brown and Snoopy paid a visit, doghouse and all.
Colonel Sanders even made the long trip to Hokkaido from Kentucky for this year’s festival.
There are plenty of snow sculptures that pay homage to far older cultural references as well. We’re still talking about sculpture after all — an artistic medium that’s been in use for thousands of years of human civilisation.
It makes a lot of sense to see homage to the massive Buddhist and Hindu sculpture of Asia, for instance.
That’s why you’re just as likely to see a gorgeous floral sculpture like this as you are to see a “Minions” sculpture.
No matter the size or level of detail involved, all the Sapporo Snow Festival sculptures are — by their very nature — ephemeral. That’s why visiting is so special: It’s a once in a lifetime chance to see these sculptures before they disappear forever.
Which makes these hulking buildings made entirely out of snow all the more impressive. Imagine sculpting a building by hand, knowing it’s only going to last a short period of time.
The stage is also made out of snow, and it’s a usable stage for musical performances during the festival.
Here’s another look at the same building:
There are <em>plenty</em> of manga and anime-based sculptures, to say nothing of sculptures dedicated to “Idols” (musicians).
This Aqours sculpture, for instance, references the idol group of the same name that sprung from <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Live!_Sunshine!!”>the anime “Love Live! Sunshine!!”</a>
Here are a few more sculptures from this year’s festival. First things first: Medusa!
OK let’s walk that back a bit — here’s an adorable bear holding a heart.
This panda-as-sphinx is pretty fantastic as well.
Don’t even get me started on whatever this guy in the lower right is.
It’s understandable why over two million people visit the Sapporo Snow Festival each year: It’s full of ornately detailed, limited-edition works of art.
For now, the festival is closed for another year. The time is right to book your flight and hotel for next February’s festivities!
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