What to See and Eat at the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido
The Sapporo Snow Festival is held annually for one week every February in Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital. The festival supposedly started in 1950 when high school students built a few snow statues in Odori Park which has since developed into a large commercialized event featuring snow and ice sculptures while attracting millions of visitors from around the world. The main site of the festival is staged at Odori Park where the large sculptures are lit up until 10pm at night.
Even though the cost of hotel and airfare can get pretty expensive during the snow festival in Sapporo, I actually flew in a few days earlier before the start of the festival and left after the first day so the costs wasn't too bad for my duration. These pictures were taken in 2012 at the Odori Park where sculptures of all sizes and subjects stretch for about 3-4 blocks. No admission fee is required so expect lots of people including locals and tourists at the park. I was very impressed with the magnitude of the snow sculptures and you will actually find entries from different countries around the world on display as well.
I'd also recommend going to the top of the Sapporo TV Tower at the end of the Odori Park to get a fantastic view of the entire snow festival from above! Admission to the top observatory deck costs ¥720 per person and you can actually get a 360 degree view of the city center too.
Another observatory deck in Sapporo is the T38 Observation Deck at the top of the JR Tower building above Sapporo Station. The view is also 360 degrees and the observatory space is a lot more modern compared to the Sapporo TV Tower with chairs available for you to sit and enjoy the view at your own pace. We came here at night to catch the sunset and it was a beautiful sight to see! Cost is also ¥720 per person.
Another festival held at the same time as the bigger snow festival is the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru! Held at the Otaru Canal, it lights up from 5-9pm everyday during the 10 day festival. Honestly I think I preferred this festival more because it is a lot more intimate with smaller sculptures and there's just something magical about the combination of snow and light. I really enjoyed walking down pathways lit up with candles, hanging lanterns and lighted sculptures all around.
Don't worry if you get hungry because there are booths selling hot soup and steaming crabs at the site.
We actually ducked into a restaurant across the street from the canal for some sushi!
We also took a side trip to Jozankei Onsen (定山渓温泉) located one hour away from Sapporo and booked a night's stay at one of the ryokan that offered transportation to and from Sapporo so it was convenient and hassle-free. There wasn't much to do in the winter because the heavy snow blocked some of the paths to the hikes but staying inside and soaking in onsen was a relaxing experience as well.
A steaming hot foot bath along a public street. Why not?
Staying at a traditional ryokan also means awesome Japanese kaiseki cuisine!
Other places to eat in Sapporo include the Nijo Market which is the equivalent of the Tsukiji market in Tokyo where you can get your hands on the freshest seafood in town. The market opens from 7am to 6pm so best to get there early before things start to sell out.
There's a few restaurants inside the market that offers fresh seafood over rice. This is a sanshoku donburi (3 color rice bowl) that I got with toro, ikura and uni!
Another famous eating destination has to be the Ramen Alley! Known as the birthplace of miso ramen, this tiny alley is home to more than a dozen ramen shops so it can be hard to decide where you want to eat at first.
Most people come to Sapporo to try its rich miso ramen topped with sweetcorn, butter, char siu and sometimes local seafood like scallops and crabs. I had one with scallops and it was so delicious especially in the cold and harsh winter weather.
Access: Fly directly into Sapporo's main airport - New Chitose Airport (CTS). Alternatively, you can take the new Hokkaido Shinkansen train from mainland Japan - you can purchase the JR Rail Pass through my affiliated link here (there's no additional cost to you but I will make a commission if you click through and make a purchase)!
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