Sapporo Snow Festival : Celebrating 68 Years of Winter

The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the major tourist attractions on the island of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, and attracts millions of visitors from around the globe every year. The festival features some of the world’s largest and most elaborate snow and ice sculptures, some over 50 feet tall and comprised of hundreds of tons of snow, such as the ‘Attack on Titan’-themed sculpture constructed at this year’s festival (pictured below).

Snow Festival Ice Sculpture (4)

The origin of the Sapporo Snow Festival may seem rather humble considering how grand it has become over the last 67 years. In 1950, a group of high school students with no prior training save for the tutelage of art teachers from their school gathered in Odori park during one of Hokkaido’s especially cold and dark post-war winters. At this time, Odori park in Winter was fairly unremarkable compared to its current appearance: it was mostly used as a place for snowplows to dump excess snow cleared from the city’s roadways. In a continuation of a tradition put on hold during wartime, these high school students took what would normally be seen as undesirable excess and transformed it into six works of art, such as this sculpture titled simply ‘Kuma’ (bear):


Year after year, the tradition of transforming the city’s freshly-plowed snow into enormous temporary sculptures continued to grow, advancing in 1955 when the nearby Japanese Self-Defense Force Makonamai base decided to participate as a kind of ‘training exercise’ for servicepeople stationed there. Four years after, in 1959, the festival reached a new level of expression as 2,500 JSDF personnel participated in the construction of several record-breakingly large sculptures, attracting domestic television and print media to the event for the first time. Over the years, the JSDF performed a vital role in aiding the festival’s growth as they constructed larger and larger snow sculptures and, in years when snowfall was light, they would use military vehicles to ship in snow from other regions of the island. The festival gained world-wide prestige in 1972, when Sapporo hosted the winter Olympic games and drew an international audience.


Snow sculptures in Odori Park in 1963, alongside the new TV antenna tower

Today, the festival has grown to encompass much more than the original space at Odori Park, having ancillary installation spaces at the nearby Sapporo Community Dome (known commonly as ‘Tsudome’), featuring enormous snow and ice slides for enjoyment by children of all ages, and the Susukino site, featuring beautiful ice sculptures and enchanting artificial ice caves. Sculptures at the festival are created by teams of artists from all over the world and attract major sponsors such as The Walt Disney Company, who sponsored the construction of a colossal ‘Star Wars’-themed sculpture at the Odori Park site in 2015. Other attractions include a fantastical ‘Ice Bar’ at the Susukino site, where adults can enjoy a respite from the cold with a constitution-bolstering libation of their choice inside a bar made entirely from blocks of clear ice.


Snow slides in front of ‘Tsudome’



JSDF Personnel constructing the 2015 ‘Star Wars’ sculpture, featuring Darth Vader and three Storm Troopers


The completed & dramaticlaly-lit sculpture at night during the 2015 festival.

Super Value Tours is happy to announce that as a special consideration for the growing popularity of this special event we will be opening an additional Hokkaido Winter tour departure in February 2017. In addition to the Sapporo Snow Festival, this special tour itinerary features a variety of other inclusions unique to the experience of Hokkaido in Winter, such as a visit to the Asahiyama Zoo for their annual ‘Penguin March’, a ride on the Ryu-hyo Norokko train to visit and walk out onto drift ice on the Okhotsk Sea, and an excursion out onto the frozen Lake Shikaribetsu where those brave enough to do so can enjoy a dip in the open-air onsen.


Asahiyama Zoo’s ‘Penguin March’


Robata Yaki Restaurant - Kushiro (3)2

Guests enjoying a meal at a robatayaki restaurant on tour in Hokkaido


Ice Village - Shikaribetsu Kotan (25)

Guests enjoying the ambience of the ‘Ice Bar’ at Susukino

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If you’re interested in learning more about our special Hokkaido Winter tour itinerary featuring the Sapporo Snow Festival, click here to visit our website and see the full itinerary, pricing, and available departure dates. Space on these two departures are limited, so don’t miss out on your chance to experience the magic of the 68th Sapporo Snow Festival yourself!