Festivals in Japan are some of the most interesting and unique events that take place yearly in Japan. Filled with pomp and circumstance, travelers from all over Japan (and the world) come to these world class events where street food is king. The Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo (largest city in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island) is no different. One of my friends and I made the journey up from the Kansai region last week to see why there was so much fuss surrounding this winter festival. After four days, we know why it is such a big deal.
Things all started off at Kansai International Airport with an afternoon flight bound for Chitose International Airport. After a brief delay, we were off and safely in Sapporo after a short flight. I was very excited because I finally made it to one of my two most elusive Japan travel destinations, Okinawa being the other. Once we stepped off the plane, we were greeted with a blast of cold air before hopping on the JR train for a forty minute ride to our capsule hotel, located between the two largest festival sites.
After a short transfer, we boarded the Sapporo Subway which had impressively wide and spacious cars, joined by very large glass doorways. This is very different than anything I have seen on trains anywhere else in Japan.
Next up was check-in at one of the famed Japanese capsule hotels. No matter what you have heard or read about them, the Hotel Refre in Sapporo was a cut above the rest. I have never stayed in a capsule hotel that was as nice as this one or had as many amenities as this one. After showing up with our reservations in hand, I navigated the Japanese-language check in and my friend and I were off to quickly put down our bags and head off to the Susukino Ice sculpture site after finding a bowl of hearty ramen along the way. Things changed when we found out that the hotel had a very nice onsen, spa, sauna, and steam bath. We wandered the halls for a bit and then were off to start our adventures.
Our walk for dinner greeted us with some familiar, yet unfamiliar winter things, mainly snow and ice. Having grown up in the Northeast and Midwest, we were accustomed to snow removal, snow plows, plowed streets, and clean sidewalks. Sapporo, as we were to find out, skipped the plowing and shoveling. They even skipped salting the walkways!
Anyone who reads this website will quickly find out how much I love meeting new people when I travel and how much I enjoy sharing stories with them. Tonight was no different. As my friend and I approached Sapporo’s famous ramen alley, a soft, American, voice and a tap on the shoulder greeted us. We took photos for her and then she took this photo of us before parting ways a few minutes later. Little did I know, but we would be encountering her again later in the evening.
We walked past several crammed ramen shops, including one boasting that Anthony Bourdain had “come to the here” before settling on our final location at the end of this slice of egg noodle paradise.
At our final destination, we enjoyed some frosty mugs of the Hokkaido-only Sapporo Classic beer and a bowl of spicy ramen. The bamboo stalks and hard boiled eggs which were a part of this broth are what made it the best ramen we ate on this street. The service was also very nice, too. Our server did his best speaking in English and we used Japanese to fill in any communication gaps. It is nice to know that as people come and go the good stores stay and continue to do good business.
With a full belly and a mouth still hot from the spicy broth, we headed to the Susukino Site, home of the snow festival’s ice sculptures. The Sapporo Snow Festival is broken into three different sites. Odori Park, the most famous site, houses the snow scupltures which tower over visitors, some over 40 feet tall. The Susukino Site boasts many fantastic ice sculptures. Finally, the Tsudome site hosts many children’s attractions, a snow removal experience, and ice and snow slides for visitors.
Much to my surprise, the Susukino site was dominated by alcohol advertisements turned into fantastic works of art. They are surrounded by various anime characters, dragons, and other spectacular carvings and sculptures. Here were some of my favorite photos out of the set. We even ran into our new friend from California as we traversed this icy landscape.
I will never forget the two sculptures that were waiting for us at the beginning of this journey: The gate made of frozen fish, and the wall filled of frozen crabs and fish. I had never seen anything like this.
We retreated to our hotel after a long day and prepared for what ended up being a very eventful second day at the snow festival. More to come soon.