The 66th Sapporo Snow Festival – A Photographic Essay

The first evening in Sapporo was very memorable as my friend and I had our first glimpse into Sapporo cuisine while also sampling some of the local specialty Sapporo beers and checking out the ice sculptures at the Susukino ice sculpture site very near our hotel. Our second day in Sapporo was a much longer affair filled with more sightseeing and encounters with spectacular snow sculptures at the main Odori Park staging grounds.

When it comes to booking hotels when I am on vacation, it is all about location, location, location. The capsule hotel for the Snow Festival did not disappoint. We were equidistant between both of these sites and within eyeshot of one of my favorite components of the snow festival: the freestyle snowboard and ski ramps. I certainly expected to see many elegant snow sculptures in Sapporo, but not ski jumpers showing off their aerial skills each morning, afternoon, and night. My friend and I trekked over to the ramp to watch a few rounds of jumps before moving onward. It was my first time watching snowboarding like this in person and it was very impressive.

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The snowboarders during the morning session got some serious air as American rock music and some sort of Russian electronic music played in the background. It was certainly an interesting sight to behold. After watching this for almost an hour, we headed off, through Odori Park to take in the most spectacular snow sculptures I have ever seen.

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First up for the morning was this stunning Star Wars sculpture. Even if the Sith theme song was not playing in the background, you could hear Darth Vader’s voice, the lasers firing out the Tie Fighters, and even the humming of a lighsaber as you walked past this masterpiece. The details on all of the figures were so intricate. Everything from grooves on the Death Star to the visors on the Storm Troopers was taken into account for this one. In all honesty, a photo does not give this sculpture justice.

Next up was a trip down memory lane from some of my prior Asian adventures. I certainly did not expect to see my favorite temple from Taipei or the Manila Cathedral in all their splendor, but I sure did. First up was the Taiwanese temple: DSC01595

Further down the street past an assortment of food stalls and smaller sculptures, the Manila Cathedral stood. I had heard through some posts on twitter that the cathedral was here, but I was not expecting to see a sculpture as large, detailed and beautiful as this one. I was taken back to my time in Manila back in October by this beauty. All that was missing were the fountains, the statue of King Phillip, and a few palm trees.

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There were even salmon waiting for us at this juncture in the trip.

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From there, we continued onward passing more, smaller, sculptures and the international submissions to the sculpture competition going on at the far end of Odori Park. We turned around and headed back towards the Television Tower to see if anything else was happening at the snowboarding area and to grab some lunch. A few very nice ice sculptures were waiting for us.

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As night began to fall, we quickly headed off for some more of Sapporo’s famous miso ramen and decided to go to a place where “Anthony Bordain had come to the here.” For some reason, we thought this would be the best establishment at Ramen Alley, but we were mistaken. I still took a photo of the sign, for good measure.

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With our guts filled with some savory ramen and Sapporo beer, we walked back to Odori Park to see the sculptures in all of their nighttime splendor. All of this took place on beaten, worn, and treacherous snow-covered sidewalks. My friend and I slipped and fell countless times throughout the weekend. After a ten minute walk, we were back at the snow park and watched some great nighttime snowboarding. Believe it or not, children as young as nine and ten years old were jumping off this ramp!

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We continued down the street and words could not describe how cool the Star Wars display looked in the midst of its light show. With music blaring and lights flashing to a synchronized rhythm, this was one of the more memorable moments of the festival for me.

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After a few more near falls, slips, and a king crab leg on a stick, we encountered what was the most spectacular component of the whole festival: the projection mapping display on a temple facade. Watch as one of Japan’s most famous temples comes alive:

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After seeing these magnificent light displays, we continued onward to see the Taiwanese temple yet again before checking out some of the submissions into the international snow sculpture design contest. While Malaysia isn’t exactly known for its show, they even had a team there! I took a photo of their sculpture following an interesting chat with the person in charge of the design and carving.

Even the USS Constitution was here! This was my favorite small-scale sculpture at the whole festival, for obvious reasons.

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Even Cup Noodles had a sculpture at this festival!

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As we continued tripping, slipping, and nearly falling back toward our hotel, we decided to change course and go to the Sapporo TV tower to get the best view of the whole festival– from the tower’s observation deck. On the way there, we saw some of our favorite ice sculptures from the day turned into true masterpieces at night. The royal couple, an eagle, and the Shinkansen were a few of many. The ice sculptures, much like the snow sculptures, looked much better at night than they did during the day.

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Our final view of the night was the most breathtaking of all.

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As someone living and working in Japan, I constantly heard suggestions about traveling to Sapporo to see the snow festival over the course of the past two years. While I will admit that it was not high on my list when I first arrived in Japan in July, 2013, I crust say that I am very happy that I cam dot see it this year. The sheer number of tourists in Sapporo help give the festival a unique vibe. Couple that with the never-ending array of delicious Japanese street food and the beautiful snow and ice artwork and all the ingredients for a memorable weekend were in place. Things would get even more interesting the next day as my friend and I headed to the famous Sapporo brewery and to a few other places around town.

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Snow in Manila? Check out this Manila Cathedral snow sculpture!

There were a lot of amazing snow sculptures at the 66th Annual Sapporo Snow Festival, but the most intricate and artistic of them all was the replica of the Manila Cathedral. How would you rate the resemblance? I was brought back to a much warmer place when I first saw this sculpture a few days ago. Everything from the cross to the stained glass windows to the figurines and Latin script on the front was dead on. I was very impressed. Here is a comparative photo.

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2015 Sapporo Snow Festival: Day 1

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.

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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. DSC01430

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.

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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!

Snowy Streets

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.

Ramen Alley on a blustery Thursday night in Sapporo.
Ramen Alley on a blustery Thursday night in Sapporo.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Solemn Walk

A Solemn Walk

Yesterday I had the pleasure of capturing this image in Nara, Japan, on Coming of Age Day where women who turn twenty years old wear their kimono, put on their best makeup, and go to the local shrines and temples. While there were many kimonos to be photographed, this was my favorite photograph I took of people during the day.

This is a scene which would be hard to replicate outside of Japan.

Greetings from Washington, D.C.

Greetings from our nation’s capital! As you can see from my most recent postings, I am making the rounds on the East Coast before I leave for Japan in two weeks. Visiting friends, rekindling business contacts, and enjoying good fare and company have been at the top of my list as I have been to New York, Philadelphia, and Washington over the past three weeks. Here is how the Capitol Rotunda Dome looked yesterday. I was a tour guide here along with being a Senate intern in 2011.

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