Skate along to the Sapporo Snow Festival
For this week's 52 Weekend entry, we take you to the Sapporo Snow Festival. The festival takes place every year in February on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. The show pits teams of ice and snow sculptors from across Japan and the world in a contest to see who can create the most impressive sculptures. Past entries include recreations of Japanese castles, Hawaiian palaces, or the whale sharks of Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium. The massive scale of these sculptures draws millions of awed onlookers each year in a celebration of all things big and cold.
Although the Snow Festival started small, just a group of high-school kids playing in the snow of Sapporo’s Odori Park in 1950, the event has grown quickly, adding an ice sculpture contest on the streets of the Susukino nightlife area, and most recently a family-oriented area at Tsudome featuring snow mazes and enormous slides.
After gawking at the snow sculptures at Odori Park or playing with your kids (or friends) at Tsudome, Susukino is the place to be. Patrons of the surrounding eateries, bars, and nightclubs spill out onto the streets of Susukino to continue their revelry amidst the often perplexing ice sculptures. Luckily some of the ice sculptures are actually ice bars.
Hearty Sapporo eats
After filling up on Sapporo Beer, Nikka Whiskey, or any of the local shochu or nihonshu, the traditional end to a night of drinking in Japan is a savory bowl of ramen noodles, and even if you're not hungry, nor into traditions, Sapporo’s ramen is is worth a taste. The local Sapporo variety of ramen features a heartier soup made with miso paste, topped with a slab of butter, corn, or even an entire Hokkaido crab, depending on the shop you visit. To find the perfect bowl of oily, salty goodness, head to Ramen Alley in Susukino (map).
Sapporo has plenty of other great foods to try, like jingisukan a.k.a. “Ghengis Khan,” which despite its name is actually strips of lamb and vegetables that you grill yourself at your table. Dedicated carnivores will want to order their mutton at a restaurant like the Kirin Beer Garden (Japanese site, map here) that offers tabe-houdai, or all-you-can-eat.
A warm night after the snow fight
Although the tremendous popularity of the Snow Festival means hotel rates can climb high compared to the off season, thanks to the opening of several new hotels competition has kept prices fairly reasonable. A hotel near Sapporo Station will ensure easy access via train and subway to the entire city, with our budget pick going to the Sapporo Aspen Hotel, or the Cross Hotel Sapporo for a mid-range hotel. Expect to pay around ¥12,500 per person per night for a mid-range hotel during the weekend of the festival, but come just before, or just after, and the prices go down.
Powder hounds love Hokkaido
Powder hounds on their way to Sapporo should be salivating at the chance to hit Hokkaido’s slopes. Hokkaido is home to some of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding sites thanks to its legendary powder snow. The winter sports epicenter of Hokkaido is undoubtedly the triple-threat of Niseko An’nupuri, Grand Hirafu, and Niseko Village, a spectacular, sprawling, interlinked resort that's worthy of a full week and not just a weekend visit.
There are plenty of hotels in Niseko for those who want to dedicate their time to the powder gods, but for those based in Sapporo reservations on a limited Niseko Ski Express train, to cut down on travel and maximize slope-time, are available. The tickets go for around ¥4,500 and more information can be found on the JR Hokkaido website, or by asking in person at the JR Sapporo Station information counter.
Content provided by: JAPANiCAN.com is the English-language hotel reservation site of the JTB Group, Japan’s largest travel company. In addition to a full lineup of hotels in Sapporo, Niseko, and other Hokkaido sightseeing areas, JAPANiCAN.com also offers travel packages combining hotels in Sapporo with flights from Tokyo.