Lonely Planet Writer

Sapporo Snow Festival: Japan's biggest winter event kicks off in Hokkaidō

The Sapporo Snow Festival  is set to get under way in the capital city of Hokkaidō, Japan’s northernmost island.

Visitors gather around a large snow sculpture called the snow 'Star Wars' produced by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Sapporo snow festival cooperation group during the 66th annual Sapporo Snow Festival on February 5, 2015
Visitors gather around a large snow sculpture called the snow ‘Star Wars’ produced by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Sapporo  Image by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

Now in its 68th year of running, the ‘Yuki Matsuri’ is one of the country’s biggest events and has become one of the world’s most prominent winter festivals, bringing in an estimated 2 million visitors to its three main sites. The headline attraction is the multiple large-scale snow and ice sculptures displayed in 1.5km-long Ōdōri-kōen (Ōdōri Park) site , which runs through the heart of the city.

Among this year’s sculptures will be replicas of the Arc de Triomphe , the Taipei Guesthouse  and the central hall of Kōfuku-ji, a temple in Nara. There will also be sculptures from popular culture, including one celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, and a battle scene based on video game Final Fantasy. There will be around 250 sculptures on display in all.

There are also wintertime activities, such as snow rafting and a snowman labyrinth at the Tsudome community dome site, and elsewhere the opportunity for kids to use a snow slide that looks like a Cup Noodle.