It’s The 63rd Annual Sapporo Snow Festival This Week! Who’re You Rooting For?

Japan is known to for their bizarre and over-the-top festivals. A few that come to mind are the 裸祭り (はだかまつり, Naked Festival), the かなまら祭り (かなまらまつり, Penis Festival), and the 御柱 (おんばしら, festival with the extreme log riding).

Not all of their festivals are conceptually odd.

It may surprise some of you that not all Japanese activities are way out there. Take for example, the さっぽろ雪祭り (さっぽろゆきまつり, Sapporo Snow Festival). The name itself sounds innocent enough, right? Innocent enough to be able to take the family or date to, at least.

What is the Snow Festival?

The Sapporo Snow Festival is held annually every February for a week in the Hokkaido city that brings you the oldest Japanese brand of premium beers, *drum roll* Sapporo.

Sapporo hanging out in Hokkaido. Japan’s fourth largest city.

If you have read my YukiGassen article, then you may have come to the conclusion that the Hokkaido area receives a hefty amount of snow every winter. You, sir and/or madam, are correct. With all the snow, art such as these are born.

Can you guess who this is?

Why settle for a commoner’s igloo when you can have a palace?

Check out the level of detail!

Before we dive into the details, let’s go through a brief history lesson of the festival.

When and how did it originate?

There must be something about Japanese high school students being very proactive. Similar to how YukiGassen started, the origins of the Sapporo Snow Festival began at Sapporo’s Odori Park, where in 1950, several high school students built snow statues.

Five years later, the festival’s first massive snow structure was built (by none other than the Japanese Self Defense Force). JSDF is Japan’s national military, for those who are unaware.

The festival began to see it’s international popularity skyrocket when the Winter Olympics came to town in 1972. Responding to the international recognition of the event, in 1974, the International Snow Sculpture Contest was born. Many teams of many nationalities joined the yearly festivities. Sapporo’s sister cities, Portland (OR, USA), Munich (Germany), Shenyang (China), Novosibirsk (Russia), and Daejeon (South Korea), are consistent participants of the contest.

63rd Annual Sapporo Snow Festival Poster

This year makes the Sapporo’s 63rd Snow Festival. And guess what? It’s happening this week!

Sapporo Snow Festival: Would you like to know more?

On average for the last five years, the event brings in over two million visitors. The last two years, numbers were nearing two-and-a-half million. This is quite an achievement, if you compare the number against Sapporo’s population of 1.9 million. That’s a paltry ~125% of the city’s population.

This year, 228 snow sculptures are expected to be on display. You may be asking yourself, “Is there even enough snow to go around? It can’t snow THAT much in one area out in boondocks Hokkaido.” Dear reader, thank you for asking the relevant questions.

Indeed, there is usually not enough snow in the event area to supply sculptures the needed snow. So what is the solution? Have the JSDF truck in the snow from outside the city.

Japanese Self Defense Force: Professional snow sculptures?

While it may seem to be not a good use of military resources, the JSDF does consider it a training exercise. So it’s a win-win for civilians and the military. Just how much snow is hauled into the city annually? Numbers for this year are estimated to be 6,500 five-ton truck loads. In other words, 32,500 metric tons of snow (29,500 tons, for our North American friends).

Personally, I would hire dekotoras to haul in the snow. Do it in style, am I right?

Dressed for the festivities!

The process of building a massive snow sculpture takes months of planning. To build the framework, haul the snow, and do the sculpting is usually done a month leading to the event. Click on the image below to see an animated timeline of the construction of one of these sculptures.

Click on Chopper to see an animated timeline of the construction of this sculpture.

This year, sixteen international teams are competing in the international snow sculpture event. The teams and their sculpture ideas are listed below.

India
Indonesia
Singapore

Sweden

Thailand

Chile

Daejeon (South Korea; Sister City)

New Zealand

Novosibirsk (Russia; Sister City)

Hawaii (USA)

Portland (Oregon, USA; Sister City)

Malaysia

Finland

Hong Kong

Lithuania

Additional details about each concept can be found on Sapporo’s Snow Festival event website.

Unlike the non-competition massive sculptures, the international teams only have four days to complete their creations. It’s great to see a lot of hot climate nations participating the event, especially Hawaii. Didn’t expect to see them on the list, but I guess Hawaiians can do sand sculptures, right?

Who are you all rooting for? There are a lot of interesting sculpture concepts, but I’ll be rooting for Tofugu’s home city, Portland. I have to say, Sweden’s concept got a chuckle out of me. It reminds me of the Trojan Horse, but in moose form. Better watch out Sapporo!

  • Anonymous

    I think Hawaii’s concept would be really neat to see made out of snow!  I wonder how big the sculptures will be given only 4 days time, or is there a standard competition size it’s supposed to be? 

    Gotta say I’ll be rooting for Sweden….a moose in a box = genius! lol (plus moose remind me of Canada, so in my weird head it’s like I’m rooting for my native homeland) ;)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I so want to go to here D:

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    Upon closer inspection of Sweden’s concept, it looks like a moose using a urinal. Which is pretty awesome imho.

  • Chibibuto

    Is that going to be the next YouTube video ;)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    i wishhh

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    +1 for Hawaii’s concept. Looks the most difficult, I’d say.

  • Anonymous

    Sweet!  A One PiecexToriko sculpture! :D  I wonder if there are any other anime sculptures?

  • Sandra03

    I think what’s really interesting is the fact that Hawaii is competing at all. It’s as crazy as a Jamaican bobsled team! (if you don’t get that reference you’re too young, or I’m too old)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    you dead mon? yeah mon, I dead mon.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    But they had a Canadian coaching them, John Candy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1683981757 Josh Thorsen

    Chile’s seems harder to me, so little support for those sphere-halves!

  • ZXNova

    It seems ironic for Hawaii to make one since they NEVER get any snow.

  • ZXNova

    Most of the countries I see on this list usually NEVER get any snow. (Ex: India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and possibly Hong Kong, Hawaii)

  • http://www.riatarded.wordpress.com/ ria

    Ok this is way cool! Forget Madame Tussauds, I want to go here! 

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    It’s my 5th winter in Japan, but I’ve never been to the Sapporo Snow Festival. It’s just so far away and I have no holidays in February. One day I want to go, though.

    Also, I always wonder where you guys get your photos from as none of you (the authors) seems to live in Japan at the moment?!
     

  • Kiriain

    Write off the vacation as a business expense.

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    For my articles, you can find the source for most of the images if you click on the image itself. The photos generally come from the following sources

    1) Creative Commons Database (for example, Flickr’s CC search)
    2) Google Images (Generally for stock-type photos that can be found everywhere on the net)
    3) My personal photos (very rare)

    Personally, I would love to provide photos of my own as I enjoy doing photography (hit up my photo blog). When we go do another tour to duty, expect tons of original photos, at least from me :)

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

     Oh, I didn’t want to sound accusing or anything, I was just curious! ^-^

    Thanks for the detailed explanation.
    I’m looking forward to those photos then!! ^-^

  • Rashmi

    I wish I could see all that…

    What happens after the festival? Does the snow get shipped back to wherever it was brought from? 

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    I didn’t read your comment as an accusation. You asked a legitimate question. :)

  • Spectator

    I’ve been to the Sapporo Snow Festival a couple of times. The competition teams all have a standard sized block of snow to sculpt everything out of. I don’t know the exact measurements, but they’re not ridiculously large – maybe a 10’x10’x10′ cube? The “normal” snow sculptures have to fit in a 2m x 2m x 2m cube.

  • Jgh

    When I lived in Hong Kong, we had a family outing one year to see “the” snow – a gentle sprinkle of powder at the top of The Peak ;)

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I’m already doing that with TofuguTV stuff, haha… gotta finish this set before doing another…

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonadab.theunsightlyone Jonadab the Unsightly One

    Do they have a big snowball fight?  I think they should have a big snowball fight that anyone attending the festival can participate in.  Divide everyone into two teams, start on opposite sides of the festival grounds, wait for the starter pistol, then start making snowballs…

  • http://www.vietamins.com Viet

    There are side activities such as snow slides or such, but I haven’t heard anything about an organized snow ball fight.

    However, there is YukiGassen http://www.tofugu.com/2012/01/19/yukigassen-japanese-snowball-fighting-sport/ :)

  • Ramya Iyer

    hey koichi i went to the snow festival this year and saw all these sculptures and it was so awesome! thanks for the article