Sapporo White Illumination: Lighting Up the Winter Nights

Guide to Japan

Winter is the season for grand illuminated displays in Japan. The venerable Sapporo White Illumination event takes place for the thirty-eighth time this year. With installations large and small lining Ōdori Park, and the Station Square and even roadside trees decorated with bright lights, the city is cloaked in glittering beauty as winter sets in.

A Sapporo Tourist Highlight for 38 Years

Sapporo White Illumination is an annual event that sees the Hokkaidō city’s streets brilliantly lit up by night. It began in 1981 as an idea for an alternative winter event to the celebrated Sapporo Snow Festival. Originally called White Illumination Sapporo Plaza, the earliest such events took place only at Ōdōri Park 2 Chōme, and involved just around 1,000 light bulbs.

This year, for the thirty-eighth such event, installations of light large and small, including a tower of light and a glittering tunnel, have been built all over the primary venues of Ōdōri Park, stretching from 1 Chōme to 6 Chōme, and the Station Square outside the south exit of Sapporo Station. LEDs of various colors also adorn the roadside trees along Ekimae Dōri, the road that fronts the station, as well as Minami 1-jō Dōri and Akapla, the Kita 3-jō Plaza. These days, the event has become a landmark of Sapporo in winter, even being named one of the top three illuminations in Japan. From humble beginnings, it has grown into a monster of a show, taking over 800,000 lights to produce all of this decoration.

White Illumination seen from Sapporo TV Tower at Ōdōri Park 1 Chōme.

The German Christmas Market in Sapporo, a collaboration between Sapporo and sister city Munich, has taken place in Ōdōri Park in conjunction with Sapporo White Illumination since 2002. Street stalls are set up here selling mulled wines, German cuisine, and Christmas merchandise, making the event even more grand.

The show begins in the latter part of November, and the Ōdōri Park venues, including the German Christmas Market, stay open through December 25. In recent years, the lights have been left on in the other venues after this date. The Ekimae Dōri display remains up until February 11, Japan’s National Foundation Day, which is also when the Sapporo Snow Festival ends. The remaining venues stay lit up through March 14, allowing passers-by the opportunity to enjoy roadside light shows through White Day.

The Tree of Romantic Promise

Ōdōri Park 1 Chōme

The Seventeenth Sapporo-Munich Christmas Market

Ōdōri Park 2 Chōme

The Blooming Fountain

Ōdōri Park 3 Chōme

The Palace of Sparkling Jewels

Ōdōri Park 4 Chōme

Glittering Forest Circles

Ōdōri Park 6 Chōme

Station Square Illumination

South Exit Station Square, Sapporo Station

Ekimae Dōri

Minami 1-jō Dōri

Akapla Illumination

Akapla, Sapporo Kita 3-jō Square

(Originally written in Japanese. Photos and video by by Laufen Katsu.)

Sapporo tourism Hokkaidō festival snow