Matsuri Days (5): Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival: Art in Snow and Ice, with a Digital Touch

Guide to Japan Travel

The 2019 Sapporo Snow Festival presents sculptures including virtual singer Hatsune Miku, thoroughbred racing horses, and tennis player Ōsaka Naomi. Various digital technologies make the works even more striking.

From Humble Beginnings to Hundreds of Sculptures

The Sapporo Snow Festival dates to the winter of 1950, when a group of local high school students installed six snow sculptures, ranging from three to five meters in height, in the city’s Ōdōri Park 7-chōme area, which at the time was used as a dumping ground for snow cleared from surrounding streets. The event has since become a hallmark of winter in Sapporo, growing even further in recent times to become one of the major winter events in Japan nationwide. Today it annually welcomes over 2.5 million visitors from around the world.

On the occasion of this, its seventieth anniversary, the festival ran February 4–11, 2019, at its main venues of Ōdōri and Susukino. The Ōdōri venue was occupied from 1-chōme to 12-chōme with a variety of large snow sculptures, many created by residents of the city. They ranged in subject matter from popular fictional creations like virtual pop singer Hatsune Miku and characters from Star Wars on the one hand to themes associated with Hokkaidō on the other, including thoroughbred racing horses and the “Red Bear” freight train. In all, some 200 installations were exhibited.

At night, digital technologies, light, and sound are applied to make these snow sculptures even more entertaining. One especially popular technology is projection mapping, which allows the Hatsune Miku snow sculpture to come to life in AR at the swipe of a smartphone.

Other events include a skating rink, a ski jump, and the Hokkaidō Food Square, offering various flavors of the northern island in wintertime.

Related articleSapporo Snow Festival: From Humble Beginnings to Global Fame

“Hard Rock Family Live: Hatsune Miku and Toyama Kasumi on Snow Stage” (STV Square, 4-chōme)

With a guitar shaped like the island of Hokkaidō, Hatsune Miku, the world-famous virtual pop singer, teams up with Toyama Kasumi from the “Bang Dream! Girls Band Party!” smartphone game. (© BDP © CraftEgg © Bushi © CFM. All rights reserved. Cosponsored by Hard Rock Japan, Inc. Snow sculpture planning by STV.)
With a guitar shaped like the island of Hokkaidō, Hatsune Miku, the world-famous virtual pop singer, teams up with Toyama Kasumi from the “Bang Dream! Girls Band Party!” smartphone game. (© BDP © CraftEgg © Bushi © CFM. All rights reserved. Cosponsored by Hard Rock Japan, Inc. Snow sculpture planning by STV.)

After dark, the duo bursts out in color and puts on a light and sound show for the audience, thanks to projection mapping. (© BDP © CraftEgg © Bushi © CFM. All rights reserved. Cosponsored by Hard Rock Japan, Inc. Snow sculpture planning by STV.)
After dark, the duo bursts out in color and puts on a light and sound show for the audience, thanks to projection mapping. (© BDP © CraftEgg © Bushi © CFM. All rights reserved. Cosponsored by Hard Rock Japan, Inc. Snow sculpture planning by STV.)

“Thoroughbreds Galloping Across a Field in Hokkaidō” (Dōshin Snow Square, Ōdōri 5-chōme East)

Fully 98% of Japanese thoroughbred horses are bred and raised in Hokkaidō. Many of the area’s stables are located in the eastern part of Iburi, in the south center of the island, which was also the site of a major earthquake in September 2018. This sculpture was made to express the sentiment that the breeders will overcome these hardships and keep on going. Projection mapping shows these thoroughbreds racing hard by night. (© Hokkaidō Shimbun Press)
Fully 98% of Japanese thoroughbred horses are bred and raised in Hokkaidō. Many of the area’s stables are located in the eastern part of Iburi, in the south center of the island, which was also the site of a major earthquake in September 2018. This sculpture was made to express the sentiment that the breeders will overcome these hardships and keep on going. Projection mapping shows these thoroughbreds racing hard by night. (© Hokkaidō Shimbun Press)

Helsinki Cathedral (HBC Finland Plaza, 7-chōme)

This large snow sculpture is a faithful reproduction of Helsinki Cathedral, a landmark in the Finnish capital. The sculpture was made to commemorate the centenary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland. (© 2019 Hokkaidō Broadcasting Co., Ltd.)
This large snow sculpture is a faithful reproduction of Helsinki Cathedral, a landmark in the Finnish capital. The sculpture was made to commemorate the centenary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland. (© 2019 Hokkaidō Broadcasting Co., Ltd.)

“Wholehearted Transportation Service: Red Bear, Running Day After Day” (Snow HTB Square, Ōdōri 8-chōme)

This sculpture is modeled on a Japan Freight Railway Company engine, pulling freight cars laden with containers. The sculpture of this model DF200 engine, known popularly as the “Red Bear,” was intended to appear as though it was surging right off its stage. At night, the sculpture appears to be transporting foods from Hokkaidō, thanks to projection mapping. (© HTB)
This sculpture is modeled on a Japan Freight Railway Company engine, pulling freight cars laden with containers. The sculpture of this model DF200 engine, known popularly as the “Red Bear,” was intended to appear as though it was surging right off its stage. At night, the sculpture appears to be transporting foods from Hokkaidō, thanks to projection mapping. (© HTB)

“White Star Wars 2019: Celebrating the Release of Star Wars Episode IX” (UHB Family Land, Ōdōri 10-chōme)

Characters like BB-8 and a porg appear in this sculpture together with R2-D2 and C-3PO to commemorate the release of <em>Star Wars</em> Episode IX, slated for the end of 2019 in Japan. Attendees can actually climb into the X-wing sculpture to take pictures of themselves sitting inside it. (© 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.)
Characters like BB-8 and a porg appear in this sculpture together with R2-D2 and C-3PO to commemorate the release of Star Wars Episode IX, slated for the end of 2019 in Japan. Attendees can actually climb into the X-wing sculpture to take pictures of themselves sitting inside it. (© 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.)

Skating Rink (J:COM Square, 1-chōme)

The Sapporo TV Tower overlooks an open-air skating rink, a popular place for family outings and dates alike. Ice-skating classes are also available.
The Sapporo TV Tower overlooks an open-air skating rink, a popular place for family outings and dates alike. Ice-skating classes are also available.

Shiroi Koibito Park Air Ski Jump (HTB Park Air Square, Ōdōri 3-chōme)

Set against a backdrop of neighborhood buildings, this ski jump is 24 meters in height and 60 meters in length, giving skiers and snowboarders alike the space to show off their moves. (© HTB)
Set against a backdrop of neighborhood buildings, this ski jump is 24 meters in height and 60 meters in length, giving skiers and snowboarders alike the space to show off their moves. (© HTB)

Citizen’s Square (9-chōme and 12-chōme)

Citizen’s Square is the stage for distinctive snow sculptures made by local residents. The sculpture at 9-chōme is of Japanese professional tennis player Ōsaka Naomi, while 12-chōme sports a sculpture of Chiko-chan, a character from a variety TV show on NHK.
Citizen’s Square is the stage for distinctive snow sculptures made by local residents. The sculpture at 9-chōme is of Japanese professional tennis player Ōsaka Naomi, while 12-chōme sports a sculpture of Chiko-chan, a character from a variety TV show on NHK.

Susukino Ice World 2019 (Susukino Venue)

The Susukino venue sports ice sculptures along Ekimae-dōri from Minami 4-jō-dōri to Minami 7-jō-dōri.
The Susukino venue sports ice sculptures along Ekimae-dōri from Minami 4-jō-dōri to Minami 7-jō-dōri.

This “sushi galore” ice sculpture appears to contain fish and shellfish used in sushi frozen in mid-swim.
This “sushi galore” ice sculpture appears to contain fish and shellfish used in sushi frozen in mid-swim.

The Illumination Street, with its passage of dazzling decorative lights made by laying a tunnel arch upon blocks of ice, is a perennially popular place for selfies and other photography.
The Illumination Street, with its passage of dazzling decorative lights made by laying a tunnel arch upon blocks of ice, is a perennially popular place for selfies and other photography.

The Ōdōri venue by night as seen from the TV Tower.
The Ōdōri venue by night as seen from the TV Tower.

(Originally written in Japanese. Reporting, text, photos, and videography by Laufen Katsu. Banner photo: Ōdōri Park lit up with Snow Festival Illumination.)

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