Before we go on, let me preface this post with four words: I.Hate.Public.Transportation.
I hate the claustrophobic feeling, the recycled/stale air, the crowds…just…no. That’s why I prefer to walk anywhere and everywhere. It’s partly why my website is called barefoot global. Anyways, I managed to continue that trend at this year’s Sapporo Yuki Matsuri!Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival) is one of the biggest events in Japan that does nothing other than celebrate snow. Taking place in the capital city of Hokkaido, the most northern island of Japan, means that there is going to be snow literally everywhere. Sidewalks have vanished to make way for tunnels in the snow that you are then forced to walk in. I mean, look at this picture, that pile of snow is larger than most of the cars!It really creates the sense of a winter wonderland. When you add that to the MANY attractions and snow – themed displays around the city, the ambiance cannot be beat. Furthermore, everything I’m about to mention is about a twenty minute walk from the central downtown of Sapporo! What luck!I want to share with you how to get to these places and avoid the insane crowds of Japanese festivals. So, with my disdain for public transport in mind, here is my list of the top 5 place to visit in Sapporo during the Snow Festival. Use this map as a base. Sapporo Station is your center!
5. Hokkaido University – Founded in 1876 by William S. Clark as an agricultural college, Hokkaido University is now a member of Japan’s National Seven Universities as one of the best schools in Japan. Its alumni range from astronauts and one of the pioneers of cloning technology, to authors and the oldest man to climb Mt. Everest. It is an astounding school.
However, I’d been wanting to visit this school for an entirely different reason than its educational prowess; I wanted to see it’s campus. Only a short walk away from downtown Sapporo’s Sapporo Station, the campus spreads out into a small town with it’s own farms, power stations, lakes, sports domes/courts, and a gorgeous central boulevard to connect it all.
Essentially…I’m a fan.
Furthermore, when I visited, it was in the beginning of February and the entire campus was covered in snow. The ponds were iced over, snowmen could be found all throughout the woods and you could even see students gathering to make igloos! Yes, I am not kidding, they were making igloos and it was awesome. I’m assuming it was Intro to Architecture ;).
Anyways, this may be a bit less festive or touristy of a spot to visit but I would highly recommend going and seeing what collegiate life is like in Sapporo. Stroll through their central boulevard, admire the beautiful forests and creeks of the campus and maybe chill out at one of their cafes. It’ll be worth the walk.
4. Tsudome – What’s winter without winter sports? What’s a snow festival without snow activities? Well at the Yuki Matsuri you can visit the Tsudome site to do all sorts of activities from sledding, being pulled along by snowmobiles, navigating through snowman mazes, go on zip-lines and….go rock climbing?Colloquially known as Tsudome, the Sapporo Community Dome is a multipurpose exhibit hall located a little outside Sapporo’s downtown. While many of the Snow Festival’s main events occur in the city, the Tsudome is used to offer what urban locations can’t; physical activities. As I said before, the Tsudome site offers the chance to go sledding, play with snowmobiles and more.
However, there is one caveat I want to WARN you about…lines.
Everywhere you go there are going to be tons and tons of lines. I didn’t get the chance to go sledding because it was a 1 hour 15 minute wait in the blinding snow. I decided to pass. However, it is a fun place to walk around and see some of the snow sculptures and people having fun.. Inside the dome itself you can find bouncy castles (again, for kids) and ALL the festival food your heart could desire. I’m talking Japanese food, Indian food, burgers, everything. Lexi and I couldn’t pass up on a juicy venison burger and doner kebab from Jewels Restaurant stand. It was to die for.
P.S. Bring sunglasses, the sun was reflecting off the snow so much I thought I went blind. I was literally crying from pain. Don’t be dumb like me!
3. Susukino & Ramen Alley – You cannot visit Sapporo without visiting Ramen Alley and that just happens to be in Susukino, so its a win-win situation!So…technically, Susukino is the official red-light district of Sapporo and known as one of the official red-light districts of Japan along the same level as Kabukicho in Tokyo. However, don’t let that deter you. It has maintained that title because it was established as such at Sapporo’s founding in 1871. The original brothels themselves have been completely removed and replaced with fun restaurants, bars, hotels and more. Yes there is still elements of “adult entertainment” but you can easily pass that by and not be affected by it, if you so choose. Plus, this is the location for the Yuki Matsuri’s ice sculpture promenade!
The ice sculptures begin right outside Susukino station and continue down the street for a few blocks displaying an incredible amount of creativity and skill.
Another great area lies in a dark alley to the side of the ice sculptures and away from the flashy lights of the Susukino crosswalk. If you venture down one of the side streets you’ll encounter Ramen Alley which features a small walkway through a building with numerous ramen shops lining the walls. This place gets a lot of criticism for being a tourist trap…and well it is. But its ok. Its a trap for a reason, its a fun and good place. I have been living in Japan for 7 months and have had tons of ramen. The spicy miso ramen here was very good and I would recommend it. Mainly because they didn’t put that freaking sweet corn in it! My god…
Another great place is a the Milk Cafe in Susukino that allows you to eat ice cream with various liquor toppings dripped on it. More on that in a later post…
2. Exploring – I cannot stress this enough, just get up and walk around whenever you are in a new city. I promise you will find some of the coolest things in the city and create some amazing memories that you will cherish for a long time. This is one of the reasons I like walking everywhere, it gives me a map in my head to kind of know where I’m going at all times and what’s around those areas. It makes me feel more at home in a strange new town :).In Sapporo I did this and managed to find some rented out Airbnb igloos, the Hokkaido Shrine, a giant snowman and beautiful old government building, and the Sapporo Bier Garten!
Let’s start it off. As Lexi and I were walking back from Hokkaido University, we took the main street straight down until we came across a large park with ornate metal fences surrounding it. As we slipped into the entrance we realized we were at the former Hokkaido Government Office.Now a tourist attraction, the gorgeous red bricked building offers a museum, souvenir shop and tourist information in addition to its snow covered gardens and the awesome snowman you can see below.
Funny note, I asked a man to take this picture of Lexi and I only to have a nearby elderly Japanese man take the camera and proceed to take almost 15 photos of us in various angles and distances. It was really random and he just kept smiling away telling us we looked good. Well we did, so I went with it 🙂
Right across the street from the government building I was lucky enough to stumble across an Airbnb exhibit of…igloos. That’s right. Freaking igloos! It was awesome, they were designed as one rooms and two room lodgings for adventurous soles coming to the Sapporo Snow Festival. Yup, people were actually staying in these while people swarmed around and took pictures.
I wouldn’t have known they were anything other than sculptures had it not been for the vibrant pink Airbnb logo above each igloo. Unmistakable. I thought it was awesome marketing.
Another great location that we visited was the Sapporo Bier Garten. This was quite a walk and took about 40 minutes walking across the city. It was
soooo worth it, however. Sapporo Beer, one of Japan’s most distinct and powerful beer breweries, offers tours of its brewery in addition to a bier garten where you can buy all you can eat/drink lamb/pork buffets. For only ¥4000 yen a person for 110 minutes, it is not bad at all.
You can choose from three beers, a black, a blonde, and a half & half. In addition, you are given a pile of veggies and meats to cook in front of you to your liking throughout the night. If you happen to run out? Just order more, it is not a problem.
Don’t forget the fat though! It won’t cook as well, otherwise 🙂My party had a lot of fun here and and stayed until closing time. This is what are bill eventually looked like. They could have just said something…Anyways, these are just a few examples of things you can find from walking around central Sapporo and doing a little of exploring. Don’t miss out!
1. Odori Park – Now for the one place you absolutely must visit in Sapporo for the Yuki Matsuri, the one and only Odori Park. All drama aside, this is the center piece of the city and festival. You will find what seems like hundreds of snow sculptures lined across the park, multiple food gardens with all kinds of delectable goodies, a snowboard competition, and the Sapporo TV Tower. Simply put, you have to do this.
The park itself is separated into blocks with roads bordering each area; however, during the festival most of these roads are blocked off so that foot traffic can go to and from without concern. Well…at least not concern from cars, the sidewalks are pretty much completely snow and ice so dig in those heels!
There is a flow of traffic so try to keep with that, otherwise you will literally be swimming up stream. I’m not kidding. Besides you don’t know what you’ll miss otherwise, just do the full loop to see sculptures like these!
Or, hopefully, the international contest will continue and you can see professional artists competing for their countries!
However, beyond all of this, the most impressive sculptures are always separate from one another and are usually a few stories tall. One year they had a Jurassic Park exhibit but this year they had Star Wars!
It even had a light show to go with it!
Don’t be overwhelmed though, there’s still more to see. One block away is the snowboard competition right in front of the Sapporo TV Tower. Here you could watch athletes competing on a mini jump to show off their skills.A little bit beyond that is one of the amazing food gardens where you can get absolutely SUBLIME miso ramen, or charcoal grilled snow crab still in the shell, or any other kind of Japanese food you could think of.
There was also a Bacardi hot mojito bar…it was…interesting.Finally, at the very end of the park is the TV Tower that lights up at night to create a beautiful sight reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. Obviously, not as intense but still good. Directly beneath the tower is a small crab market and an ice skating arena. I did not try that…too scary.
Anyways, as you can see, there is a lot to do here at Odori Park. It is a place where anybody can have fun and honestly you could probably spend an entire day here drinking, eating, and sight seeing. Plus, its within walking distance of Sapporo Station! How great is that!!!
I hope you can get the chance to experience this event and if you already have, please feel free to comment below and tell me what you loved about the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri and about the city in general. If you were curious about much more specific things like, how many countries competed in the international contest, what was best food I had in Sapporo, or even where would I go back to if I could, keep an eye out for my next posts!Farewell for now!