The Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual event held in the city of Sapporo, the largest city on Japan’s Hokkaido island. The Japanese name for this festival is Yuki Matsuri, with yuki meaning snow and matsuri meaning festival in the Japanese language.
The Sapporo Snow Festival brings around 2 million visitors to the city each February. Visitors come from all over Japan — and from all over the world — to experience this winter wonderland. The festival is spread throughout three locations in Sapporo:
The Odori Site
The Odori site, located in Odori Park, is the main festival site. This is where you can see the huge snow and ice sculptures that the Sapporo Snow Festival is famous for. Don’t miss Odori Park at night, when the sculptures are lit up. This park is huge and is filled with different areas to explore. It is where you will (most likely) spend the majority of your time during the Sapporo Snow Festival.
The Susukino Site (SUSUKINO ICE WORLD)
The Susukino site is where you will find the festival’s ice sculptures. Susukino is in downtown Sapporo and is easily accessible by subway. When you’re done admiring the intricate sculptures, be sure to duck into Ramen Alley for some famous Hokkaido ramen!
The Tsudome Site
The Tsudome Site is the second largest site of the Sapporo Snow Festival and is where you will find numerous outdoor activities: snow and ice slides, snowrafting, snowball target practice, and more. This site is a 10 minute walk from Sakaemachi station, which is a 30 minutes ride from Sapporo Station. There is a shuttle bus that will take you from Sakaemachi station to the Tsudome site. The cost of the shuttle was 100 yen/person each way — cash only.
It was difficult to find useful information in English when we were planning our visit to the 2017 Sapporo Snow Festival, so thought I’d share a few tips here. I hope they will be helpful for your future Yuki Matsuri visit!
Tips for Visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival
If you are planning to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Tip #1: BOOK EARLY
We travel a lot, and it’s not unheard of for us to book a big trip a trip the month before we leave. For example, I started planning my solo Bali trip about six weeks before I went. This strategy (or lack thereof) will not work for the Sapporo Snow Festival.
In fact, we tried to visit the Sapporo Snow Festival in 2016. I started looking into flights in October 2015, and they were completely full. This was quite a shock when we’ve gotten used to showing up at the train station, buying a ticket, and arriving in a new city in Japan within the span of a few hours.
Needless to say, this year I had it marked on my calendar to book this trip in early August. I wasn’t going to miss out two years in a row!
Moral of the story: book your flights and accommodation at least 6 months in advance. This advice isn’t only for the budget travelers out there. Even if you aren’t necessarily concerned with the cost, you will need to book early because flights and accommodation will fill up.
Tip #2: Plan Around the Crowds
To experience the festival with fewer crowds, plan to visit on a weekday if possible.
We visited the main site of the Sapporo Snow Festival, Odori, just after arriving in Sapporo on Friday afternoon and found the crowds to be quite manageable. Keep in mind that we have lived in Japan for nearly two years so our tolerance for crowds may be a little skewed.
Even though we have gotten used to crowds, we know our tolerance level is still set at “American”. We purposely avoided the main Odori site on Saturday and Sunday for this exact reason. Thankfully we decided that an afternoon and evening was plenty of time to enjoy the Odori site.
If you think the crowds will affect your enjoyment of the festival, I recommend visiting on weekdays only.
Tip #3: Stay Near the Festival Sites
As you can imagine, accommodation near the festival can be quite expensive, even if you book early. If staying near Odori Park isn’t within your budget — or simply isn’t available — then I suggest that you stay as close to a subway station as possible. This would be my advice for traveling to any major city, obviously, but it’s especially important when visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival. February is cold and windy in Sapporo, so you will appreciate being able to get back to your accommodation to thaw out as soon as possible after you’re done with the day’s activities.
I’d also suggest booking your accommodation through Airbnb. <– use this link to save $37 off of your first Airbnb stay! We paid considerably less for an apartment than it would have cost us for a hotel room, and we had an entire apartment to ourselves including a full kitchen and laundry.
Another thing to consider:
The sidewalks in Sapporo can be extremely slippery and snow-packed. This was the case everywhere we went with very, very few exceptions. Don’t assume that the sidewalks near your accommodation will be completely clear. We’ve gotten quite used to walking everywhere since moving to Japan, but what may be considered to be a normal, easy walk in Japan (and beyond) may not be safe in Sapporo. Because of the condition of the sidewalks, it also was quite difficult to use our rolling suitcases on the sidewalks in Sapporo, so keep that in mind as well. We ended up carrying our suitcases most of the way from the subway station to our accommodation, which is another reason to stay as close to the station as possible!
On this note, I saw very few strollers at the festival and around Sapporo, which I assume was due to the snow-packed ground and the crowds. Most people were wearing their little ones in a carrier, which seems to be the most common method of child transportation in Japan anyway. With this in mind, if you are traveling with small children you will probably want to leave the stroller at home.
Tip #4: Don’t just visit the Snow Festival
Sapporo is such a cool city and the surrounding area is stunningly beautiful. It would be a shame for you to travel all that way and only see the 3 festival sites. Plan to take a day trip out to the mountains to ski, visit one of the charming towns nearby, or simply rent a car and hit the road to admire the scenery.
Don’t believe me? Check out this video we took of the Hokkaido coastline with our drone:
Tip #5: What to Wear
One of the biggest concerns I had about visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival was about what to wear. That may sound a little silly, but hear me out:
I knew that we would be spending a substantial amount of time outdoors, but I didn’t want to be uncomfortable when going inside. If you are a Westerner who has spent time traveling in Japan, especially in winter, then you will know exactly what I am talking about. When it’s freezing outside it will be sweltering inside. You can not escape blasting heaters! This includes being inside buildings and while riding the train. I assumed that I would be peeling every layer possible each time we ducked inside to warm up. I was right.
My suggestion is to dress in thin, warm layers. On the bottom, I layered leggings under my jeans. I wore wool socks and warm boots on my feet. On top, I wore a moisture-wicking tank top, a thin cashmere sweater, my down jacket, a hat, and wool gloves.
This wardrobe formula kept me perfectly comfortable while walking around outside for hours, but at the same time I wasn’t too hot when ducking inside a steamy ramen shop.
A little more on footwear: any pair of warm, well-soled boots will be perfect. I wore my Ugg boots and they were great. However, if I wasn’t a hardy Midwesterner who grew up walking around in the tundra all winter, I may have opted for something with a bit more grip. There’s an art to walking over snow and ice without slipping, and if you’re not accustomed to it it can be quite treacherous.
Enjoy your trip to the Sapporo Snow Festival!
If you stick to these 5 tips for visiting the Sapporo Snow Festival, you’re sure to enjoy your trip!
I want to hear from you: if you’ve visited the Sapporo Snow Festival, do you agree with these suggestions? Please leave your tips in the comments below!