07.02.2002 - 07.02.2002 -1 °C
BGM: "Stars" by Nakashima Mika
As I mentioned in a prior blog, one of the many joys of living close to Odori Park is watching it change with the seasons. Throughout the first week of every February (or whenever the snowfall is at its peak), artists and amateurs chisel, saw and torch heaps of snow into shimmering white renditions of famous world landmarks and cartoon characters, transforming all of Odori Park into a winter wonderland.
The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri （さっぽろ雪まつり, Sapporo Snow Festival) is usually held in three locations around the city: Odori Park, Susukino for small ice sculptures and a wider area for the larger structures. This year (2002), the huge ones were near the Makomanai Self-Defense Forces Base. My friends suggested I go there first to feel my jaw drop. So I took the very crowded Namboku (Green) Line from Odori Park to Makomanai Station and merely followed the masses to my destination. (During a festival in Japan, you often don't need to rely on a map or signs. Just follow the crowds as if you were part of a school of salmon swimming in a river and you're as good as there).
Many stalls were strategically lined up from the station all the way down to the sculptures site, selling enticing treats like steaming cocoa and piping-hot corn on the cob.
The hazy half-light of late afternoon made my eyes play tricks on me. But once they focused properly and were able to discern snowy ground from sky, my jaw did indeed drop. The sculptures were simply massive!
Hokkaido's UHB TV Characters
Crayon Shin-Chan Anime Slide Sponsored by Fujifilm!
Most of the sculptures here were interactive in one way or another -built with kids in mind, no doubt. It was very heart-warming to watch both moms and dads playing outside with their children. (This is an increasingly rare thing where I come from, yet a comforting phenomenon still seen throughout Japan).
Shimajiro Character Slide!
There was even a space for kids to make their own snowman to put on display!
I found myself drawn to this particular sculpture representing the cute little mascots of Nissin noodle company's "Chicken Ramen." It didn't do much aside from exuding cuteness. But this was enough for me.
"Chiki-don, Chiki-don, Chiki don-don!"
Back at Odori Park, the festival was getting underway with people shuffling down slippery ditches and sloshing through puddles of water. Once in awhile you'd see the occasional young woman trying to navigate her way in heels -but most folks used their heads for this event.
The air was ringing with the high-pitched sounds of women screaming into mics the praises of the corporations who made these sculptures possible.
Some of the entries were blatantly commercial, like the display for Ghibli Studios "Spirited Away," advertising the greatly anticipated animated feature of the year -complete with piped-in theme music!
"Sento Chihiro no Kamikakushi" (Spirited Away)
In recent years, snow carving teams from around the globe have been participating in the festival. Apparently the more you pay, the bigger your plot of snow to work with. Despite the challenges of budget and space, they all did a fine job. 2002 was a particularly special year for Japan, co-hosting the World Cup with South Korea that year. A key game between England and Argentina would be held at Sapporo Dome. Surely this had something to do with the international feel of this year's Snow Festival.
Awesome Rendition of Gwanghwamun Gate from Team South Korea!
Conan the Detective In China!
Go Team USA!
For some reason, the best part of the festival for me was watching other people respond to the sculptures, like these two ladies in front of the very popular Peeing Boy Statue. One lady (I won't indicate which) "touched" the sculpture in a suggestive place and then the two of them laughed. Oh, what I'd give for a faster camera shutter!
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is unusual in that it's a major world-renown Japanese festival with absolutely no religious connotations, meaning that anyone can join in on the fun. Some people might criticize that it's too commercialized. But any regular Joe can still participate, much in the same spirit of the six high school kids whose sculptures made the first official Yuki Matsuri back in 1950. I feel tempted to make a snow sculpture in my own local park and see what happens! Maybe it could be the start of something!
- *If you're interested in catching the Sapporo Snow Festival, make sure to check online ahead of time to catch the dates, since it's highly dependent on the weather. It's also a good idea to double-check all locations for the festival. At the time of writing, Makomanai Base has since stopped hosting the festival. The big sculptures are now held at Tsudomu (Tsu Dome) located near Sapporo Satoland.