Winter is approaching, so why not go for the gusto? Go where winter is REALLY winter…Hokkaido, Japan. Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan and its climate is sub-arctic! The capital of Hokkaido is Sapporo where the 1972 Winter Olympics were held so you can also try skiing on Olympic grounds. But probably the biggest winter activity in Sapporo is the Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). In 2012 the Snow Festival will be held from February 6th through February 12th and about two million people are estimated to come and marvel at the snow and ice masterpieces.
The festival takes place in three different locations: Odori park which runs east through west in the center of town, through the main street of the Susukino section and at the Community Dome Tsudome. Snow sculptures will be in Odori Park, ice sculptures in Susukino and at the Community Dome there will be indoor tube slides and rafts on snows and even snow golf! At night the snow and ice sculptures of Odori Park and Susukino are lit with a variety of different colors.
The first Sapporo Snow Festival was held in Odori Park in 1950 when a mere six snow sculptures were made by local high school students. (This year there are over 200 scheduled.) In 1955 the Japanese Self Defense Force (kind of like the army) started building the gigantic snow sculptures which made the Sapporo Snow Festival famous. In past years there was plenty of massive Mickey Mouse sculptures and figures from Japanese anime and manga. Pokemon anyone? But there are also huge buildings like famous Japanese palaces. You can also see well-known international buildings. One year people created Buckingham Palace, the British Parliament and Berlin’s Fraunkirche. Very ambitious! Who knows what this year will bring?
A good way to stay warm while you’re walking up and down snow stairs or sliding down a giant ice slide is to try some Hokkaido ramen. The noodles may be originally from China but Hokkaido ramen is considered the best! There are ramen shops all over Sapporo but one of the most famous places to go is Ramen Yokocho or, Ramen Alley in Susukino. The restaurants are all tiny and not very fancy but they are tasty. Perhaps the best part is that ramen shops are open until about 3 am when most other restaurants have long shut their doors.
Around the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival there is another winter festival nearby in Otaru which is a pretty harbor town with a tourist-friendly canal area. During the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi) the city is decorated in lights and small snow statues many of which hold candles. With the wooden buildings around the canal and the water, the result is a glowing, romantic walk. In 2012 the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is being held from February 3rd through the 12th. So if you want to travel to a unique destination this winter and aren’t afraid of a little snow, or some really big snow sculptures, head to Hokkaido!
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