Sapporo’s famous snow festival, the Yuki Matsuri (wwww.snowfes.com), has its origins in the winter of 1950, when six small snow statues were created by high-school children in Ōdōri-kōen, the city’s main park. The idea caught on and by 1955 the Self Defence Force (the Japanese military) was pitching in to help build gigantic snow sculptures, which included intricately detailed copies of world landmarks such as the Taj Mahal.
Running from around February 5–11 and spread across three sites (Ōdōri-kōen, Susukino and Sapporo Tsudome), the festival now includes an international snow sculpture competition and many other events, such as snowboard jumping and nightly music performances in the park. Arrive one week in advance and you’ll be able to see the statues being made, as well as take part in the construction, since at least one giant statue in Ōdōri-kōen is a community effort – all you need do is turn up and offer your services. Book transport and accommodation well ahead of time: with two million visitors flooding into Sapporo during the matsuri, finding last-minute options for both can be a challenge.
If you don’t make it to Sapporo’s snow festival, there are several others around Hokkaidō that take place in January and February, including at Abashiri, Asahikawa, Otaru, Shikotsu-ko, and Sōunkyō.