A Winter Extravaganza
The Japanese talent for reshaping nature is unmatched. Small wonder, then, that the country that has raised ikebana (flower arranging) and garden design to an art form has also transformed this winter festival into a world-famous show where hundreds of mammoth snow and ice sculptures depict such universal forms as Michelangelo’s Pietà and the even more familiar Minnie Mouse.
Ice palaces are large enough for families to walk through, and a host of other fantasy shapes are created from packed snow and shaved ice, for which more than 38,000 tons of snow are trucked in from the nearby mountains. Some sculptures that can reach more than 130 feet in height and 80 feet in width are begun weeks before the festival’s February opening.
The festival was established in the 1950s after the dismal years following WW II but really caught on in 1972 when Sapporo, Japan’s newest major city, was chosen as the site for the Winter Olympics. Today the snow rides and entertainment transform the town into a wintertime outdoor theater and make Sapporo an excellent base from which to explore Hokkaido’s wild, dramatic interior and ski resorts. Don’t leave town without sampling the ramen noodles and Sapporo beer for which the city is famous.