Mardi Gras in Louisianna, Carnaval in Brazil and the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea are all major international events taking place this February. With these being some of the the world’s largest and most infamous gatherings, revelers are also partaking in other lesser known, albeit grand, celebratory displays in other parts of the world.

One such event is the Sapporo Snow Festival of Japan. Held annually for about a week in February, this year from February 1 – February 12 at the Tsudome site and from February 5 – February 12 at the Odori Park and Susukino sites in Central Sapporo.
Sapporo Snow Festival in a nutshell. Video credit to Gaijin Pot.

Locally known as Sapporo Yuki-matsuri, the event has been a Japanese tradition since 1950. Considered to be one of the largest and most distinctive events of its kind, the event was home to around 2 million visitors alone at its 57th festival in 2007. Considering the event all started when six  high school students made snow sculptures in Odori Park. Just five years later the Japan Self-Defense Forces from a neighboring base joined in, building the first vast snow sculptures, for which the festival ultimately became known for. In 1959 participation grew to 2,500 people, who made snow sculptures, garnering nationwide media attention for the first time.

Dancers representing Hawaiian Airlines bear the snow to perform the typically tropical Hula dance in less than average temps!

1974 gave way to the festival’s International Snow Statue Competition, featuring statues built by teams from different countries, including sister cities of Sapporo such as Munich. The festival eventually grew to include participation from teams representing Sydney, Australia; Alberta, Canada; Shenyang, China; and Portland, Oregon just to name a few. While the very first festivals were suspended during World War II, more recent events have grown to include greater attractions, amenities  and beyond.
While the Odori site is home to grand sculptures created by the Ground Self-Defense Force, the Susikino site hosts an ice sculpture show and contest; all the while, the Tsudome site boasts snow slides and a snow rafting area where attendees can partake in a snow rafting experience. In addition to all of this, dance has become an integral part of this highly anticipated annual event. Various groups perform dances covering a wide spectrum of genres, dawning captivating costumes in front of a spectacular, dramatically lit ice sculpture.

Dancers perform in front of a large sculpture named ‘Hokkaido – a Tourist Wonderland’.

Just this year, a group of young male dancers performed a traditional dance out in the snow amongst some of the snow sculptures. In frigid temperatures reaching the low teens, the dancers dramatically tore off their traditional robes, exposing stripping down to mere loin cloths, as they continued to perform enthusiastically in the freezing temps.
Showing the world that the snow festival is about performance and moving art on ice, as well as the motionless, frozen sculptures, these performance artists literally and figuratively bring life to the festival through dance.