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Friday, Jan. 28, 2011

HOKKAIDO

Sapporo's winter wonderland


Staff writer

Winter has been a treacherous affair overseas recently. The use of terms such as "snowmageddon" and "snowpocalypse" conjure up images of the worst the season has to offer. But while many in the West suffer from the stresses of snow, the city of Sapporo will revel in it.

The Sapporo Snow Festival is now in its 62nd year. With almost 250 snow and ice sculptures on show, and a consistent annual visitor count topping 2 million people, it is certainly a festival of international caliber. The massive, sprawling event will take place from Feb. 7-13 and will once again be centered around Odori Park and the Sapporo Tsudome in Hokkaido's capital city.

"The sheer scale of the festival will take your breath away," declares festival organizer Masaaki Abe. "First-time visitors and regulars alike will no doubt find a great deal of activities."

What has made the Sapporo Snow Festival so famous is undoubtedly the host of immense snow structures built to delight visitors. The Odori stretch will be home to an ice museum for the week, its theme — dinosaurs. Also, an impressive sculpture shaped as the nationally treasured Hiunkaku pavilion of Nishi Honganji Temple in Kyoto will be displayed, and in the spirit of cultural exchange and friendship, reproductions of Chinese and Korean landmarks will be carved from scratch.

"For the children there will be sculptures of Sapporo's school education characters at the site," says Abe. "But we will invite the characters from the popular Sazae-san anime down to the event as well." As if a dinosaur museum made of ice wasn't enough to brighten any kid's winter.

Other highlights at the Odori site include the annual International Snow Statue Contest consisting of 13 teams from around the world, as well as an ice-skating rink, which is surprisingly only a recent addition to the festival. Food and refreshments will be available at both locations, however, the Odori site will offer a more authentic Hokkaido culinary experience.

"There will be a food park offering visitors local fare such as Jingisukan (mutton barbecue) and Sapporo ramen (noodles)," says Abe.

Although there will be snow slides in both areas, the Tsudome site is more focused on showing visitors exactly how much fun snow can be. Sightseers who want to have a more lively festival experience will be offered three types of slides, varying in height and length. For those who have the need for more speed there is snow rafting, where, you guessed it, participants are pulled in an inflatable raft by a snowmobile.

Whether it be carving figure-of-eights with a loved one on the ice-skating rink, munching on mutton or traveling back to the Triassic, this wonderland of ice and snow is a winter playground that can be enjoyed by one and all.

The Sapporo Snow Festival runs from Feb. 7-13 in Sapporo. For more information, call (011) 211-2376 or visit www.snowfes.com.


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