Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital and largest city, gained international fame when it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972. Sapporo's biggest annual event is the Sapporo Snow Festival, held each February.
This festival is said to have begun in 1950, when local middle and high school students created six snow sculptures in Odori Park, which is located along Sapporo's main avenue. Today, the event has grown into a festival of snow and ice that attracts over two million visitors each year from Japan and around the world.
The festival's main attractions are the 300 snow sculptures that line the entire 1.5-kilometer length of Odori Park. The amount of snow used for these sculptures is equivalent to about 3,500 five-ton truckloads. The sculptures are created by members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, along with many volunteers.
The 57th festival was held this year from February 6 to 12. In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the signing of a treaty of friendship between Australia and Japan, Flinders Street Station - the symbol of Melbourne, Australia - was depicted in a giant sculpture 15 meters high and 27 meters wide.
There were also huge sculptures of the main hall of Nara Prefecture's Horyuji temple, the world's oldest wooden structure, and sculptures inspired by the Disney film The Chronicles of Narnia. A slide made out of snow was also constructed. During the festival, the entire venue is lit up at night, turning this northern city into a magical fantasyland.
Beginning this year, a new venue called Satorando, in Sapporo's Higashi Ward, was used in addition to Odori Park. The Satorando venue featured a maze made of snow and an area where visitors could enjoy building snowmen.
Sapporo is about one-and-a-half hours from Tokyo by plane. From Shin-Chitose Airport, it takes about 40 minutes by JR train to get to central Sapporo. Odori Park is one stop from Sapporo Station on the subway. The Satorando venue is 40 minutes from Odori Park by bus.