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JapanFocus
Yuki Matsuri a Frozen Delight
Sapporo's gigantic snow and ice sculptures
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-02-15 18:16 (KST)   
The Great Buddha of Bagua Mountain representing Taiwan
©2006 D.Weber

Every year huge crowds descend upon Sapporo, the capital city of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, to gaze and gawk at staggeringly huge monuments constructed of snow and ice during Sapporo's week-long Yuki Matsuri -- Snow Festival. Numerous sculptures of ice and snow of various sizes are on display day and night. Some sculptures are small and require only a small number of builders to construct, while others are of such enormous proportions that they require thousands of workers to complete them.

A bird's eye view of the Yuki Matsuri in Odori Park
©2006 D.Weber

Sculpture content runs a wide gamut of themes. One can see popular anime (animation) characters, depictions of Japanese TV celebrities, movie characters, Japanese castles, mythical creatures, and so on. Some of them enact scenes from movies or books, sporting events, or popular folktales from around the world.

Two snow sculptures that illustrate the attention to detail by their builders
©2006 D.Weber

The history of the festival dates back to 1950. It started simply with a group of high school students in the post-war era building a number of snow structures that gained the attention of other residents. It quickly became a yearly event. In 1955 the self-defense forces lent their aid and expertise and today they continue to contribute with two large structures and one medium one.

Sapporo eagerly awaits the release of the film: "Narnia"
©2006 D.Weber

The biggest draws of the festival are the massive snow sculptures that tower over visitors and dominate the area. These enormous ones often display a scene or a landscape. On average, they stand 15 meters high and 20 to 30 meters wide. The largest one ever built at the festival was in 1972, the year that Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympics. The sculpture was 25 meters high and, aptly enough, represented Gulliver among the diminutive Lilliputians. The cost for such gigantic construction projects can run upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Royal Exhibition Building of Australia, recently named a World Heritage site
©2006 D.Weber

The Yuki Matsuri is held the first week of February, but the planning for it begins as far back as July. At this time, designs are considered by groups for the next year's festival. Once a theme has been selected, if a design is based on an actual building, group representatives will travel there to collect data and even blueprints to aid them in their construction. Models of the projects are then made. Later these models along with models of past projects are displayed at the Snow Festival Museum.

Mythical Creatures depicted in ice in the Susukino Entertainment district
©2006 D.Weber

Fresh snow is trucked in when the actual building process is set to begin. Several thousand truckloads are needed every festival. The Gulliver sculpture from 1972 alone used over a thousand truckloads. The snow is packed into frames and left for a week or so to form into solid blocks of snow. Therefore, anyone thinking they could leap onto one of these snow sculptures and receive a soft landing would find themselves rudely surprised, not too mention in a hospital, perhaps.

Angkor Wat - one of the most popular sculptures this festival
©2006 D.Weber

Carving begins in rough fashion with a lot of hacking out of excess snow before the refining touches are begun. Molds are made for those projects requiring reproduction of similar designs, such as with Japanese castle sculptures. The builders begin at the top and work their way down. Once completed, finishing touches are applied with fresh snow slightly melted. It can take up to a month sometimes to finish one of these massive sculptures. Touch-up work is generally done every night during the festival to keep the sculptures' design integrity intact from the effects of the weather.

Ice Karaoke Bar - sing "Great Balls of Fire" through chapped blue lips
©2006 D.Weber

The snow sculptures are displayed in Sapporo's Odori Park which stretches several blocks west of the Sapporo TV Tower, an imitation of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. South of Odori, visitors can view ice sculptures in the Susukino entertainment district. Some of the sculptures have a more functional purpose, as they are constructed to become temporary food stalls and even a small karaoke bar!

Teen golf-pro sensation Ai Miyazato from Okinawa gets her own Snow Sculpture
©2006 D.Weber

For visitors who like to watch a little destruction, staying a few days following the festival allows one to watch the dismantling and demolishing of all the sculptures. As mentioned before, a destructive-minded visitor should think of participating only if they have a wrecking ball or bulldozer on hand, as these sculptures are quite solid.

Three Sculptures built by International participants from Australia, Korea, and China
©2006 D.Weber


Snow Sculpture represents history and unity
First Buddhist Temple in Japan celebrated

A Snow Sculpture depicting Horyuji Temple
D.Weber

The Snow Sculpture representing the oldest buddhist temple in Japan embraces Asian unity via Buddhism. Buddhism was introduced to China from India and later it was transmitted to Korea. In the 6th Century, Buddhism made its way over to Japan.

The Emperor Yomei decreed a temple should be built to house a Buddhist image. This temple was the Horyuji Temple built in 607 AD. UNESCO has listed the temple as the world's oldest wooden structure. / David M Weber

©2006 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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