Winter Festival in Japan: Sapporo Snow Festival

Feb 19 | Evan | No Comments |

Sapporo Snow Festival is one of the most well known winter festivals of Japan. The first snow festival took place in 1950 with only 6 sculptures created by local high school students. It has now grown to attract over 2.7 million people each year and just like snow monkeys, Sapporo Snow Festival attracts many international tourists as well as domestic tourists. In this article, let’s learn about Sapporo Snow Festival so that when it’s time for you to join Japan Photo Guide’s photo tour of Japan, you will be well informed about this festival so that you can share your knowledge with others! 

Sapporo Snow Festival 

Sapporo Snow Festival generally happens at the end of January to the beginning of February for a week. However, the 72nd Sapporo Snow Festival, which is tentatively planned for Feb 4th to 11th 2021is little different from usual. Because of the global pandemic and thus difficulties collaborating with large scale sponsors and international collaborations, the 72nd Sapporo Snow Festival is held at a much smaller scale without large snow sculptures but only with small to midsize sculptures. 

Sapporo Snow Festival has become growingly international, not only because of popularity among international visitors, but also international sponsors and collaborations that have impacted this festival over the past years. The 1st time international communities got involved in this festival, there were only 6 countries involved, but over the years, more people got involved that by the 49th festival, there were 20 countries with 80 international individuals participated, and overall, there have been 37 countries and/or regions have participated to create a truly magical atmosphere. 

It’s all free!  

At Sapporo Snow Festival, there are 3 sites where there are a total of 200 snow and ice sculptures. You can walk around, observe, and even play and all of these sites are free! The theme of each site is a little different and these sites are called Odori Site, Susukino Site, and Tsudome Site. 

“Odori Site” is where there are usually large scale snow sculptures and this can be considered a main site having approximately 120 sculptures. At “Susukino Site,” there are approximately 60 ice sculptures. The last site is little different from the two as is more focused on visitors actually being able to do fun snow activities and is called “Tsudome Site.” It is held earlier from and is little away from the main site, requiring you to take a subway to get there. Tsudome site has 20 or so snow and ice sculptures. It is very family friendly, thus if you are visiting with children, this would be the perfect site to enjoy playing with snow. Of course, adults can enjoy playing there as well! 

The main site is “Odori Site” and this is where impressive large scale snow sculptures are built. Unfortunately this coming one, the 72nd festival won’t have large scale sculptures, but generally, this is where you can witness impressive large scale snow sculptures that will for sure impress you. The snow sculptures are impressive both day and night, but the nighttime is when the street is filled with magic. With the technology of projection mapping, the night time is when the real fun happens, the snow comes alive! Both Odori Site and Susukino Site sculptures are illuminated each day until 11:00p.m. on Odori Site and 10:00p.m. on Susukino Site so if you get a chance, definitely try to visit at night as well as during the day. 

Can’t miss the street food!

One thing you definitely cannot miss by going to Sapporo Snow Festival is the street food! I mean it’s literally impossible to miss the street food as there are many colorful food stalls with impossible to ignore smell coming from every stall you walk by. You will most likely be trying a lot of Japanese food when you are on a photography tour of Japan, but you definitely have to try Hokkaido delicacy when you are at the festival! 

Hokkaido’s food is definitely well known among Japanese to be the top quality when it comes to almost every food! The vast nature of Hokkaido provides rich food, from seafood like Hokkaido crab to a local food like gengiskan. Of course, you cannot miss Hokkaido ramen! It’s street food so a lot of them are accessible and reasonably priced that you can comfortably find food between 500 yen to 1,000 yen (5 to 10 USD). Some are even below 500 yen so you must try a variety of food before you indulge yourself in one thing! 

Dos and Don’ts of Sapporo Snow Festival 

When you attend Sapporo Snow Festival, definitely layer up! However, don’t forget that you will be walking around the festival or playing at the snow activities so think about comfort as well. It is suggested that wearing a t-shirt, a sweater, and a jacket/coat, having 3 layers is ideal. It’s not good to have a thin jacket/coat, but if you have a thick one, that is what you want to choose. Additionally, having a hat, gloves, and earmuffs would further protect you from the cold. If your main focus is Tsudome Site to play, then it’s not bad to dress in snowboard or ski wear. For more info, please take a look at here from the official website for how to dress. 

It is a snow festival so if you happen to have snow boots, it might not be a stupid idea to bring them as the streets are often frozen. However, they can take a lot of space in your suitcase so if that doesn’t work well with you, why don’t you get anti-slip straps for your shoes! Around the snow festival, they sell shoe clippers called “suberidome,” which can be attached to most of shoes to act as snow stoppers. These are around 1,000 yen and can be purchased at anywhere including convenient stores so if you don’t have proper shoes, definitely spend 1,000 yen to protect yourself from falling. 

One thing you also want to know at the festival is that you cannot use a drone. Being on a photography tour of Japan, I’m sure you want to photograph a lot at the festival. Well, you can use your camera to photograph and videography no problem, but the use of a drone is prohibited. If you are keen on seeing the drone image of the festival, below is the official YouTube video of the 70th Sapporo Snow Festival for you to see. It’s truly spectacular. 

Summary 

As Japan Photo Guide talks about Sapporo Snow Festival being one of his favorites, this festival is truly magical and one and only to Sapporo Japan. As well as impressive snow and ice sculptures, the fact it is held in Sapporo makes a big deal! This is the place to enjoy Hokkaido food! 

You may not like the cold very much, but the sculptures are so impressive to see and it’s hard not to be amazed by its beauty. With the technological advancements, as well as beauty, projection mapping has added excitement that any age group would appreciate. If you are more into activities, you can also head to Tsudome Site to try snow slides and snow rafting. Sapporo Snow Festival is definitely a highlight of the Japan photo tour during winter and let’s hope Japan Photo Guide can take you all there soon! 

Winter Photo Tour of Japan | Snow Monkeys!

May 12 | Evan | No Comments |

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Located in Nagano Prefecture, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Yamanouchi has become a very popular place for tourists visiting Japan to include on their Japan tour itinerary.  If you google snow monkey Japan, you will find all sorts of articles and a few videos and then if you go to the images section of google, your heart will possibly melt from all the cute photos of these monkeys trying to stay warm during Winter in Japan!

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While the snow monkey park is manmade, the surrounding mountains are the monkeys natural habitat and you can usually position yourself to so it’s not obvious you are in a park.  The crowds of people have been increasing though, so sometimes it’s harder to avoid other humans in the photos with monkeys!  Although, the other humans sometimes provide some interesting photo opportunities as well, like this guy who thought it was a good idea to get close to the monkey here:

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It’s almost a perfect comic strip as the monkey’s reaction went from “What are you looking at?” to “Go away” to laughing to himself over how scared the human was!  Besides taking photos here I really enjoyed just observing the monkeys in the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park…

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I saw many characteristics displayed by the monkeys that appeared to be similar to humans, for example, love (grooming, taking care of, hugging and a little more… intimate), curiosity (one baby monkey untied a person’s shoes for example), bullying (one monkey launched a surprise attack on another) and of course, the natural desire we have to get warm when it’s cold.   The peak season to visit the monkey park in Jigokudani is February as that’s when Yamanouchi tends to be the coldest and gets the most snow.  I went just at the beginning of March and the path still had quite a bit of snow/ice and the snow monkey park had some snow but you can see that it wasn’t covered in snow.  The snow monkey park may not be great for everyone visiting Japan, but as it can be done as a day trip from Tokyo, it certainly makes for a nice an unique opportunity to take photos in Japan!  Below are a few more photos of the snow monkeys in Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.

Interested in visiting Japan and the snow monkey park with me?  Go ahead and contact me to get your escorted trip to Japan or photography tour of Japan started!  Also, Japan Photo Guide is partnering with Magic Is Photo Tours for a 2017 Winter Photography Tour of Japan.  At the time of this post, there are only 4 spots left for that trip!

 

Traveling around Kyushu | Tanada Rice Terraces

Aug 02 | Evan | No Comments |

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Tanada, or in English, rice terraces, are rice fields built into hillsides and mountains.  With the right timing and weather, they can provide excellent backgrounds for landscapes in Japan or other countries that have time.  Accessing the best rice terraces isn’t always easy and finding information in English is rare, so I’ve become really interested in creating a tour to focus on some beautiful rice terraces in Kyushu.  I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but this summer I visited a couple areas of Kyushu including Nagasaki, Sasebo and Karatsu, to scout out the area.  I knew my timing wouldn’t be good for photos as I went during the rainy season for Kyushu and also the rice had already started to grow tall in most parts of the rice terraces.  Most of my favorite photos of rice terraces are when the season first starts and you can only see water in the rice fields.  This makes for some magnificent imagery, especially when you get a great sunset.

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Even though this trip to Kyushu was mainly to scout the area and during the rainy season, I decided to practice some HDR (high dynamic range) photography.  The first time I really tried this was when I was in Japan during cherry blossom season on another tour of Japan.  You haven’t seen any of those photos because they didn’t come out very well!   This time, while I’m not thrilled with the results, they are at least good enough to share, considering it’s only my second attempt!  Most of these are HDR but there are a few iPhone panoramic photos mixed in as well as a few HDR of other random places I found along the way in Kyushu.

Interested in coming along or in more information about the Japan Photo Tanada Tour?  Contact me and I can fill you in!

 

Traveling around Kyushu | Karatsu

Aug 01 | Evan | No Comments |

It’s no secret that I love Kamikochi and Kyoto, but Karatsu certainly deserves to be on my short list of favorite areas in Japan.  Located in Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, about an hour or so away from Hakata in Fukuoka, lies the peaceful and beautiful ocean side city of Karatsu.  There isn’t much going on in terms of nightlife here, but lot’s and lot’s of beautiful scenery for great opportunities to take photos of Japan.  Compared to my days in Nagasaki and Sasebo, the weather was finally a little nicer and actually saw the sun… I wasn’t sure it actually was available in Kyushu!

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Like Nagasaki, Karatsu has both the ocean and mountains, which who doesn’t love having both?  Also, it’s a good base for visiting rice terraces, waterfalls (Mikaeri and Kannon Falls) and some nice beaches that if you didn’t know any better, looks like you are in the tropics.  Niji no Matsubara is the most famous beach in the area, but along the coast, there are a few other smaller ones that look like something out of a movie.  Besides that, we went up to Nanatsugama Caves which was pleasant as well.  I didn’t take any photos of it due to other places I wanted to visit, but Karatsu Castle is up on a hill and could certainly make for some interesting photos as well.  All in all, I’m a fan of Karatsu and certainly hope to go back for the upcoming rice terrace photography tour of Japan I’m planning.

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