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! 

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Kyoto Geiko Portrait Session

Jul 21 | Evan | No Comments |

In 2014 I received a request to arrange a private tour in Japan for a photographer and his family. There were a few photography opportunities requested such as spending time with a master sword smith as he worked to to take portraits of a real maiko, geiko or geisha in Japan. So it was in 2014 I first started working with this (at the time) maiko and during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour of Japan I took portraits of her for the first time as a geiko (she finished her apprenticeship and earned new title).

I’ve really enjoyed working with her and creating portraits in Kyoto with her year after year and hope to continue to bring small groups of photographers to take portraits of her for many years to come in Kyoto.

The photo below is courtesy of and created by one of our group’s photographers, Daniel Leffel. Take a look at Daniel’s website for more excellent photography not only of Japan but all over the word.

Kyoto Japan

The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan. We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and from Fuji Five Lakes. Here is the trip report from the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan and the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan. The 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live! Limited spots are available for the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!

Here is a gallery of more geiko portraits taken during the 2019 cherry blossom tour of Japan.

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Mt Fuji

Jul 18 | Evan | No Comments |

I’m always a little anxious when Mt. Fuji is included on the plan for our photography tours as mountain can be quite shy hiding behind clouds days at a time. For the 2019 photography tour of Japan during cherry blossom season, we had 4 nights planned in the Mt. Fuji area. Two nights in Shizuoka Prefecture and 2 nights in Yamanashi Prefecture.

It’s certainly possible that we could have had 4 nights with no mountain to photograph but luckily, Mt. Fuji was kind enough to make a few appearances on different days during our photography tour of Japan! While we had Mt. Fuji in view during the tour, the cold weather that helped hold the cherry blossom earlier in the photography tour of Japan, finally caught up to us. The cherry blossoms around Mt. Fuji were just a few days before full bloom so we had to search for the few cherry blossom trees that were ahead of the rest. The good thing about Mt. Fuji though, even without cherry blossoms, there are always fantastic photographic opportunities.

The two photos below are courtesy of and created by one of our group’s photographers, Daniel Leffel. Take a look at Daniel’s website for more excellent photography not only of Japan but all over the word.

Fuji Five Lakes Area
Shizuoka

The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan. We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and from Fuji Five Lakes. Here is the trip report from the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan and the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan. The 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live! Limited spots are available for the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!

Here is a gallery of more photos taken of Mt. Fuji during the 2019 cherry blossom photography tour of Japan.

2019 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour | Kyoto

Jul 17 | Evan | No Comments |

The 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour took a small group of photographers to Japan. We started in Tokyo and continued to Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, Kyoto and Mt. Fuji from Shizuoka and from Fuji Five Lakes. Here is the trip report from the 2019 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan and the 2018 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan. The 2020 Cherry Blossom Photo Tour of Japan is already planned and live! Limited spots are available for the 2020 Cherry Blossom Photography Tour of Japan, with first booking already reserved!

So far our cherry blossom photography tour of Japan was lucky enough to have nice weather and perfect cherry blossom timing for just about all cities we traveled to in Japan. Kyoto was more of the same with cherry blossoms in full bloom just about everywhere in Kyoto waiting for our group to photograph them.

Sometimes I get asked what my favorite place in Japan is to visit or favorite place in Japan for photography is. This is a really difficult question as Japan has so many wonderful options for tours and photography in Japan. Also, the answer really depends on the time of year for most places in Japan. That being said, Kyoto is my favorite place in Japan to travel to and photograph any time of the year but especially in cherry blossom season, I love spending time and guiding photographers in Kyoto.

Kyoto Japan
Kyoto Japan

The two photos above are courtesy of and created by one of our group’s photographers, Daniel Leffel. Take a look at Daniel’s website for more excellent photography not only of Japan but all over the word.

Here is a gallery of more photos from our photography tour in Kyoto:

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