It’s a frozen fantasia.
The Sapporo Snow Festival – an annual celebration now in its 74th year – is in full swing.
Set across three main venues in Sapporo city on the island of Hokkaido – Ōdōri Park, Susukino, and Tsudome – the snowy free-entry spectacle is the most popular winter event in Japan, attracting two million visitors each year.
In total, 196 awe-inspiring snow and ice sculptures are on display – from fairy-tale castles to galloping thoroughbred horses, and from grinning dinosaurs to manga heroes.
The centrepieces of the festival are five large-scale snow sculptures at the Ōdōri Site, each of which measures between 12 (39ft) and 15 metres (49ft) tall, built by the Japanese Grand Self-Defense Force and hundreds of citizen volunteers.
The Sapporo Snow Festival – an annual celebration now in its 74th year – is in full swing. Above: Asirpa and Saichi Sugimtoto, characters from hit manga show Golden Kamuy
Look at him snow: One of the large-scale sculptures at Odori Park depicts a thoroughbred galloping to glory. Above, by day, below, with light projections animating it at night
A large-scale ice sculpture of Neuschwanstein Castle, also known as ‘Swan Castle’
Powder to the people: Photographer Basil Villacortes Sali stands in front of Yuji and Gojo from popular anime series Jujutsu Kaisen
These gargantuan glacial carvings, which took 28 days to build, include a diorama of Asirpa and Saichi Sugimtoto, characters from hit manga show Golden Kamuy, which is set in Hokkaido; Neuschwanstein Castle, also known as ‘Swan Castle’, the fairy-tale-perfect Bavarian palace; a thoroughbred galloping towards glory; Old Sapporo Railway Station, and Hokkaido Baseball Park.
At night, light displays are projected onto the creations, animating the white canvas to help bring them to life.
The Susokino site – called ‘Ice World’ – features 60 ice sculptures.
It’s the venue for the 50th International Snow Sculpture Contest, where teams from around the globe create frosty ice creations designed to reflect their nation’s spirit.
The pieces are carved during the festival, allowing visitors the opportunity to witness how these marvels are whittled into glistening life.
Parting is such sleet sorrow: If the sculptures melt during the festival they are torn down
Don’t flurry, be happy: Entry to the festival is free. Above – a majestic pagoda amid a gentle snow drift
The Susokino site – called ‘Ice World’ – features 60 ice sculptures, including an eye-opening work in which fish are trapped in an ice block, floating ethereally in mid air
This year teams from South Korea, USA, Indonesia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Poland, Portland, Singapore, and Thailand have entered.
Their creations include icy dragons, stingrays, fairy-tale characters, Komodo Island – even the concept of ‘harmony’.
In addition to the competition creations, there is an eye-opening work in which fish are trapped in an ice block, floating ethereally in mid air, cute cartoon creations and large-scale sculptures made by the Ainu people, the indigenous people of Hokkaido.
The Tsudome site is a large-scale playground, where revellers can partake in snow mazes, slides, and interactive ice exhibits – or make their own snowman.
The Old Sapporo Railway Station by day, and below, at night, with light projection bringing it to vivid, delightful life
Un-brrrrr-leviable: The Susokino site is the venue for the 50th International Snow Sculpture Contest (above)
A collection of quizzical mini snowmen at the Tsudome site
Run for the chills: At Tsudome, there are multiple family friendly rides and interactive snow displays
How are Sapporo snow and ice sculptures made?
As there was not enough snowfall at the individual sites to build the constructions, it was brought in.
Five-tonne trucks carried snow to the various sites, making 6,000 journeys to amass approximately 30,000 tonnes of white powder to create the icy phantasmagoria.
The snow has to be of purest quality – dirty snow absorbs light, meaning the creations melt more quickly. Most of it comes from neighbouring parks, cemeteries and golf courses, where it lay untrampled.
Above: A tyrannosaurus-rex emerges, snarling from the snow. Below: An altogether friendlier-looking reptile
Melting madness: Some of the sculptures err more towards the conceptual
To make the creations, participants use shovels, machetes, saws, chisels – and chainsaws. If it is a large-scale sculpture cranes and scaffoldings are used.
When a sculpture is finished, water is sprayed to freeze it into place – if it starts to melt, it is torn down, even during the festival.
The snow and ice sculptures will be taken down on the final night of the festival.
The 2024 Sapporo Snow Festival runs until Sunday, February 11.
Thanks go to local English teacher Basil Villacortes Sali for kind permission to use his photographs of the exhibition. Visit his Instagram profile here – www.instagram.com/basilvsali.