Asahikawa Winter Festival 旭川冬まつり
A large snow sculpture at Asahikawa Winter Festival in 2016
An ice sculpture
The snow sculptures are lit up at night!
A sculpture working on his icy artwork
Fireworks and light displays kick off and end the festival
A snow maze: can you find your way out?
Try plowing some snow with a mini excavator!
The pleasures of winter
Since 1947 the city of Asahikawa in Hokkaido has hosted the second largest winter festival in Japan, after Sapporo. This winter matsuri, which takes place in February, gives pride of place to snow and ice sculptures as well as many activities to enjoy with the family. Leave your summer matsuri yukata in the closet, in Asahikawa, you'll need a hat and gloves instead!
An island called Hokkaido
The Asahikawa fuyu matsuri (winter festival) is held at two distinct sites in the city. The main site is located in Asahibashi area, near the river. It's here that from the beginning of January, local authorities build a monumental snow sculpture with a stage that hosts the opening and closing ceremonies of the matsuri, as well as numerous shows and concerts. Based on a new theme each year, this impressive creation comes alive and lights up each evening.
The 59th edition of the festival, held from the 7th to 12th of February 2018, will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the naming of Hokkaido. The island was previously known as Ezo, and took its current name only at the beginning of the Meiji era (1868-1912). The huge snow sculpture of the 2018 edition, 130 meters wide, 40 meters deep and 20 meters high, will be an expression of the rich nature of the northern island through several symbols: its large trees, the brown bear, and the deer.
A snow sculpture from the 2017 festival
The proposed main snow sculpture for 2018
Activities on ice
Nearby, you can enjoy multiple activities with family and friends: a toboggan run, horse-drawn sleigh rides, an ice bar, even try out plowing snow with a mini-excavator... You can also try to find your way through a labyrinth made of snow; an a-maze-ing experience, day or night! The organizers haven't forgotten thrill seekers either, with a zip line and snowmobile rides also on offer.
Discover : Visit Abashiri
Do you dare to sit in a giant plastic bubble to hit the slopes? You'll feel like a hamster in a plastic ball, and claustrophobes should probably sit this one out. Note that some of these activities are not free (expect to pay between 300 and 800 yen per person). During the festival an international ice sculpture competition takes place in the Heiwa Dori pedestrian zone. Many sculptors show off their exceptional craftsmanship. The delicate artworks are exhibited in the street for the entire duration of the festival, and are lit up to shine brightly in the evening.
The Asahikawa Festival is a very good alternative for anyone wanting to avoid the crowds at the Sapporo Festival. Nevertheless, remember to book your hotel several months in advance. During the festival, all accommodation in the city is always full. Another recommendation that should be obvious: dress very warmly. At this time of year, the average temperature is -10°C. For those who may be reluctant to wrap up and protect themselves from the cold and damp, it's worth remembering that Asahikawa is both the Japanese city with the highest number of snowy days, and the record for Japan's lowest temperature: -41°C!
To read : Visit Asahikawa
Don't forget to visit the festival stands to sample local specialties, such as Asahikawa ramen and local sake. It's a nice way to warm up! But no need to overdo the sake from Otokoyama brewery to see penguins parading in the street. It's just the annual participation of Asahikawa Zoo in the festivities!
Food stands at Asahikawa Festival - a good way to warm up!