We awoke to a clear and sunny day in Sapporo and a beautiful view of snow-covered streets from our hotel window. We were staying at the Daiwa Roynet Sapporo-Susukino hotel, as I had booked everything prior to Japan announcing their re-opening I was able to get a really good deal – two nights for less than £100, so it was a nicer hotel than we are used to. There was a 7-11 under the hotel so we were able to pick up some breakfast to have in our room before heading out. The plan for the day was to experience the Sapporo Snow Festival, explore Sapporo, and find where we were picking up our car the next day.
It was a 15-minute walk into the center of Sapporo where the festival is set up. I had seen a number of videos of the festival but I didn’t think it was so huge! The sculptures and other activities spread over 11 blocks, a one-way system was in place to manage the foot traffic which mostly worked. We started from Sapporo Tower and walked past all the smaller sculptures, many featuring popular anime characters such as Anya from Spy x Family, or cute creatures. There were several large sculptures in 2023, two dinosaurs discovered in Japan, the Hōhei Kan, the home of British nurse Florence Nightingale, a racehorse, and the man building the new baseball stadium in Sapporo city.
After an hour or so exploring the sculptures we wanted to visit the Pokemon center and find out where we were collecting our rental car the next morning so we walked towards Sapporo station. We saw a lot of snow on our walk, including some parked bikes which I don’t think will be usable until spring! We visited the small Pokemon center, found the car rental office, and as lunch was approaching we made our way back to our hotel via several conbini.
After lunch, the plan was to walk to the southwest edge of Sapporo city to visit an Inari shrine. Inari shrines, like the famous Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, are some of my favourites in Japan, and I really wanted to see one under the snow. It was about an hour’s walk to the shrine and so we got started. On the way we visited Nakajima park and saw the original building that the snow sculpture is based on, Hōhei Kan, which is a beautiful Western-style building. Through the window we could see a bride getting ready for her wedding
The further we got from the center of Sapporo the more snow there was on the ground, with roads covered and even infrastructure, such as fire hydrants, under several feet of snow. It wasn’t too cold on the walk, and it did start to snow slightly as we got closer. Most of the walk was through residential areas so we saw a lot of day-to-day Sapporo life.
When we got to the shrine there were numerous signs stating that you aren’t to take photos from the bottom, I thought this was because people were blocking the road to get *the* shot up the torii. We decided not to take any photos at that spot and climbed the stairs to the shrine. There were further signs at the top asking for no photographs, and several people snapping photos and posing around the shrine. We went to pray to Inari before making our way down, quickly snapping two photos before we left (I know, very bad!).
The shrine was much smaller than I anticipated, and as they were against photography we were done with the shrine very quickly. Checking Google maps I saw there was a ropeway 10 minutes up the road so we decided, as we had already walked this far, to check it out. It was surprisingly busy, with buses and taxis arriving and frequently dropping people off, which was a surprise as we were so far out of the city. We had a quick snack and masks on headed in. We were quickly able to buy tickets and head up to the ropeway level, but then there was a bit of a queue before we were able to make the trip. To get to the summit of Mount Moiwa it takes two journeys – a ropeway and a small cable car. They were quite packed as it was popular, which did reduce the enjoyment of the scenery a bit.
I think part of the reason it was so busy at that time was that is was almost sunset, which gave stunning lit up views across Sapporo city, and of the surrounding mountains. It was absolutely freezing cold up there thanks to the altitude and wind, but we stayed for as long as we could appreciating the view. I’d highly recommend a trip up Moiwa rope-way!
By the time we queued to go down it was quite late and we were hungry and tired so we decided to get a taxi. We tried downloading taxi apps and calling taxi companies but nothing worked, we noticed a taxi had parked across the road and decided to head over, and were lucky that they were free. The taxi driver was very friendly and happy that I spoke Japanese so we chatted the whole 25-minute journey, and I got a lot of good tips of places to visit over the next two days driving between Sapporo and Hakodate. He explained there hadn’t been good snowfall so far this winter, but I was stunned by the amount of snow!
To protect ourselves from COVID further we had decided to eat out as little as possible, so once back at our hotel we started to figure that out. We settled on Uber eats and were able to get Coco curry delivered, which is great as they offer an allergy-free curry which I can have 🙂 Once we were full of curry we headed back to the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival) to see them lit up at night. It was really great to be able to see them both in sunlight and lit at night. On a couple of the larger sculptures there was projection mapping to tell a story, it was excellent! What an incredible day in Sapporo.