Yuki Matsuri in Hokkaido

Why not begin May with a post about February? Seems appropriate to me.

When I first arrived in Japan to teach back in 2013, it was about September. I spent the next few months adjusting to my town, my six schools, and daily life in general. The following February, the opportunity came for me to travel with some friends to Sapporo (the capital city of the northernmost island, Hokkaido) for the snow festival (yuki matsuri). Since college, I had wanted to go to this festival, so I ratcheted up my courage and agreed to tag along. This is that story, recounted from photos*, mementos, and memory.

* All images of me are credited to my Australian friend was good enough to upload these for us.

After taking a miserable bus ride to Osaka (I was too hot and felt sick) and a plane from Osaka to Sapporo, our small group of about eight or nine arrived at our hostel at night with enough time to buy some food and relax before bed.  Because only one friend had been before and another had briefly lived in Sapporo, we relied on heavily on them to guide us around over the next three or four days.

We kicked off our snow festival trip with, you might guess, the snow festival. They closed down a couple of streets for displays of ice sculptures and the like, some of which boasted frozen fish in their centers. Another area had a concert, plenty of food stalls, games, shops, and displays of winter sportiness.  We split into smaller groups depending on what we wanted to do, and I think everyone enjoyed the day.

I will say that I was underwhelmed with the festival. I had concocted an elaborate, fantastical image of it in my mind, so I was let down. That said, for what the festival actually was, I had a good time.

That night or the following night, we took a trip to the nearby town of Otaru for their lights festival. Absolutely gorgeous and well worth the trip! Aside from the lights were dozens of snow sculptures, such as the one from the cover photo (also below).

The next day, we visited Shiroi Koibito Park. Shiroi Koibito is a famous brand of cookies, and the park also houses the factory where these are produced. Upon arriving, we saw small houses decorated like they were right out of a fairytale or Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  Inside, we ate at the cafe, which took a bit of a wait to get into. Had we planned for it ahead of time, we could have gone to the Cookiecraft studio to try making our own cookies.  There were other interesting features of the park, but these were what drew my attention the most.

I also got to go on a short little ride down a curved snow slope. It may have been for kids, but who isn’t a kid at heart, am I right?

Yuki Matsuri 12

Another day we were there, we participated in a green tea ceremony. My friend who used to live in Sapporo had learned about the ceremony from a teacher there, and he met up with her again. We all got to go, and it was a nice change of pace from our “go, go, go” routine.

Except for the night we ate at Ghengis Khan, we pretty much ate convenience store food for dinner and stayed in the hostel’s common room playing the card game Love Letter, which I purchased for myself this past Saturday. Simple but fun, and one of my friends was the princess so often that we made a joke about it. Poor guy.

So, that was my visit to Hokkaido three years ago. (Wow! It’s already been that long.) If you ever get a chance to go, I recommend the Shiroi Koibito Park and the lights festival in Otaru.

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