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Yuki Matsuri – A Winter Wonderland Japan Style


Every year thousands of foreign and local tourists alike flock to Sapporo, Hokkaido in early February for the famed Yuki Matsuri and boy are they in for a treat.

Beginning in 1950 the festival has fast become one of Sapporo’s main attractions along with its world class ski slopes, the famed Ramen Alley, brilliant seafood and all around fun atmosphere. The festival itself is held over seven days in early February each year, in this case from the 5th to the 11th of February. It sees Sapporo’s modest 1.25 million population balloon to nearly three times its size over the course of the week and I can assure you they definitely handle the pressure well. Beer halls and izakayas on every corner, hotels popping out of the woodwork, buses and trains leaving from nearly every street and a small army of service professionals there to meet your every need and ensure that you do in fact have the perfect winter holiday.

So what were my experiences? I went along on the AJET Block 6: Yuki Matsuri/Festival Trip, a five day fun-filled adventure with around 40 other JETs. The event itself was organized by the incredible Ashlie O’Niell, Sandy Cheng and Jillian Murphy, bless their cotton socks because without them the whole thing would have been a sham. Our mid-afternoon flight on Saturday the 7th was almost completely booked out and Itami airport was teeming with people, so like all good gaijin we commandeered the Starbucks before heading through the gate to ANA flight 777 to Sapporo. The flight itself is a short one and a half hours from Itami airport so you certainly don’t feel the strain. We collected our baggage and got to enjoy a delightful 45 minute slow roast on the Sapporo Central train and after a brief stop off at the Sapporo House Youth Hostel we were whisked off to the Kirin Beer Hall for a nomi-hodai tabe-hodai extravaganza with the JETs of Block 1 that saw the creation of many new friendships. This was then followed by a bit of bar hopping through Sapporo’s entertainment district. We definitely started our trip with a bang.

Sunday saw us all wandering the streets of Sapporo and soaking up the sights. The ice sculptures themselves really were something else, especially the famed Star Wars sculpture in the middle of the festival. What followed was hands down one of the most fabulous meals I have had since coming to Japan, a six course crab lunch at the unbeatable Sapporo Kani-Honke after which we rolled back to our hostel for a well-deserved nap.

teine ski tripOn Monday those of us willing to stand up to the challenge, made our way to the slopes of Teine for a day of skiing and snowboarding. If you are interested tickets to the slopes as well as day pass and board/ski hire can be purchased in Sapporo station for around 6500円 with additional charges for extended time and extra snow gear. Yours truly attempted and failed to snowboard before switching to skis and at least facing forward as nature intended as I fell over instead of sideways. It was a glorious day and there’s nothing quite like the bonds you make with people who help dig you out of a snow drift because you haven’t quite figured out how to steer yet. In the evening we found ourselves an izakaya for dinner before cracking out some incredibly tone-deaf renditions of Celine Dion classics at one of the many Big Echo Karaoke bars in the area.

Tuesday we rose for breakfast well-rested and slightly achy after our hard day on the slopes and by breakfast and well-rested I mean lunch because it was already half past eleven. We struck out for the famed Ramen Alley where delicious seafood ramen was consumed. There are a lot of ramen shops in Ramen Alley, surprise! I really couldn’t tell you which is the best, so I advise go along yourself and make your own judgments. After, we made our way to the seaside town of Otaru for its famed lantern festival. If you are like me and from Australia you have never really seen proper snow, so seeing actual two meter high snow banks and then jumping in them pretty much made my week. It’s a beautiful town full of great places to eat and shop and the ice sculpture lanterns will blow you away, I highly recommend it for the true winter wonderland experience.

On our evening after Otaru we managed to squeeze in a much needed spa trip in Sapporo Station tower. We soaked off the last of the cold and aches and left refreshed for our journey home the next day. Sapporo and its surrounding towns have many onsens and hot springs and I definitely suggest checking one of them out.

Our journey home was subdued because consequently we were all completely knackered after our hard week of fun, but when we all went our different ways at Itami airport I am quite sure that all of us agreed, it really was an excellent adventure.


Rackle Beaman

All photos courtesy of Ashlie O’Niell



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