Travel Japan: Asahikawa – The Other Winter Festival

Last year I traveled to Hokkaido to see a zoo, the Asahiyama Zoo, and maybe take in a couple festivals. I mean who wouldn’t want to see an adorable penguin parade, right? But, it was one of the festivals that really made my frigid trip awesome. The 冬まつり, or Winter Festival, occurs in the town of Asahikawa, an hour and a half train ride Northeast of Sapporo. And while that wonderland of enormous snow sculptures known as the Sapporo Snow Festival is grand, the Winter Festival is the little gem that lit up the frozen wasteland of my winter. Both festivals occur during the same week in early February, so if you are in Hokkaido for one, try to fit the other in too.


Ice LanternsAfter my arrival in Asahikawa, I discovered that this festival is split into two sites. The primary location is near the river next to the Asahibashi bridge. The wide park-like area sports an ice slide, snowmen, and plenty of cold fun. And of course, there’s the festival food! Besides the typical food booths, there is also a delicious soup ‘market’. When I visited it was after 8, (the sites close at 9pm) so the food booths were closed. However, the snow sculptures, all lit up after dark, were truly spectacular.


While Sapporo focuses on enormous snow sculptures that stand like mountains, Asahikawa brings you winter beauty on a smaller scale. Camera 360However, if you must see an enormous hunk of snow, Asahikawa does have one; it’s shaped liked a Transformer. That’s right. A three story Optimus Prime made of snow is the main attraction at the festival’s riverside site. Even if mechanical beings from space aren’t your thing, this part of the festival is still a must see for its fun assortment of smaller snow sculptures and delicate ice lanterns.


For me, the most outstanding part of this festival was the second location. Every year the World Ice Sculpture competition is held here along Heiwadori, the pedestrian street starting from the East side of the Asahikawa train station. All along this street from the station through down town, artists from around the world create magnificent ice sculptures. The winged horses, mermaids, and other mythical creatures were fantastic, but one of my favorites was a pair of super-real sumo wrestlers, complete with flummoxed facial expression on the wrestler about to be tipped out of the ring. The sculptures are made the first couple days of the festival and then remain on display throughout the week. While the sculptures are impressive in the daylight, they are exceptionally stunning at night, when multicolored lights give them an unearthly beauty. I was only in Asahikawa for two nights, but I made sure to visit both evenings.

The whole Winter Festival was so entrancing, I’m certainly returning for another round of ice this year. Maybe I’ll see you there…


Dana Warren


About the 2014 festival:

City of Asahikawa Winter Festival English PDF



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