This year, the Asahikawa Winter Festival was held over the same week as the Sapporo Snow Festival. Since Asahikawa isn’t too far from Sapporo, it was an easy decision to add it to our itinerary when KF and I visited Japan in February. It is a considerably smaller city (about a fifth (?) of the population of Sapporo) so the festival wasn’t quite as big as Sapporo’s, but still worth the trip.
They also had a pretty impressive snow stage (just one though), but this sculpture was probably my favourite:
There were plenty of other animal sculptures, presumably also in celebration of the zoo, including a snow owl, wolf, penguins, bears, and even a snow leopard. Some of these were made by teams of students from local high schools. I wonder if snow sculpture is an official extracurricular activity there…
I like a good hedge maze (nothing quite like hysterically running around in a maze) so I was pretty stoked to see they’d created a snow maze at the festival. And it was even better than a hedge maze because you could run around and bump into the walls and keep going.
In the background of the above photo, you can see the side of the snow stage that was created for the festival. It was absolutely massive, and kind of served as a good navigation marker (like a constellation or something). I suppose I should include a photo of the stage, since I keep mentioning it…
We actually went on the opening night of the festival (February 7th this year), so we also got to enjoy the opening night fireworks. I don’t have any photos of the fireworks, though, because I never take photos of fireworks. Sure, photos are great for capturing certain moments, and creating lasting memories, but I reckon fireworks are one of those things that are best enjoyed in the moment, not through a screen or lens. The fireworks were good though – definitely worth standing out in the cold.
The only thing that was a bit odd, and that I wish they’d improve was the shuttle buses to and from the event site. There were plenty of free shuttle buses from the train station to the site, but the buses returning to the train station ended really early. KF and I did all our browsing, eating and drinking before the fireworks, so we were ready to leave pretty much right after the fireworks. But there were no more shuttle buses for the night.
But, actually, this wasn’t such a bad thing in the end. The festival site is not too far from Asahikawa Station – it is a walkable distance. Well, about 20 minutes (give or take a few), if I remember correctly. There were taxis available, but who wants to catch a taxi when you can walk through the streets of a new town? There might not have been too many sights – no flashy buildings or sprawling gardens that I noticed on the way – but the streets were peaceful and pleasant.
And then we found this:
Thinking back on our visit there, most of the time we spent in town was after dark, so we didn’t really see too much of Asahikawa – basically just whatever was between the train station and Asahiyama Zoo (daytime), and then between the station and the Winter Festival site (nighttime). It’s too bad we didn’t have enough time to properly explore the city itself during the day. Maybe a return visit is warranted. I’m bound to return to Sapporo one day, so it’s definitely a possibility…