Thursday, March 7, 2013

Park Air at the Sapporo Snow Festival

In the middle of the Snow Festival, halfway down the length of Odori Park, stood a giant ski slope on a scaffold. Throughout the festival, teams of (mostly local) skiers and snowboarders put on aerial exhibitions high above the shivering crowd. The guys and gals below tackled the freestyle moguls the night Nana and I came by to watch. The skiers ranged in age from about 13 to 50 (no joke); they were freestyle beginners, national team superstars, and everything in between.

That guy's 50.

Softening the landing.

That guy's 14.

13, I think. Doing a front flip.
Yeah, it seems you can get pretty good at this sport if you grow up with world-class skiing in your backyard!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sapporo Snow Festival 2013

Last month, Nana and I spent a long weekend in Hokkaido visiting the famous Sapporo Snow Festival (yuki matsuri, 雪祭り). Every February, the city of Sapporo turns its long, narrow, snow-bound Odori Park into a magical celebration of the winter season upon which so much of the area's tourism is built.

First, the amount of snow involved is simply unspeakable. When we arrived, the snow was already piled several feet deep along the roads and sidewalks - and for most of our time there, it just kept falling.

What's more, all along Odori Park, huge blocks of snow had been built up into nearly a dozen towering, multi-story sculptures that loomed over the festival site.
An old Japanese hotel.

A Thai temple. Every year, a foreign tourism board is invited to sponsor a sculpture.
This was right next to a Thai Airways booth.

Some Japanese cartoon characters visit Hawaii. This one was sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines, who have started offering some direct flights to Honolulu from a few secondary Japanese airports. (This includes Fukuoka - we're going later this month!)

An old Japanese government building (I think).

Taipei's Chiang Kai Shek memorial, in snow and ice lit from within. Also, with a bunch of freezing cold B-list J-pop stars and a few inexplicable mascots.

The Chiang Kai Shek memorial in the daytime.

Ise Shrine, the holiest site in the Shinto religion. Now in snow form.

It was hard to capture in a photo, but this sculpture actually had a lot of depth. That bridge projected out about 10 feet from the background. A really neat effect.

Some kind of crazy mercastle thing. In ice.

A detail of the Ise Shrine sculpture at dusk.

Ise Shrine again.
But these mega-sculptures weren't the only attractions: various civic organizations also sponsored their own smaller sculptures, and at one end of the park there was an international contest for snow sculpture teams from all over the world.

A person-sized tower.

A shout-out for Nana's homies.

Instant nightmares.

An ice fox.

Ultraman (naturally).

An Okinawan shi-sa.

This was the US team's entry into the sculpture competition. The team was from Portland. They chose to depict a beaver riding a sled with a very frightened Sasquatch. You do the math.

New Zealand pitches some trippy Maori stuff.

Sapporo landmarks.

Orangutans by the Malaysian team. (Yes, there was a Malaysian snow sculpture team.)

The winners? Thailand's sculpture of these very artistic elephants.

And Finland did a cricket. Hm.
Bonus: it turns out the snow was only one of the attractions at the Snow Festival. The Festival is also a celebration of regional cuisine. (More on that later.) Tons of walking, tons of snow, tons of interesting food? Throw in a day of fresh powder on the ski slopes, and you pretty much have the best weekend ever.