Saturday, February 15, 2014

Frozen in Hokkaido

I heard the white snow crunch underneath my feet and I felt a sharp pain in my hands. I wondered, what the hell I had gotten myself into.

In October, it was decided that I and a few fellow OkiJETs would take the tour to Japan’s most well-known yuki matsuri or snow festival, the Sapporo Snow Festival. Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido, the Japan’s most northern prefecture and island. The snow festival, held between February (insert day), displays an exhibition of snow and ice sculptures at Sapporo’s Odori Park. With my suitcase full of thermals and Frozen’s “Do you want to build a snowman” stuck in my head, I boarded the plane for the coldest weather I have felt in my life.

Upon arriving in Sapporo, we stowed our belongings in a locker and made our way to the snow festival. Sapporo station was immense! It contained an underground shopping mall and those underground walkways found in most cities where the cold is unbearable.

At the snow festival, I first encountered enormous snow structures in support of Japanese athletes in the Sochi Winter Olympics and the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The snow festival spanned several blocks and each block represented a certain theme. I paid less attention to the themes and scouted for some of my favorite Japanese characters such as Hello Kitty and Totoro. Aside from the more typical structures, I noticed that some snowmen were of company mascots, and assumed the companies paid hundreds of thousands of yen to create and display their frozen mascots, sort of like snowy Super Bowl commercials. 

Kitty-chan <3

Tots <33

Ice sculptures were displayed on a main street in Sapporo that reminded me of Tokyo’s Shibuya ward due to the amount of jumbotrons. The ice sculptures were beautiful, but my favorites were those that contained real fish and crabs within the ice. It seemed a bit cruel, but they stood out from the rest because of it. 

The food at the snow festival was delicious! I’m not a big eater, but the seafood was amazing! Moreover, they have plenty of hot food, like ramen, crab leg soup, and corn on the cob to warm your innards.

Vegetarian Nabe was so delish!

Well, technically I'm pescatarian ;)

Although the Sapporo Snow Festival and onsens were the highlight of my trip, I also took  a personal day and explored town near Niseko, which was overrun by foreigners on their annual skiing trip. I relaxed, ate at a café, and discovered the one mountain that may rival Mt. Fuji (although Mt. Fuji is technically a volcano). As I walked back to the hotel, I could only hear the snow crunching under my feet. I paused for a moment to listen and I heard nothing. It was eiry but the scenery coupled with the silence brought about a peace that could only come from the stillness of cold.

Those are clouds!

I was happy to experience the snow, but I was also grateful that I didn’t live in it. As a Venezuelan girl who was raised in Miami and is currently living in Okinawa, I was not built for long periods of cold. Maybe I’ll visit Sapporo again, but during the summer. Maybe

So peaceful (much lens flare!)

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