Yuki Akari: Snow Light Festival in Otaru, Hokkaido

Many travel to Hokkaido in February for the sole purpose of visiting Sapporo during Yuki Matsuri season. The grandiose ice sculptures of famous film scenes and historic buildings are phenomenal. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they are quite literally known world-wide.

Otaru. It’s a seaside city about half an hour’s train ride north of Sapporo and known for its thriving music box and Venetian-style glass works industry. It’s well-known if not widely known, but once a year, running at the same time as Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri, Otaru comes alive with a beautiful celebration of the four seasons, of light, and of snow.

Walking through snow mazes barely wide enough to admit two, the white paths are lit only by the muted glow of candles burning inside holders made of flowers and maple leaves frozen in ice. They hang from trees like stars or glow in the hollows of carved alcoves within the snow maze’s walls. Everywhere the brightness of light shines as a reminder that the same cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth will soon be mirrored yet again in the four seasons.

The music box crafting and the Venetian glass exhibits were all pleasant ways to spend a day about the city while waiting for nightfall. But… spend a single night in Otaru and you’ll have wished you had taken your entire Yuki Matsuri experience and traded it in for more time in the Snow Light Festival. By a stroke of pure accident, Siri was unable to direct me to the main Snow Light show by the Otaru Unga (Otaru Canal). Instead I found myself meandering along snowlit mazes, descending giant snow slides (twice), and really feeling the spirit of the festival with the locals. The whole experience felt as surreal as accidentally stumbling upon a the land of spirits, imps, and demons. It’s a very fantastical atmosphere, one that I would take a whole week to experience if given the chance again.

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