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.

Yuki Matsuri Day 1

Began the adventure bright and early from Hachinohe Station bound for Sapporo with a backpack full of 5 days worth of clothes and an iPad brimming with reading material.

Most people take the night train to Sapporo to save some serious cash on transport – this is the smart option, the one you should take if you have a chance – but I opted for the slightly more expensive take-the-Shink route for the experience and because some odds and ends cropped up for that Friday night.

It’s not a very straightforward trip as it requires two to three transfers but there are very helpful station attendants along the way if you are in need of assistance. You can opt for reserved or non-reserved seats. For the cost of an extra 200 yen (a small sacrifice, in my opinion, but up to each person to decide) you get a specific seat reservation. Otherwise you may end up in a carriage standing in the back throughout the duration of your trip.

I get motion sickness so having my own seat where I can curl up on the seat desk is non-negotiable. But it’s doable if you don’t mind sitting on the floor or standing for longer periods of time. Approximately a six hour forty minute ride from start to finish.

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Arrived, grabbed refreshments with two friends who had been in the area since six in the morning, dropped of unnecessary items at hostel where I checked in. Before hitting the streets to check out the festival. It’s quite amazing to see these giant, life size statues of buildings and famous characters (everything from Darth Vadar to Alive in Snowland to Kagusa Taisho).

Finished off the evening with a massive enkai at the Kirin Beer Hall. All you can eat meat and famous beer! More pictures and stories to come later. For now… Sleeeeeep!

Yuki Matsuri Predeparture

TO DO
1. Laundry
2. Wash dishes
3. Pay bills
4. Take out money for a couple days of adventuring
5. Shut off water
6. Submit D&D character bio to GM
7. Pack clothes
8. Charge all electronic devices
9. Passport!
10. Coffee

Too much to do and not enough time but half the fun is in the undertaking! Just one more day and three more classes. Then I’m off for another adventure in Sapporo. What is this life?! Never in a million years did I see myself doing something like this on a regular basis. If it’s a dream, no one wake me. If I’m in the matrix, leave me behind and don’t come back for me.

Still, it’s been a rather stressful two weeks. A minor car accident on an icy road just last week, a snow writing challenge that needs to be finished before D&D eats up my every other weekend, D&D bio that had to be written and submitted ages ago, phonics lesson plans and prepping, and potentially snowboarding trip over Valentine’s Day weekend.

And somewhere between all that I forgot about ballet and kendo. Whoops… T.T The fault, however, lies not in my stars but in myself for being an underling.