A lack of snow and warming temperatures have made Sapporo's snow festival tricky this year, but it has still produced some fantastic sculptures Photo: AFP
national

Sapporo Snow Festival ending after unprecedented lack of snow

25 Comments
By Natsuko FUKUE

Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to the snow festival in Sapporo, Hokkaido, attracted by some 200 large, but intricate ice sculptures.

The festival closes on Tuesday but this year, there was a problem: no snow.

With high temperatures that festival-goers put down to climate change, organizers were forced to truck in powder from distant towns for their signature sculptures in an unheard-of ice crisis.

"This lack of snow is unprecedented," said Yumato Sato, an official in charge of organizing the snow festival, which normally uses 30,000 tons of the stuff for sculptures ranging from anime characters to famous racehorses.

"We had to bring in snow from places we had never reached out to before" such as Niseko, a town about 60 kilometers away from Sapporo famous for its skiing, he said.

Adding to the problem was the need for pristine snow, perfect for sculpting.

"The snow needs to be free of dirt, otherwise the sculptures can break up," he said. "We barely managed to scrape together enough snow."

Record low snowfall in Japan this year has also forced many ski resorts to shut their pistes. According to Weathernews, one quarter of the 400 resorts surveyed had been unable to operate.

There has been a knock-on effect on one of the snow festival's main attractions -- a 100-meter-long, 10-meter-high slide -- that had to be reduced in size.

Snowfall in Sapporo has been less than half the annual average, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency's local observatory. High temperatures melted the snow in mid-December and the mercury is expected to stay above average.

This posed a major challenge for the 125 local Self-Defense Forces troops who painstakingly construct the sculptures each year that can be as high as 15 meters, according to commanding officer Col Minoru Suzuki.

"Due to record warm weather this year, we didn't have much snow and the snow contained more water which made the statues melt easily," Suzuki told AFP.

His troops spent about 100 days planning and building a 15-meter-all, 20-meter-wide statue modeled on the palace at Lazienki Park in Warsaw to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese-Polish diplomatic relations in 2019.

"We had to keep repairing the statue so we struggled. It was difficult to attach parts because it was so warm," he added.

The festival has been running for 70 years and is a major tourist magnet, drawing 2.7 million visitors last year.

Sunao Kinoshita, a 75-year-old who had travelled up from near Osaka, said he "had to see it once before I die".

"Northern Japanese cities have been hosting snow festivals every year. It would be a shame if such events ended" due to global warming, he said.

A regular festival-goer from the region also laid the blame on global warming. "I was worried the climate was different this year," Ayaka Muto, 31, told AFP. "Usually we have more snow. I think it's strange. I feel global warming is happening." a

The main theme of this year's festival was the ethnic Ainu minority in Hokkaido, as the first Ainu-themed national museum, nicknamed Upopoy or "singing together" in the Ainu language, will open in April.

"We've never before had statues with such powerful Ainu characteristics," Sato said.

One statue featured a giant Blakiston's fish owl spreading its wings watching over sculptures of the museum and a ship. The owl is considered a god in Ainu culture. Another statue was based on the Ainu myth of a thunder god and a forest princess.

And some have been turning to the nature gods of Japan's native Shinto religion to pray for more snow.

In mid-January, a ski resort in western Hyogo prefecture invited a Shinto priest to hold a ceremony to ask the gods for snow, as did the organizers of the Yamagata snow festival in northern Japan.

"It's not that we don't have enough snow. We don't have snow at all. It's serious and it's a disaster," Hyogo Governor Toshizo Ido told reporters last month.

The Sapporo festival organizers hope they can continue the famed event in the future despite the warming climate.

"This year marked the 71st event. It's a festival that we want to carry on for future generations," Sato said. "But this is about weather so all we can do is to pray."

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


25 Comments
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Adapt or perish. In Hokkaido right now and it is snowing non-stop.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Only this year did I learn that the Self Defense Force played such a large role in constructing these sculptures, which a Japanese friend called “advertising” and I cynically labeled “propaganda.”

We both agreed it seemed a less than ideal use of tax money.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

It is too late to stop climate change. We have destabilized a set of complex systems, and now the climate will oscillate between extremes until it falls into a new stable state. It may not be one conducive to Human habitat.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Click bait title. The festival is fine and Sapporo could benefit from getting dumped on so hard from snow.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@it is too late to stop climate change. We have destabilized a set of complex systems, and now the climate will oscillate between extremes until it falls into a new stable state. It may not be one conducive to Human habitat.

Climate change would occur at any level regardless of human habitat. It's the law of nature, just like the body is alive and undergoes changes despite eating well your entire life, medical care etc, so too the earth is alive and undergoes natural changes. Humans that destroy the body by eating unhealthy food is much like humans polluting the earth or destroying their own organs in the earths case the organs are trees, grass, etc, and much like the human body trying to heal itself so too the earth. So dont' panic or buy into the climate change bs because it occurs no matter what just the laws of nature and natural selection. It's when the humans cannot control themselves and respect the 1 habitual home we have just like the body can be killed for good, the difference it would take one heck of a blast to end all life on this planet. The question is who is crazy enough to do such a thing.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

Climate change would occur at any level regardless of human habitat. It's the law of nature

It's weird when people think that the rest of us should ignore the words of the scientists, who study this for their lives and say otherwise, due to some delusion one political party in one country of the world believes.

Why would we ever be so stupid? What exactly is it that makes you think we would be this stupid?

3 ( +7 / -4 )

“And some have been turning to the nature gods of Japan's native Shinto religion to pray for more snow.”

gods of convenience. How’d that work out? It’s nice that they could manage something out of little, but with all the resources and effort put into that little, you think SURELY there is something more productive the SDF and others could have been doing. Ah well.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

As always, city ego and economic interests first.

No thought about harmonising with nature - if there is no snow, don't waste tonnes of fuel trucking in snow from far away. Mental!

And the irony - the organisers not caring about their carbon footprint, will just ensure more and more snow free years.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Scale it down. Fewer sculptures.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The lighting doesn't help, but that owl reminds me of the Nazi eagle. It gives me the creeps.

I prefer the adverts for horse racing and cup noodles.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Ill go ONE day....after I get out of this hospital, and go to Onsen, for sure

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I imagine it would have been a good year to go becaiae of less people with the lack of Chinese tourists going. I swear the last time I went, half of the visitors were Chinese.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

strangerland:

It's weird when people think that the rest of us should ignore the words of the scientists, who study this for their lives and say otherwise

We keep hearing slogans like this, but we are never told who these scientists are and what exactly they are saying. I very much doubt that there are many scientists who claim that politicians can and should regulate the world's climate by legislation and grand political statements.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Sapporo sees an average annual snowfall of 191 inches ( 5 meters approx. )

So half of that, though unusual is not really dramatic. The guys most affected by business are probably the ones clearing the white mass out of the city, aka truck drivers and construction co’s.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

kohakuebisuToday  01:30 pm JST

The lighting doesn't help, but that owl reminds me of the Nazi eagle. It gives me the creeps.

It's an Ainu Owl....ffs...lol

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ski resorts in the Pyrenees say the same, here in Australia, our all year emissions will be double because of those fires, and less trees means more extreme each year, sorry grandchildren, we didn't all drive Prius !

1 ( +1 / -0 )

rgcivilian1:

So dont' panic or buy into the climate change bs because it occurs no matter what

Oh, for god's sake. I am assuming you don't have a scientific background (or possibly even a college degree). Yes, climate changes on large timescales. During the past one million years or so, we have had glacial cycles each lasting around 120,000 years. We are currently at the warm peak, called interglacials, but temperatures are continuing to go up. And guess what? Temperatures and CO2 have suddenly been going up a lot since the Industrial Revolution, circa 1850. Have you seen the Keeling curve? CO2 hasn't been this high since the Late Pliocene, about 3 million years ago. Basic science tells you that the higher the CO2 level, the higher the temperatures will be.

People with a certain agenda, or those ill-informed are in self-denial.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

It's almost like there's some sort of warming of the globe or change in the climate.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

WilliB

We keep hearing slogans like this, but we are never told who these scientists are and what exactly they are saying. 

Here. Let these guys at NASA explain it to you. (There. I've told you the name of one organization. They can tell you the names of others.)

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

2 ( +2 / -0 )

“And some have been turning to the nature gods of Japan's native Shinto religion to pray for more snow.”

gods of convenience. How’d that work out? 

Hyogo and Yamagata prefectures, not Hokkaido, smithinjapan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Due to record warm weather this year, we didn't have much snow and the snow contained more water which made the statues melt easily," Suzuki told AFP.

What else does snow contain? Perhaps something was lost in translation.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Garypen:

Oh, for god's sake. I am assuming you don't have a scientific background (or possibly even a college degree).

I am not climate scientist, and neither are you. I do not see the point of posturing on a readers forum with supposed scientific knowledge. I simply pointed out that when bringing up these slogans about scientists "agreeing", we should clarify who they are and what they were asked.

Where they asked if CO2 is a greenhouse gas? I suspect the answer would be 100% yes. Were they asked if they think politicians could and should try to regulate the worlds climate like a thermostate? Where they asked if they have confidence in the Computer models, and which ones? Where they asked what exactly the "correct" concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere should be? 331 ppm? 332 ppm? 333 ppm? 334 ppm? You know, if you declare that the current concentration is wrong, there must be correct one. Do tell us!

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

Right on top I see the Cook report which has been debunked and the IPCC, which is a political organization. With the other reference organizations, I would still like to know what exactly they agree on. You do realize that all climate model based predictions so far have turned out wrong, or don´t you?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I am not climate scientist, and neither are you.

But you're a denier, right? And yet you consider yourself able to discredit what the scientists say.

Seems legit. Carry on.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Climate change would occur at any level regardless of human habitat. It's the law of nature, just like the body is alive and undergoes changes despite eating well your entire life, medical care etc, so too the earth is alive and undergoes natural changes. Humans that destroy the body by eating unhealthy food is much like humans polluting the earth or destroying their own organs in the earths case the organs are trees, grass, etc, and much like the human body trying to heal itself so too the earth. So dont' panic or buy into the climate change bs because it occurs no matter what just the laws of nature and natural selection. It's when the humans cannot control themselves and respect the 1 habitual home we have just like the body can be killed for good, the difference it would take one heck of a blast to end all life on this planet. The question is who is crazy enough to do such a thing.

Wow that is some stunning ignorance there!

I was going to tell about a little something known as geologic time but thankfully Pukey2 beat me to it, read on & hopefully learn something:

Oh, for god's sake. I am assuming you don't have a scientific background (or possibly even a college degree). Yes, climate changes on large timescales. During the past one million years or so, we have had glacial cycles each lasting around 120,000 years. We are currently at the warm peak, called interglacials, but temperatures are continuing to go up. And guess what? Temperatures and CO2 have suddenly been going up a lot since the Industrial Revolution, circa 1850. Have you seen the Keeling curve? CO2 hasn't been this high since the Late Pliocene, about 3 million years ago. Basic science tells you that the higher the CO2 level, the higher the temperatures will be.People with a certain agenda, or those ill-informed are in self-denial.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@roten

Moisture content in snow can vary wildly by region, and what makes Hokkaido snow justifiably famous for winter sports is the low moisture count, sometimes as low as 5% by volume. Ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest in the States and Canada have a much higher moisture content, which makes the snow much heavier and for many, less desirable.

Putting it differently: if you’ve have ever made a snowball that compacts easily and quickly turns to a hard ball of slush, well, that has a higher moisture content. Whereas in a typical year the snow in Hokkaido is simply too dry to make a snowball.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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