What started out over 60 years ago as a school boy fun pastime is now a full fledged Snow and Ice Festival in Sapporo, Japan, during early February every year. Innocent snowmen with button eyes, a carrot nose and a shawl belong to the past. Now there is corporate sponsorship for monumental structures, intricately carved, fancifully lit at night and attracting about 2 million visitors to the city. The two main sites – Odori Park and Susukino Street – are a hub of activity for weeks before hand. After all, it takes tons of compacted snow and hundreds of hours to form and carve these pieces.
Hokkaido Tourism, for example, sponsored a complex snow sculpture depicting local fauna, including a life-like Blakistone fish owl and an Ezo red fox and her kits. Both these animals have come to symbolize the island of Hokkaido and its still largely pristine natural environment.
I visited in 2012 and because 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of normalization between Japan and China, a half-size scale construction of the Temple of Heaven occupied a very central position.
And then there was the almost full size Hiunkaku of Hongwanji Temple in Kyoto. This building is considered a national treasure. The snow structure was produced by Hokkaido Television Broadcasting Co., the 18th Infantry Regiment, 11th Tank Batallion, 11th Engineer Company and the 11th Signal Company of the 11th Division of the Ground Self-Defense Force – I am not making this up, these are the official credits! You can judge the scale of the building by the attendant fixing one of the lights.