70th Annual Sapporo Snow Festival

The annual Sapporo Snow Festival, one of Japan's most celebrated winter events, officially opened Monday in the Hokkaido capital.

Commemorating the centenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland, a snow sculpture of the Helsinki Cathedral was made by local members of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force at the main Odori site and lit up at night.

Other exhibits include sculptures featuring Naomi Osaka, Japan's women's world No. 1-ranked tennis player and two-time Grand Slam champion, and "Chibi Maruko-chan," the main character of the namesake manga and anime series created by Momoko Sakura who died last August.

More than 2 million people from Japan and abroad are expected to visit the 70th festival held at three sites in Sapporo through Feb. 11. Visitors can choose their favorite from among approximately 80 small snow sculptures and vote through a smartphone app until Friday.

The Tsudome site, the festival's second largest display area, opened Thursday, while the Susukino site, showcasing ice displays, began Monday, the same day as the Odori site.

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The first Sapporo Snow Festival was held in Odori Park in 1950, with only six snow statues made by local high school students. Beyond all expectations, the festival attracted about fifty thousand people and soon became a major winter event of Sapporo.

Sapporo hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 1972, and the Snow Festival was widely acknowledged around the world through international media. The Sapporo Snow Festival has developed its international aspect over the years, and has been creatively evolving up to the present. This year’s event was the highest attendance yet, as visitors to Sapporo Snow Festival hit record 2.74 million thanks to weather and Chinese New Year tourists.

Andrij Harasewych