Yesterday’s trip to Asahikawa was a great experience, but there’s a lot more to the city than just its famous zoo, especially at this time of year.
Welcome to the third winter festival of our journey.
I boarded the day’s first Super Sōya limited express service and headed straight back to Asahikawa.
Many JR Hokkaidō services on this route don’t have Green Cars, but the Super Sōya is an exception. The KiHa 261 train used for this limited express run has nine Green Car seats in one of its end carriages.
At about ten minutes past nine, I got off at Asahikawa Station and transferred to a free shuttle bus that took me to a riverside spot near the Asahibashi Bridge – one of two venues for the 55th Asahikawa Fuyu Matsuri.
Japan-Guide notes that the Asahikawa Winter Festival is Hokkaidō’s second largest, after the one in Sapporo. It certainly looked the part, with no less than two separate venues and plenty to see in each one. The Asahibashi site in Asahikawa looked like a cross between the Ōdōri and Tsu-Dome venues in Sapporo, with a combination of massive snow sculptures and loads of family-friendly hands-on attractions.
Let’s start with the hands-on stuff. There were snowmobile-towed banana boats for the adventurous . . .
. . . and a miniature train for the not-so-adventurous.
You want slides? They’ve got slides. A nice big one with two ice-paved tracks . . .
. . . and several smaller ones with varying themes.
The themed slides often played a double role as ice sculptures, of which there were plenty on the festival grounds.
The Fuyu Matsuri traditionally features one giant work of frozen art, which also serves as the backdrop for the main stage. This year’s was based on a Transformers theme, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the franchise.
A long ramp led towards the top of the giant sculpture, where the artists playfully depicted a robot chilling out in a little niche.
The elevated spot also offered great views of the festival site.
A festival isn’t a festival without food, and there was plenty of that to go around. Scallops grilled in the shell, roasted sweet potatoes, soups and stews . . . no shortage of choices here.
From the Asahibashi site, I boarded another free shuttle bus and made my way to the Heiwa-dōri shopping street, the festival’s second venue. This was the local counterpart of the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri’s Susukino site and featured a long, open-air gallery of amazing ice sculptures.
Mm, I wonder what incredible artistic transformation lies ahead for these blocks. (Unless they’re extras consigned to the slush-heap.)
An evening visit might be particularly attractive as the artworks are lit up after dark, but I was favourably impressed even during the daytime.
The ice gallery continued right up to the railway station, where I boarded a train bound for Sapporo.
I called an early conclusion to this day’s events, partly because I had to collect my luggage and change hotels. Despite making my reservations well in advance, my first hotel in Sapporo was booked out for part of my trip, leaving me with no alternative but to lodge at a significantly more expensive place for the last two nights. (A word of caution to anyone planning to attend next year’s Yuki Matsuri: firm up your arrangements months ahead of time!)
But before my return journey, there was time to rest up and admire the new interiors of Asahikawa’s recently renovated station.
That evening, as I was relaxing in my new hotel room, I treated myself to a special ice cream that now ranks as one of my favourite flavours.
Oh, Japan. What will you think of next? (^_^)