Since starting in 1950, Japan's famed Sapporo snow festival, which opens on January 31st, has become one of the Asian nation’s largest winter events, and last year attracted a record-high 2.74 million visitors. However, this year’s organisers are being forced to bring in lorry-loads of snow to build their signature sculptures after an unexpectedly warm winter, AFP reported.
The festival takes place in Hokkaido’s capital in northern Japan and is a major tourist draw for the region. Sapporo residents, government workers, and volunteers are helped by members of the armed forces to build the main attraction of the festival, around 200 impressive snow and ice sculptures, which are magically lit up at night.
Lorries have had to bring in snow from Sapporo suburbs and from towns as far as 30 kilometres away, according to Fumiya Onoue, an official at Sapporo's tourism office, on Friday, January 10th.
The task is complicated by the need for pristine snow that is perfect for sculpting.
"We are trying hard," Onoue said. "This is unprecedented… The snow should be free of dirt, stones, or snow-melting agents, because they could cause the breakdown of sculptures.”
Total snowfall in the city since the start of November has been less than half that of an average year, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency's local Sapporo observatory.
Snow melted in high temperatures in mid-December and a low atmospheric depression at the end of the year brought in warm air, an official said, without blaming climate change directly for the higher temperatures and lack of snow.
"Global warming has been going on for a long time and it's behind all sorts of phenomena… But we can't simply hold it responsible for this season's particularly low snowfall," the official explained.
"Winter is not over yet… We need to continue observation to get an indication of what's happening this season," the source added.
Last year there were around 190 exhibits, including sculptures featuring the world’s number one ranked Japanese woman tennis player, Naomi Osaka, and a model of Helsinki Cathedral, the latter commemorating the centenary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Finland.