Next year’s exhibition venues look set to be empty for the first time in 71 years.

Hokkaido’s capital city of Sapporo comes to life every February, when the central Odori Park, and nearby Susukino and Tsudome sites, are transformed into wintry wonderlands, where visitors can gaze up at giant snow sculptures and walk amongst intricate figures carved from ice.

▼ Odori Park, on a usual year, during the festival

However, this has been no normal year, and like many events at the moment, the coronavirus pandemic is looming over the upcoming Sapporo Snow Festival, forcing organisers to rethink the practicalities and risks involved in holding the event.

The Mayor of Sapporo, Katsuhiro Akimoto, spoke about his concerns at a press conference yesterday, where he revealed that the event may be effectively cancelled, due to the fact that setting up the sites as usual would be difficult due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

▼ These pictures show the immense scale of the sculptures usually seen at the festival.

Back in June, the festival’s organising committee said they planned to scale down the event for 2021, as sponsors were no longer willing to support the construction of giant snow sculptures during the pandemic. Four months earlier, in February, Sapporo became the first place in Japan to declare a state of emergency when a cluster of infections, traced back to two workers at the 2020 Snow Festival, spread throughout the city.

Mayor Akimoto told the press it would be difficult to attract people to a scaled-down event, especially during the coldest months of the year when the virus is still prevalent. The city therefore believes the best solution is to scrap the usual plans for constructing sculptures at the event sites, and the city’s opinion has been conveyed to the event’s organising committee, with a final decision expected by the end of next week. If the usual event is cancelled, it will be the first cancellation in the festival’s 71-year history.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the city, though, as Mayor Akimoto also acknowledged that the event remains an important winter tradition, saying it’s important to not fully extinguish “the light of the festival”. He said he would be open to considering alternatives such as an online festival or the streaming of videos from past snow festivals.

Source: Hokkaido Shimbun via Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Flickr/Rina Sergeeva (edited by SoraNews24)
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