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Japan: Hokkaido (Sapporo White Illumination Festival & Christmas Market)

A winter illumination event that started out in Sapporo with merely 1,000 bulbs in 1981 has since grown to an annual event hosted in Odori Park, which utilizes over 400,000 bulbs to help herald the arrival of the snow season. It is a well-recognized fact that Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, does get a lot of snow. The average annual snowfall in Sapporo is 235 inches or 596 centimeters.

The event is known as the Sapporo White Illumination Festival. It begins in late November and runs through mid-February. Odori Park located in the center of town is Sapporo’s most famous park. While it is quite narrow, it stretches over fifteen blocks in length. In addition to Odori Park which is thematically decorated with lights and lighted sculptures, Sapporo’s main street is also transformed into a kaleidoscope of lights, where trees are decorated with millions of tiny light bulbs providing a romantic backdrop for strolling couples. In Japan, Christmas is considered to be a romantic time. Snuggling up in the cold and enjoying the beautiful lights of the Sapporo White Illumination Festival is just one way for couples to enjoy the season.

All of the lights used during the White Illumination Festival are powered with renewable energy, including recycled cooking oil and solar panels specially designed to produce power even during the heaviest snow season. In these times of global warming and concerns about nuclear power, the festival is a showcase of ways energy can be produced while taking better care of the earth.

Taking place at the same time as the White Illumination Festival, the German Christmas Market celebrates the sister city relationship between Sapporo and Munich. The market was established in 2002 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the sister city affiliation and has been an annual event ever since. During the event, various shops fill one section of Odori Park offering everything from traditional Christmas ornaments and dolls to food such as German sausage and mulled hot wine. The German Market begins in late November and runs through December 25th.

The market features an outdoor stage where you can enjoy performances by dancers, jugglers and a choir singing gospel and Christmas songs. There is an indoor pavilion which showcases numerous events and workshops where you can experience making Christmas decorations and mulled wine. You can even participate in a workshop offering German language lessons.

The Sapporo White Illumination Festival is an awe inspiring collaboration of nature and light to be enjoyed after the sun goes down in Japan’s cold and snowy northern region. Definitely it is an event worth witnessing at least once if you happen to be in the area.

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