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The Sapporo Snow Festival

As if you needed another reason to love Japan. You already knew about the cherry blossoms in March, and the beautiful leaves changing colors in late Fall. You’ve checked out the different castles throughout the country, and perhaps spent a few hours submerged underwater in a slightly catatonic state at some of its onsens. But have you had the chance to head north to Hokkaido to see massive snow sculptures of your favorite anime characters yet? My sister, Neetha, went this year and loved it.

Wait, what is it?

The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual winter event where millions of people gather to admire amazing snow and ice sculptures. It takes place during the second week in February, although Neetha and her friends visited Sapporo just for the weekend. While Sapporo is the main attraction, other cities like Otaru and Asahikawa also have snow festivals. Let me clarify by saying that there is a lot more types of statues to see than ones of just anime – some of the larger sculptures include an impressive Taj Mahal snow sculpture, a beautiful ice sculpture of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, and an incredibly detailed Tsuruga Castle snow sculpture. There are about a dozen larger snow sculptures, and they can be as big as 50 feet high, and more than 80 feet wide.

The different sites

The Sapporo Snow Festival has 3 different sites: Odori, Susukino and Tsu Dome. Neetha said that each place wasn’t too crowded and it was pretty easy getting from Odori to Susukino (and Tsu Dome is only a short distance outside of the center of town.) Odori Park is where you will find the larger snow sculptures, and the park is full of about one hundred smaller sculptures as well. And by smaller I mean that they are around 6 – 7 feet each, still pretty impressive. Odori hosts the International Snow Sculpture Contest at the International Square, and about a dozen national teams from all over the world compete for first prize. This year’s winner was Hong Kong with a stunning Leaping Dragon statue. Here is the list of all the participating teams and their beautiful sculptures.

Even though Odori Park tends to be the main attraction, the ice sculptures at Susukino are no joke, either. At night these sculptures are lit up and really come to life. Also head to Tsu Dome if you want to have some fun on their ice slides.

Escaping the cold – must eats in Hokkaido

Neetha had a great time at the snow festival, but she couldn’t stop talking about how cold it was (well, duh.) To keep the frostbite from settling, Neetha and her friends would break up their time at the festival with several visits to some of the restaurants in the area. Hokkaido is known for its dairy products and miso ramen, and they found a small ramen alley next to the ice sculptures in Susukino that she raves about. Neetha also highly recommends going to the Sapporo Biergarten for its Genghis Khan mongolian beef (unlimited beer addition optional.)

About the festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival started back in 1950 when high school students made a few smaller snow sculptures in the park. The following year members from the Self-Defense Force erected a giant snow statue, and since then the event has grown to include other citizens, businesses, and people from other countries. If you’re curious about the process of making one of these bad boys, here is a brief step by step for the snow sculptures (although I have a feeling this may be a harder DIY than you had hoped.) The festival is definitely on my list of must-sees – hope I can make it out there next year! Anyone care to join me?

All photos taken by Neetha Mony.

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My Reasons to Love New York: The Winter Edition

I’m from California, and I know all you Chicago folks are going to roll your eyes when I say this but it is COLD in New York!

I’ll be honest, I spent the first few days back in NYC mostly in my apartment “researching” (aka hibernating) and telling myself I was working off my reverse culture shock and readjusting to a somewhat normal routine once again. After a week passed, I realized that I was wasting time that many other people would love to have. I mean, I’m in New York!  Concrete jungle where dreams are made of and all that jazz, I need to channel my inner Alicia Keys and enjoy the moment! So I got on my cutest Japanese winter outfit (shorts with tights and boots of course, and any faux fur I could find), grabbed my boyfriend (my Canon Rebel) and braved the windchill. And you know what – even in what I consider to be the worst month of the year, this city is still pretty amazing.  Even if I just got back from being outdoors and I’m pretty sure my fingers are still numb while I type this. So to honor my fine city of current residence, here is my short and not at all exhaustive list of…

My Reasons to Love New York Even When It’s Ridiculously Cold Outside:

1) The Cozy Bar Scene

Nothing beats a bucket of beer at The Frying Pan on a cool summer afternoon, but when winter hits where do all the thirsty New Yorkers run to? One of the reasons I love New York in the winter is because of the fantastic bar scene. Choose your poison – a whiskey bar with a toasty fireplace to keep your blood warm, a restaurant/bar with some great live music that’s superb for people watching, or perhaps a rooftop bar with an amazing (but indoor) view of the city? When it comes to bar options in winter, the city is full of good spots. My current favorite is JIMMY, a sexy and modern rooftop bar atop The James Hotel in SoHo. The drinks are steep but on point, their fireplace is a great touch, and you can get a killer view from just about anywhere in the bar. And I do mean anywhere – the women’s bathroom has a floor to ceiling window. But don’t be shy, I’m pretty sure no one can see you.

View from JIMMY at The James. Photo not my own.

Another favorite spot of mine is Revel in the Meatpacking District. I can’t handle lines even when the weather is warm, and I sure don’t want to be standing outside on a cold January night! Revel is a great spot because even though its in Meatpacking its not ultra-pretentious or impossible to get into, and once inside there’s a great outdoor area with a retractable roof in the back. Don’t worry they close the roof in winter. Also, my friend and favorite resident DJ, Dj Japancakes, is there on most Saturday nights. The crowd can be hit or miss at times, but the music is hot and you’re only a stone’s throw away should you choose to venture out to one of the other spots in MPD. Beware of the door woman at the Jane Hotel!

Other honorable mentions:

The Spotted Pig, a fantastic West Village gastropub for people watching.

Lovers of Today, a hard to find but cozy spot in the East Village.

2) Madison Square Park, and everything in it.

In the summer, Madison Square Park was one of my favorite lawns to lay out at and do my weekly crosswords. And in the winter, its still a favorite spot because the bare trees with the clocktower look stunning. But aside from being a cute park to take a break at, what I really love about it is that its the home of Shake Shack! And the best part about Shake Shack in the winter: shorter lines! Note that I didn’t say short because c’mon, New Yorkers and tourists alike will do anything when they have a shake shack craving. But today’s line around 2pm was not bad at all. Never been to Shake Shack? Be bold and don’t skip their shakes – they’re pretty damn tasty and maybe even worth the frostbite your hands will get from holding it.

Second best reason to love Madison Square Park: turn around and you are facing Eataly, New York’s giant Italian marketplace. People seem to have mixed feelings about Eataly. Some people don’t like the set up of Birreria, their rooftop bar/restaurant. Others often complain about it being too crowded. It is a very busy spot, but I still brave the crowds when I go because I need to feed my addiction. My coffee addiction that is, not my love of all things Italian (although they do go hand in hand.) To me, Eataly’s coffee/espresso at Caffe Lavazza is some of the tastiest that I’ve tried in the city. When I drink it, it puts me right back in Italy having cappuccino and brioche with my friend in Milan and talking about what went wrong with Juventus. Don’t take my word on it though, try it for yourself! And grab a seat at one of their food tables, help yourself to some snacks and warm yourself up with a glass of wine. Buon appetito!

3) Food Trucks

While we’re on the subject of food, I thought I should bring up one of my year-round favorite reasons I love this city. The amazing selection of FOOD TRUCKS. One of the best things about food trucks in winter is that since they’re mobile, you don’t have to walk across town to get your Kimchi Taco Truck fix. Just check their calendar to see when they come to you. How great is that. Even though harsh weather conditions can sometime hurt the food trucks schedule, for the most part I feel that they try hard to make it out to their customers on a regular basis. If you are reluctant about trying it, as someone who will proudly admit that I follow about 10 different food trucks on Twitter, I can say say that food there is ridiculously delicious too. And if that still doesn’t tickle your fancy, let me just suggest an at-home delivery alternative: FreshDirect.

4) Ice Skating

Ok, full disclosure: I really hate ice skating. Like personally taking part in the activity. It’s just that I lack certain coordination skills, so me on blades is never a good idea. I’m that girl who is clinging to the wall, or the one who won’t let go of your hand. If I go down, you better believe you’re coming with me! That being said, even I can admit that ice skating is adorable. I mean, its got to be one of the top five winter date ideas right? I just saw some guy spitting game on his date just now, and you know what? It worked. Magical ice skates, I tell ya. Ice skating makes the city light up. Below is a picture of people skating in Bryant Park on a Friday afternoon. If I had to pick, I would choose Wollman Rink in Central Park, but between the Rockefeller Center Rink and the Standard Hotel Ice Rink in Meatpacking (just to name a few,) you definitely have your choice of options.

5) Central Park!

Central Park is breathtaking in the fall with all the leaves changing colors, but there is something so serene about seeing it blanketed in snow. With this weekend having the first real snow of the season, I decided to head into the park to capture some photos. Note: fingerless gloves are not enough to keep your hands warm when photographing outdoors, brr. Central Park is fantastic and I was thrilled to stumble upon a spot where about twenty-five kids (and even a few big kids my age) were sledding. Seeing them having such a great time outdoors right in the heart of the city was magical and it made me appreciate the change in seasons here. I love New York!

What are your reasons to love NYC in the winter?

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Filed under International Food Tour, New York, The States