February 15, 13 | Gakkun
Shikotsuko is Japan's northernmost ice-free lake. The clear waters have rated number one in Japan for quality in recent years and, have been home to a special winter festival for 35 years running. The Chitose Shikotsuko Hyoutou Festival! (Hyoutou means "Ice Wave")
Works of art large and small, all made from ice, are lined up for visitors to enjoy as they walk through the event. Dusted with Hokkaido snow the works provide an interesting look at a fantastic world of ice.
There are many snow festivals held across Hokkaido during the winter months, perhaps the best known is Sapporo's Snow Festival. However, ice festivals are not so common. Among those few, the festival here at Shikotsuko lake provides remarkably detailed works made from pristinely clear ice. It's quite a beautiful event.
The blue color of Shikotsuko lake is well known to many, but before you see it with your own eyes, it's hard to believe. The ice sculptures standing around the lake, when viewed on a bright day, give a serene sense of peace and solemn aura to the area that impresses even locals. For those that have never been to such an event before, standing among the sometimes ten meter tall sculptures can be overwhelming. Even I felt that I had stepped into another world.
There are many different sculptures to view at the event. Some have been recreated every year since the event began 35 years ago such as the haunting "Moss Cave," still others are brand new to the festival. One of this year's new works, "A walk beneath Shikotsuko" imagines what it would be like to look up from the bottom of Shikotsuko Lake. In the afternoon the daylight brings out the details of each work, and at night the event is lit up with many colors, giving each work its own unique feel. The difference between the two experiences makes it worth sticking around for a whole day.
▲ "Moss Cave" (Left) and "A Walk Beneath Shikotsuko Lake"(Right) while both crafted from ice, have quite a different mood.
▲ The sculptures are painted with colors during the night hours. The feeling at night is completely different than during the day.
There are 11 main staff members that take part in making this event a success, and they are dedicated to the lake all year round. During the winter months this event takes priority, but during summer months they are busy as canoe and pleasure cruise guides as Shikotsuko Lake field workers.
The sculptures begin working in November and preparation for the event actually begin over three months before it is held. They begin construction on the bases of the works as soon as physically possible by spraying a mist of water drawn from Shikotsuko Lake onto the foundations. Little by little the ice freezes and eventually the works are completed.
Shikotsuko Lake is located only 40 minutes from New Chitose Airport in a relatively warm area. Because of this the style of ice sculpting is a bit different than the usual method. The sculptures must be built slowly so as to properly set, unlike the quick turnover in other festivals.
I also found out the secret behind the bright blue color of the statues. If you look closely you'll be able to see small air bubbles within the ice. Light is diffused through these bubbles and a blue color is reflected out. However, these bubbles are hard to create using the slow freezing process required here, so the quality of water must be extremely high to achieve the effect. In order to absorb red light, the ice itself must be extremely clear, if not completely transparent. The blue quality of these statues is just a great example of the quality of water in Shikotsuko Lake.
The thicker the ice the better it absorbs red wavelengths of light, which is re reason the blue in these statues is so pronounced. The whole effect is truly a result of the combination of water quality and diligent work by the event staff.
The cold weather this year helped the sculpting process move along quite smoothly. so expect high quality works if you plan on visiting!
This event is being held just north of the New Chitose Airport, making it a gateway to the north of sorts and a beautiful introduction to the beauty of Hokkaido. While this festival is unique enough to warrant a special trip to Hokkaido, while you're here be sure to travel around the area and take in the beautiful scenery.
There is one thing that you have to be sure to do if you visit, even if you're an adult. There are ice slides built in to some of the ice works, you have to try them! Although it is meant to be a kid's attraction I couldn't help but enjoy myself. The whole place feels like a fantasy world, so why not slip back into little-kid-mode?
▲ This attraction isn't just for kids so be sure to enjoy yourself!
On weekends you can expect fireworks in addition to the regular illumination. However, the daytime experience is also incredible so I suggest that you visit during the day and stay until night so you can get the best of both worlds!
○ 2013千歳・支笏湖氷濤まつり (Chitose's 2013 Shikotsuko Hyoutou Festival)
The event finishes on Sunday, February 13th.
※ Lit from 4:00 pm until 10:00 pm
Sponsor: Shikotsuko Executive Committee (Part of the Chitose Tourism Association)
Venue: Shikotsuko Onsen, Chitose, Hokkaido
Admission is free.
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Gakkun)
(All photographs provided by the Shikotsuko Hyoutou Festival Committee)