The Asahikawa Winter Festival began in 1947 and was known as the "Iyomante" (Bear festival in Ainu). It's primary purpose was to allow people to find some way to enjoy the cold and snow during the coldest month of the long Hokkaido winter. The name changed to the Asahikawa Winter festival in 1960 and since then, many activities have been added to make the Asahikawa Winter Festival one of the most well known winter festivals in Japan. Growing in stature year by year, this is definitely a great event to be involved in if visiting Asahikawa in early February.
Held in conjunction with the Asahikawa Winter Festival, the The International Ice Sculpture Competition is one of the many highlights on Asahikawa's Winter calendar.
Teams and individual competitors are given a few slabs of ice and 36 hours in which to complete their work, regardless of how unaccommodating the weather may get.
This year's event saw 29 teams and 38 individuals take part, an impressive turn-out resulting in ice sculptures spanning the entire length of Kaimono Koen, a total of 17 blocks starting from Asahikawa's central train station.
The setup immediately prior to the start of competition involves a handful of large slabs of ice adjacent to a carefully manicured snow-pack base, a few witches hats to keep the public clear, and a city-sponsored snowman for moral support.
Once the competition starts, the first job is the stacking, cutting and arrangement of the ice to meet the dimensions of the final sculpture. Red or blue marker is then used to sketch the primary cut and shape lines.
A lot of sawing, chiseling and stacking later, the ice is ready for it's final make-over. Here you will see all manner of tools employed to produce the results that people keep coming back to see year after year. Chainsaws, drills, polishers, and irons are expertly applied to create perfect curves, sharp square edges and points, and incredibly intricate details like fish scales, feathers, rows of teeth and chains.
As the teams work through the first day of competition, they endure the bitterly cold Asahikawa winter temperatures, the ever present snow showers, as well as the relentless clicking and flashing of tourists' cameras.
After approximately 40 hours of competition, the sculptures are illuminated front and back to give a stunning night time visual effect and are displayed for the duration of the winter festival.
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