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Art, games at 61st Sapporo Snow Festival

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If only refueling missions in the Indian Ocean were as simple as building snow sculptures.

There isn’t much that Japan’s Self- Defense Forces can do outside of its nation’s borders — without getting caught in a complex web of legal issues. Fortunately no such complications arise when it comes to assisting preparations for the massive and world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival, which will be held Feb. 5-11.

For the last month, the Inspectorate General of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Northern Army, along with its 11th Brigade have been busy hauling 32,500 tons of snow into three venues in central Sapporo and then using it to construct over 100 giant sculptures and other structures. Some of the highlights of this year’s festival include snow models of the Iolani Palace in Hawaii, the Frauenkirche (The Church of Our Lady) in Dresden, Germany, and a diorama featuring popular manga and anime character Chibi Maruko-chan. These and other structures — some reaching to over 10 meters in height — will be built along a 1.5 km-stretch of Sapporo’s central Odori boulevard.

But the Sapporo Snow Festival has much more to offer than stunning snow structures. At a second venue, the Sapporo Tsudome in Sakaemachi, there will be a range of hands-on snow-themed attractions to enjoy. Visitors can hop in a rubber inner-tube and rocket down an 80-meter-long snow-slide. For small children there is also a 12-meter-long ice slide while older children-at-heart might want to try snowrafting — in which a river raft is towed along by a snowmobile.

And to top it all off, the event’s slightly more subdued third venue, the Susukino district of Sapporo, will feature a range of elegant ice sculptures.

The 61st Sapporo Snow Festival takes place Feb. 5-11. For details, visit www.snowfes.com