Hokkaido town opens ice hotel, with wet bar

Kyodo

Tobetsu, a little known Hokkaido town aiming for revitalization, has opened Japan’s first hotel made of ice, with three guest rooms, a bar and a variety of attractions.

The Ice Hills Hotel, designed by 61-year-old Hidenobu Nakaya, owner of a Sapporo-based design company, opened earlier this month and will operate until March 15.

Tobetsu, which is in the Ishikari district near Sapporo, gets a lot of snow, much of it brought by strong winds blowing through gaps between mountains stretching near Ishikari Bay. The town has a reputation for being bitterly cold.

Planners are hoping the Ice Hills Hotel will help attract more tourists to the town.

“The snow piles up in drifts and covers the whole town. We would like to overturn the negative association of the snow with bitter cold,” said Nakaya.

He noted ice hotels are popular in Northern Europe in the winter.

Tobetsu’s ice hotel was built mainly by craftsmen with experience building such hotels in Sweden.

Nakaya, who was appointed to design the bar where leisure activities at the hotel are centered, cut snow blocks that had frozen into ice with a chain saw.

“I didn’t dare use plans for the building. I thought about the design while constructing it,” he said.

Nakaya studied design at Osaka University of Arts in Sapporo, then later took over a family-owned liquor shop. When he was in his mid-30s, however, he decided to enter the design industry. His name has since been recognized for his commitment and contribution to the community through his hard work to raise the profile of Hokkaido businesses.

The idea of the ice hotel project emerged when a local chocolate maker, one of Nakaya’s customers, urged him to find a way to teach people more about Tobetsu, which had been known as an industrial town.

Nakaya was appointed head of the ice hotel planning committee.

The ice hotel has three guest rooms with beds and tables for overnight stays. The hotel is illuminated by candles and LED lights to enhance its atmosphere.

“I want people to experience the winter chill of the north and enjoy another world,” Nakaya said.