Perhaps it’s a sign of how peaceful the last 54 years have been for Japan. Since 1955, many of the giant snow sculptures that have made the Sapporo Snow Festival famous around the world have been constructed by members of the Ground Self-Defense Force, which have several bases in Hokkaido. For this year’s festival, to be held from Feb. 5-11, they will be back in action again.

Hamamatsu Castle, Hakodate Magistrates Office and what looks like a giant platter of fish are among the structures the hatchet- and shovel-wielding soldiers are at this very moment sculpting on Sapporo’s central Odori boulevard. To construct their icy replicas, which tower 10 meters and more in height, the sculpting squads use earth-moving equipment to pack snow into giant wooden frames. Then they remove the frames when the snow has hardened and start carving it by hand.

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