I enjoy really cold weather -- perhaps because I live in a country where the seasons are called "hot" and "hotter". So when an opportunity to go the very famous Snow Festival or Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo presented itself, I knew I had to go.
I flew in from Tokyo on an early morning flight. From New Chitose Airport where we landed, it was a forty minute train ride into metropolitan Sapporo. This is the snowbound landscape that was on view from my rather dirty train window.
I could see nothing but snow, snow everywhere! The streets, sidewalks and houses were covered with it. It was bright and sunny but the temperature outside was a few degrees below zero.
After checking in at the hotel, it was time to go around the city and check out the preparations for the Yuki Matsuri. I immediately fell in love with Sapporo's small-city, friendly, laid back vibe.
The streets were wide, set out in a grid like style and there were no tall skyscrapers that blocked out the sky and hemmed you in. I felt a sense of spaciousness that I definitely never felt in Tokyo.
Odori Park, main site of the Snow Festival cut across several blocks and is anchored on one end by the Sapporo TV tower which looked quite familiar -- a smaller cousin of the Tokyo Tower.
I arrived the afternoon before the opening day of the Snow Festival but many of the ice and snow sculptures were already in place.
Most of them were sponsored by big Japanese companies -- such as this (literally) ice cold giant mug from Suntory.
People were busy putting the finishing touches to this huge ramp which would be used for the snowboarding competitions.
Just like any festival, there were many booths selling special food and beverages -- most of them specialties from all around Hokkaido and even from other places around Japan.
There were also booths selling souvenirs - lots of kawaii stuff that can be quite hard to resist.
There were a number of major snow sculptures at the festival. One of the bigger ones was this
Star Wars spectacle with Darth Vader looking not quite as menacing in his all white get up.
The sculptures were awesome -- the bigger ones were done by the Japanese self-defense forces and were created using bulldozers plus a lot of technical and precise engineering and creative techniques.
Smaller snow sculptures done by citizens and volunteer groups dotted the sides of Odori Park.
This is how cold the afternoon was ... -3C. With the sun about to go down, I anticipated the temperature to drop by another degree or two.
I passed by these snow figures of a mother and son -- the little boy was obviously enjoying his rotenburo or open air bath.
Nara prefecture sponsored this large snow sculpture of the Kasuga Taisha shrine.
And this was the main reason why I had to be here at the 2015 Yuki Matsuri.
Because 2015 is Visit Philippines Year, the organisers of the Yuki Matsuri had invited the Philippines to participate as the featured country for the Festival.
Our very own Manila Cathedral, all done up in snow, was right in the main square of Odori Park.
The Japanese self defense forces certainly outdid themselves -- the Cathedral had been captured perfectly, in all its Romanesque glory.
The carvings of the saints, the imposing rose glass window on top, the intricate carvings, even the latin words on the doors -- they had all been painstakingly and lovingly sculpted in snow.
Right across the Cathedral was the cheerful and colourful Philippine booth -- ready for tomorrow's influx of festival visitors. It was a great way to show off the Philippines to the many domestic and foreign tourists that would visit the Festival. Each year, visitors average from 2.5 to 3 million during the week-long event. Yuki Matsuri is one of Japan's premier and most popular festivals.
The Department of Tourism brought in folk dancers from Manila who performed for the large crowd in their bright and vibrant Filipiniana outfits -- to lots of applause and great success.
They would continue to perform twice a day for the whole duration of the Yuki Matsuri.
The warmth and beauty of the Philippines was definitely on display on this bitingly cold, sub-zero day in Sapporo.