Sapporo's Snowy Songstress Hatsune Miku Takes Over
posted on by Heidi Kemps
Local pride is a big thing in Japan, especially if you're a city outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area. All too often, when one thinks of Japan, the mind goes straight to Tokyo. But there's plenty of Japan beyond the capitol, and these cities, large and small alike, will often promote things like local food, landmarks, and mascots. These not only help increase awareness of these places, but also help inspire things for the locals to rally around.
In the case of Sapporo, the largest city in the northernmost island of Hokkaido, one such symbol is virtual songstress Hatsune Miku. While Miku's a pretty big deal across all of Japan, she has special significance to Sapporo, which is where the company that created her, Crypton Future Media, is located. She's so special, in fact, that locations around Sapporo showcase special goods and decorations themed around a special incarnation of Miku, "Snow Miku," at about the same time as the annual Snow Festival runs. The first Snow Miku was introduced in 2010, but since then, she's become a yearly part of the Snow Festival celebration, donning a different set of clothes each year meant to evoke imagery of the Hokkaido winters.
Each year, a contest is run with a different theme for artists to design Snow Miku's outfit. The winning entry will be featured across all of the various Snow Miku decorations and merchandise, and will be made into figures courtesy of Good Smile Company. This year's winning entry was the Crane Priestess outfit, which is meant to conjure up imagery of white Hokkaido snow.
The centerpiece of all this is a snow sculpture at the Sapporo Snow Festival, the design of which is usually kept under wraps until the festival opens in order to surprise festival-goers. At night, the statue is set alight every half hour with projected images as that year's theme song for the festival plays. The theme this year, "Round Off the Square Earth," is a bouncy, cheerful pop song.
At the Snow Festival itself, you could find several merchandise booths offering Snow Miku related goods alongside other festival souvenirs.
There was also a booth dedicated solely to exclusive (and near-exclusive) Snow Miku merchandise that could only be obtained at the festival. In the early afternoon hours, when I first got to this booth, many items had already sold out -- and the line to obtain other goods was still very long!
But if you don't want to wait in line or stand out in the cold, there are other places around Sapporo that offer unique Snow Miku goods and experiences. At the Norbezza shopping center, for example, you could visit the Mirai:St. cafe, which offered a plethora of themed goods and decorations.
Sugai Dinos is a chain of amusement centers centered in Hokkaido that offer a variety of activities: arcade games, UFO catcher machines, bowling, and sometimes even fitness centers movie theatres. The Sugai Dinos at Norbezza had a special deal going on with their bowling lanes where you could buy a round of bowling, a drink, and an exclusive Snow Miku mug for 2500 yen. If you opted for that, you also got to bowl on the special Snow Miku themed lanes.
Meanwhile, the arcade area of the center featured numerous UFO catcher claw machines filled with Snow Miku-themed prizes only available at Hokkaido arcades, like blankets and pillows. A special Snow Miku themed watch was an exclusive offering you could only get by winning it at Sugai Dinos game centers. (I lucked out and scored two of them!) Spending 500 yen at a single machine would earn you a ticket to trade for an exclusive Snow Miku magnet.
One of the easiest places to get a quick bite to eat in Japan are the convenience stores (often just called "conbini"). Nationwide chain LAWSON was offering Snow Miku-themed warm food to snarf in all of their Sapporo stores.
The Sapporo Volks hobby store had displays themed around Snow Miku. They offer a (very expensive) Dollfie Dream model of Snow Miku, and are taking pre-orders for a new doll outfit themed after her 2018 regalia. While there was a very nice display of Snow Miku and other Dollfie Dreams inside the store, it was sadly no-photos-allowed.
But the biggest collection of Snow Miku stuff can be found at the New Chitose Airport, the major hub for travel in Hokkaido. The airport has a very large collection of pre-security-check stores, including an Animate and a Doraemon-themed store. One such facility is Snow Miku Skytown. This Miku-themed specialty store has a huge selection of exclusive merchandise you won't find anywhere else.
Phone cases, figures, clothing, collectibles -- Skytown has everything a Miku fan could want to buy, and thankfully, it's open year-round!
There's also a Snow Miku Museum inside Skytown, which features artwork and displays highlighting many of the Snow Miku designs over the years. You can also see a life-sized statue of Snow Miku herself!
There were a few Snow Miku displays I couldn't get photos of, such as the themed Snow Miku light rail car and the Snow Miku display and store at the Sapporo Factory shopping center. (I'm especially sad about that last one, since it didn't open until the 10th and it was the only place to buy the Nendoroid and figma figures!) But it's easy to see that Snow Miku has become a significant part of Sapporo's Snow Festival celebrations -- and a part of the region's identity.