When it comes to festivals in Sapporo, or the whole of Hokkaido for that matter, most people will probably only think of Sapporo Snow Festival. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have never heard of Yosakoi Soran Festival. After all, not that many people will think of visiting Hokkaido in June. Unless you’re Singaporean.
I often mention on this blog that June is really NOT the best time to visit Hokkaido. The summer flowers aren’t really blooming. The spring flowers are gone. The snow is also gone (though it DID snow a little early June last year – Hokkaido’s weather is just freakish like that). The rain and fog keeps coming.
Thanks to the fact that we were forced to visit Hokkaido in June, we discovered Yosakoi Soran Festival.
The first time we visited Hokkaido in June back in 2014, I didn’t know the festival existed. So I had booked air tickets missing the festival by a day. So when we were back in Hokkaido again in June 2016, I planned the trip AROUND the festival. Booking ourselves in Sapporo during the weekend of the festival and fitting the rest of the trip around it.
When I tried to find more information about the festival online, I didn’t get very far beyond this English brochure from the official website. But I wanted to know stuff like where are good vantage points to catch the festival; what are the tickets all about – do we really need tickets or is there a way we can catch the festival for free; if we didn’t buy tickets, what would we be missing out.. You know, stuff that kiasu Singaporeans try to find out (kiasu = Singlish for ‘afraid to lose’).
So fine. If you can’t find ’em, write ’em. Brace yourself… for the long-winded-BBM-style guide to Yosakoi Soran Festival.
What is Yosakoi Soran Festival about?
Don’t confuse Yosakoi Soran Festival with Yosakoi Festival which is held in Kochi prefecture. Yosakoi Soran Festival was inspired by Yosakoi Festival, where teams of dances performed a routine that involved dancers using a pair of wooden clappers called ‘naruko’.
In Hokkaido’s Yosakoi SORAN Festival, the song that the teams used had to include a phrase from Soran Bushi, a type of traditional Hokkaido folk song. You can read more about this fun fact here.
When is Yosakoi Soran Festival
The festival is held in early June each year, though the exact date varies from year to year. But it always stretches from a Wednesday to Sunday.
As reference, below are the dates of Yosakoi Soran Festival for the past few years:
- 7 – 11 June 2017
- 8 – 12 June 2016
- 10 – 14 June 2015
- 4 – 8 June 2014
Below is a typical schedule for the Yosakoi Soran Festival (source):
From Wednesday to Fridays, performances only happen in the evening. So you can do your usual sightseeing in the morning and afternoon, and hang around in the evening to catch the performances. On Saturdays and Sundays, the performances take place throughout the entire days.
So if you plan to catch the festival but don’t wish to spend 5 whole days in Sapporo, the best time to be there is on the weekend. But you can expect accommodation to be more expensive and to sell out faster than usual. For e.g. when I tried to book Mercure Hotel Sapporo for that weekend, it was already sold out by January.
There are two kinds of performances happening at Odori Park site. There is the parade that goes down the roads parallel to Odori Park all the way from 5-chome to 10-chome, and there is the stage performance at 8-chome.
Okay, let me explain this chome thingy. Odori Park is a rectangular park that spreads out across several blocks. 1-chome is the block where Sapporo TV tower is. And as you move WEST, each traffic light you cross will bring you to the next chome.
Below is the map from the official English brouchure:
Bringing back the event schedule from earlier, blue colour refers to stage performances, while green colour refers to performances on the parade route.
By large, Yosakoi Soran Festival is a FREE public event, where anyone can just catch the performances from the sidelines without tickets.
For the parade, the free viewing area spans from 9-chome to 10-chome. So if you want to catch the Odori Park parades for free, park yourself at 9-chome or 10-chome. Either roads to the North or South of Odori Park is fine – the performers will come down both roads concurrently. Just find a spot by the road, sit on the kerb or stand around and you can catch the performances.
However, for visitors who prefer to be seated on spectator stands rather than sitting on the kerb along the parade route, you would need a purchase a ticket. It cost 500yen per pax for each time slot (slightly less than 2 hours) during the usual performances.
However, you may notice that there are the tickets for Saturday Night Parade and Final Night Parade that cost 2000 yen instead of 500 yen. This is because the Saturday Night Parade and Final Night Parade do not go to the free viewing areas at 9 and 10-chome. Nevertheless, it is still possible to catch these two parades without a ticket – simply by standing right next to the spectator stands.
For stage performances, again you can either purchase a ticket to be seated on the spectator stand in front of the stage, or try to catch it for free by sitting on the grass lawn between the spectator stand and the stage.
However to get a seat on the grass lawn in front of the stage, you would need to queue. There was a perpetual *long* queue of people waiting to get in, and they had to wait for people to come out before they could go in. You won’t be able to see much of the stage if you are not either at the spectator stand or the grass lawn, because of barricades set up around the stage area and ushers who forbid people to stop around the stage area to watch as they need to keep the walkways free.
If you don’t wish to purchase ticket or queue to get into the free viewing area, there is a giant screen nearby where you can catch live telecast of what is happening on the stage.
Below is a gallery of some of the performances we caught at the Odori Park site:
At 7-chome, there is an area where visitors can join in and learn some dances. You can borrow a pair of naruko for free there.
And hang around the stage area where there will be people teaching the dance and you can just dance along!
What’s a Japanese festival without food stalls right? At Odori site, the food stalls are all concentrated at 6-chome, surrounding a common seating area.
Visiting with Kids
If you are there with kids, I would recommend you hang around 9-chome. Because that’s where you can find playgrounds and toilets.
During our trip, we were staying in Susukino district – about 4 blocks South of Odori Park. So we managed to catch the Funky! Susukino performances that were held at the Susukino intersection. Click here for exact location on Google Map.
Funky! Susukino is held on the Friday and Saturday of the festival, from 6 to 10pm.
Finding a space to catch Funky! Susukino was akin to getting a spot for the parade at Disneyland. You just try to find a spot to sit by the road – the earlier you arrive, the higher your chances of getting a good spot.
The section right in front of the stage would be the most ideal spot to catch the climax of the dance routines. The later you are, the further from the stage you’ll be bumped to. All the way till the junction where Round 1 building is.
We arrived at exactly 6pm, which multiple visits to Disneyland should have taught us was too late. So we were standing near to where Round 1 was.
But standing at that end of the parade route also had its advantages, as the performers would gather in front of Round 1 building before they start their dance. This is where you see the performers being candid, posing for selfies and waving to their friends in the audience.
This is also where the performers will give their pre-performance cheers. Every group, before they start their performance proper, would do some kind of cheer at the start.
The flag bearers also often hung around at the back of the group, so we got pretty good views of the strong men waving the gigantic flags.
The dance routines will slowly move from the end where Round 1 is, to the end where the stage is. So regardless of where you are sitting (or standing), you will be able to catch parts of the dances.
However, the most exciting parts of the routines tended to be towards the ending when the groups were at the area right in front of the stage.
And we often found ourselves looking at their backs when they were there.
Check out our photo gallery below for more photos from Funky! Susukino:
Other Performance Sites
There are actually 20 performance sites in total for the entire festival. Below is a rough map from Yosakoi Soran Festival’s website:
Beside the Odori Park site and Susukino site that I have mentioned, other more relevant sites for tourists include:
- Sapporo station south exit site
- Sapporo Eki Mae dori, near Sapporo Mitsukoshi and near Tanukikoji
- Sapporo Marui Imai site
- Waku Waku Holiday Hall site
- Hokkaido Old Government Building site
On the above links, you will see a map of the exact location and performance timings for each site.
For more information on Yosakoi Soran Festival, check out their official websites:
If you have any more questions about Yosakoi Soran Festival, feel free to post them in the comments section and we’ll try out best to answer them!
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