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ICE VILLAGE

Shimukappu Village is one of the coldest areas in Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. There is a big resort called "ALPHA RESORT" in Tomamu, Shimukappu. It's not unusual this time of year for days to get severely cold with temperatures below -20?. Visitors from all over the world are attracted to witness the best snow conditions being made by the coldness. Even if you are not a skier nor a snowboader, you can enjoy all other kinds of winter activities in the facilities around the mountain. They boast the world's highest twin skyscrapers in a mountainous region, which maybe you've heard about.

However, it is not well known that a fantastic space, with a scholar's idea and engineers' skill, coupled with Tomamu's temperature was also lurking in this resort. In fact, the space has been developed over the last 9 years, but they just started emphasizing the space from this season as the highlight of "ALPHA RESORT". We visited the space where ice domes are clusterd, "Ice Village". It was the day that begins the coldest time of the year called "DAIKAN" in Japanese. To the coldest village on the coldest day!


© Tomamu

The "Ice Village" opens, filled with sparkling illuminations at 5 pm after sunset when it gets colder and colder. Aiming to make the opening time, we took a JR line. Tomamu was less than an hour and half away from Sapporo. The place was closer and easier to access than we had expected. Soon after we arrived at Tomamu Station, the resort was extending in front of our eyes. As a free pickup bus runs in the train's arrival time, you don't need to wait nor lose the way to the resort's area you will visit.

What is the most special feature of this "Ice Village" in Tomamu among that there are many festivals with snow and ice artworks during the winter months in Hokkaido? It's in an original architectural technique of the huge ice domes being scattered about the small village. Researched and developed by Tsutomu Kokawa who teaches at Hokkaido Tokai University, it became possible to build huge ice domes which are also safe and easy. The place where it meets this possible requirement best was Tomamu in winter, where it gets severly cold and keeps minus temperatures even in the daytime.

Spraying ice and snow on a big balloon with vinyl sheets and ropes, and making the ice wall grow. That is the original technique. Using this technicue and in a good condition with below -10?, a dome with a diameter of 15m can be completed in a few days. It's much easier than the other ways like hollowing out a snow mountain, or piling up ice blocks. The shape can be controled depending on its usage. The biggest ice dome they had built in the past was one with a diameter of 30m. It is also possible to make a fantastic space with soft lighting because the ice domes have high permeability unlike igloos.

In addition, the most important element is "safety", which is perfectly maintained by intuitions and the skills of Tomamu's production staff. Taking care of temperature and spraying snow, they keep 15cm thick of ice walls based on consistency of 0,6. To avoid direct sunlight, the dome's face is covered by moderate amount of snow. It seemed that the ice was a delicate "creature", living in strict condition.

After passing through a big snow gate and having your eyes glued to a big ice sculpture with a sign, you thread your way through white birches. Those that guide you to a fantastic space are small ice lightings at your feet. Then you will find the ice domes in a group with further lightings.

I was surprised by the brightness and warmth when I entered the fist dome called "Information Dome". It was just because the wind was blocked off, but I was almost trying to find a hidden heater. Ice glasses visitors made were exhibited in the center. With the "Information Dome" at the head of the list, there are various ice domes, works and spaces in the "Ice Village".

You can make your own ice glass in a dome called "Ice Glass Studio". There are ice desks to work and people chiseling a glass out of the ice block. It seems to be quite difficult. The staff making splendid glasses for sale was also having trouble when challenging an advanced technique like the part of a handle of a wineglass. Because this glass is disappeared outside of the "Ice Village", most of people leave and exhibit it in the "Information Dome" I mentioned before, but there are also some people trying to preserve it at home and look forward to drinking beer with the original ice glass in summer.

The true purpose of making the original ice glass was in the next dome "Ice Cafe". In other words, you cannot enjoy a cocktail at this cafe without bringing in the ice glass. People holding the glass they made (or bought) come out from the "Ice Glass Studio" and go directly into the "Ice Cafe", then a bartender pours liqueur into it. Tables and chairs here are also made by ice, of course. Poured various color cocktail shine in the clear space. Depending on each glass, the taste must be original too.

It was snowing outside. Climing "Ice Observation Platform" which had also "Ice Slide", I looked down the "Ice Glass Studio" and "Ice Cafe" as if round secret houses floating on the snow face. The light shining through the domes seemed more delightful and warmer.

There was a work named "Carp Streamer In the Midwinter" by an artist from Hokkaido, Katsuyuki Shinohara a.k.a. "KUMA-San" who is good at welding objects. I felt the circulation of the big nature and the colorful four seasons in the carp streamer waiting for the spring wind, and also in the surrounding ice which will go back to the sky over the course of time.

From the center space where "KUMA-San"s work is placed, you can see a round hole. That's the "Ice Tunnel". In height and the width that just two persons can go through joining hands with, the wall inside is shining in rainow-color. A little romantic tunnel to go through with someone precious.


© Tomamu

After passing the "Ice Tunnel", the "Sea of Light" with twinkling ice candles suddenly appeared. It was a new space added in the "Ice Village" from this season. At the end of the stairs through the center of the "Sea of Light", a mystical blue dome between ice poles "Ice Chapel" was solemnly standing. The surprise feeling after people go through the tunnel is larger because it is located in the low place hidden from "Ice village" center part. A couple in front of me, going through the "Sea of Light" towards the "Ice Chapel" seemed to be in a movie scene.


© Tomamu

You might already know that "ALPHA RESORT TOMAMU" has a "Water Chapel" designed by a worldwide architect Tadao Ando, and weddings are held all the year round at this beautiful and novel space with nature. This "Ice Chapel" in "Ice Village" is the limited version only in winter season but weddings can be held here too. As if the legend "Something Blue" (legend that the bride with something blue at the wedding will become happy) could be seen, inside the dome was filled with glittering ice blue.

That was not all. "Ice Maze" made me get lost with its ice walls where bright green lights were buried. "Ice Hotel" even had a bathtub with other details expressed by ice, and I could enjoy imagining actually sleeping here. There was also "Hot Station" that warmed a completely cold body. Moreover, you can try "Dog Sled Night Cruising" in the course that surrounds the "Ice Village".

Fantasy space "Ice village" in which the feature of ice is made the best use of in various shape was a collaboration of wisdom, zeal, and nature to warm the severe cold temperatures with beautiy. The smiles of the staff still working for the ice creations during the time of opening to the public were impressive. You can enjoy the clear world after this until the spring wind blows.

What space do you draw in a clear dome under this wintry sky? I felt the expectation for more and more new ideas to use the natural environment naturally. At the same time, it was a moment I sincerely wished that won't happen, if we reach a future environment where this transparent "Ice Village" in Tomamu cannot exist.


ALPHA RESORT TOMAMU "Ice Village"
Date: 23rd of Dec, 2005 - Late in March, 2006 (unfixed)
Open: 17:00-22:00
Ticket: Adults 500yen Children 300yen
Place: ALPHA RESORT TOMAMU
Address: Tomamu, Shimukappu Village, Yuhutsugun, Hokkaido, Japan
http://www.snowtomamu.jp


Text and Photos: Yurie Hatano

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