Festivals of ice, snow and lights are part of winter festivities in Hokkaido. In Otaru’s program of events was an unusual World Championship. I went along.
The fifth World Sports Yukikaki Championship was held on Saturday 17 February 2018.
Origins of the competition
Actually, the competition was borne out of a need to solve the annual snow clearing problem in an area with an ageing population. In Hokkaido with such high snowfalls, this is a real issue. Without assistance, snow interferes with the lives of many residents. Apart form the actual clearing, other related incidents include people falling off roofs while clearing snow or being buried by roof avalanches.
The idea of Sports Yukikaki evolved as a way of raising awareness of these situations and finding more people to help shovel snow. One of the purposes of Sports Yukikaki is to ease residents’ snow clearing work and make their lives more comfortable.
Part of the program of events is a voluntary snow clearing exercise. At least four members from each yukikaki team in the competition, volunteer to help clear the snow in an area in Otaru that needs assistance.
Project Y! is a project team formed to train judges and amend rules in order to enhance competitiveness in the sport. Project Y! members are volunteers from Otaru University of Commerce, Hokkaido University, Sapporo Gakuin University and Hokkai-Gakuen University.
The Japan Sports Yukikaki Association says their goals are to solve issues of snow removal by using the power of sports; and to establish this project to vitalize the snowy regions in the same situation.
~ Hiroyuki Matsushiro
The competition is a timed race to shovel snow from a hard-packed 1.5 square metre block, and move it to a designated area 10m away. Teams have up to eight people – four active at any one time – using two shovels and two snow carts. A blue plastic sheet is hidden under the snow, and teams are deemed to have finished when this is revealed and brought to the finish line with all team members, implements and of course the snow.
Despite its world championship claim, most teams were locals from different businesses, districts or schools in the region. One team had a truly international flavour with members from Canada, US, UK, South Africa, NZ and Jamaica.
Teams can dress up and many do. Everyone wears a numbered bib. Some teams follow a theme – others just wear wacky hats or other props.
The most striking team outfit was that worn by the defending champions who were dressed as modern-day samurai with the traditional hair style, swords and painted faces matched with lycra body suits. They were a lively group, never missing an opportunity to get on stage and to pose for photos.
The defending champions – Echigomasayuki – reigned supreme on the day! Their prize was to take home the winner’s flag for another year.
Who were the real winners? Judging by the laughter and frivolity, the participants certainly had fun. The officials seems to enjoy running around watching the contest and blowing their whistles. The residents whose entrances and pathways were cleared of snow were also happy with the event. It seems like it was a win-win situation with a cross section of the Hokkaido community benefiting from this event.