A three-decade-long tradition of installing ice sculptures filled with flash-frozen fish is receiving backlash from animal rights activists at a Japanese ice festival. For 33 of the Sapporo Ice Festival's 68 years, artists have created structures from ice blocks containing frozen fish, amongst massive architectural ice carvings and larger-than-life snow sculptures of Studio Ghibli characters and other pop culture icons.
The controversy sprouted late last year, when a theme park called SpaceWorld apologized for an attraction called The Aquarium of Ice, which featured 5,000 aquatic creatures frozen into an ice skating rink. The Aquarium conjured a storm of ire, illiciting tweets like, "Is this what you make of 5,000 lives? You treat 5,000 lives so poorly to kill them without a reason," and "Do you enjoy having such a disregard for life?" According to RocketNews24, who translated the tweets from Japanese, SpaceWorld quickly deleted nearly all social media posts referencing the Aquarium, and posted a short apology. They also clarified that no fish were sourced from fish markets, which had deemed them too poor to sell, so no live fish had been harmed explicitly for the rink.
Last year's frozen fish sculpture
来月雪まつりだけど、某ワールドの影響で中止になるって一度言われてたススキノに展示される魚氷、なんとか継続されるんだよね。— イサナ (@isana23210) January 30, 2017
The relationship between artists and animal rights activists can be rocky, as artists like Damien Hirst, Wim Delvoye, and Guillermo Vargas have received petitions, hate mail, and threats for using animals in their art. The San Francisco Art Institute cancelled a 2008 show by Algerian-born Adel Abdessemed, which included video of the artist killing a pig, a goat, a deer, an ox, a horse, and a sheep, after recieving threats of violence from animal activists.
Members of the Susukino Tourist Association announced they're going ahead with their frozen fish sculptures despite these events. “The displays are art, and we would like to continue producing them in the future,” said Chairman Seiichi Shinoda. The latest frozen fish sculpture was installed this morning. See the artwork, and fantastical sculptures of the Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro, Star Wars' Kylo Ren, and a giant Cup Noodle, below.
See more photos from the Sapporo Ice Festival on Instagram.