Japanese champion ice carver tackles Fairbanks competition

Fairbanks event is ice carver's favorite because multi-block event lets him enlarge his creations

Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2004

FAIRBANKS - In the summer, Junichi Nakamura works as a farmer growing potatoes, sugar beets and wheat on the large northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

In the winter, he "vacations" by traveling around the world participating in ice carving competitions.

The eight-time world champion considers the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks his favorite because it's the only one that offers the multi-block competition, allowing him to enlarge his creations.

Otherwise, he competes strictly in single-block events in such places as Norway, Belgium, Austria, Mexico, France and Hawaii.

Earlier in the Fairbanks event, Nakamura teamed up with American Keven Laughlin to win third place in the realistic portion of the 40 teams in the single-block competition for their sculpture "Earring."

Last week he teamed up with two Americans for the multi-block contest, placing second on Sunday. Taking first place was a group from China that carved an elaborate dragon boat with ancient Chinese temples aboard, riding in a sea of ice waves.

Nakamura's teammate, Shinichi Sawamura, served as a translator between Nakamura and Americans Dawson List and Greg Butauski.

Sawamura said he had to be careful how to translate the team captain's instructions to the two Americans.

The finished product, "Ancestral Spirit," depicts an American Indian in full regalia with an Eagle perched above him. The sculpture represents a young warrior and his dead father, who is was transformed into an eagle that has come to warn the warrior against imminent danger and then guides the son as he becomes a respected leader.

The team had six days to carve the sculptures. They were judged Sunday and while most of the other ice carvers took the day to go ice fishing, Sawamura and Nakamura were wandering around the ice park.

They had spent the last few days working to transform the 10 blocks of ice into works of art.

"All the time working, little bit sleep," Nakamura said in the little English he knew. "Very tired, too much work."

Last year, teams were allowed an extra day to finish their creations because temperatures reached a wind-chilled 50 below zero.

An all-time high number of four sculptures collapsed during the course of the competition. The work created by Nakamura and Sawamura fell just minutes before the judging was set to begin.

This year conditions were better. Nakamura said it was still difficult as the temperatures were bitterly cold at night and sun warmed the ice during the day. The team carved with large black tarps blocking the sun.

Judging of the 15 large sculptures in the event was based on how well the pieces of the sculpture fit together, the difficulty, the surface finishes, expression of meaning, expression of emotion and the overall impression the sculpture conveys.

The sculptures will be on display until March 31 or until they melt.

Web links

For more on ice carving, check out www.icealaska.com

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