Sapporo City Guide: Satisfy your Wanderlust in Sapporo
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In 2016, Japan recorded the highest number of tourists visiting the country. In the span of 12 months, Japan attracted more than 24 million people, the highest number ever seen since 1964.
According to an article published by Tsunagu Japan, majority of these tourists visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Hokkaido makes a little appearance in the list article. I have travelled to places like Aichi Prefecture and Universal Studios in Osaka last year, so I am included in those 24 million tourists.
Now that it’s the beginning of 2017, I’ve already made my comeback to Japan—this time to my long-yearned-for Hokkaido in the north. The capital city of the cold and mountainous prefecture, Sapporo, is one of the less-visited places by the travelers who prefer Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. I believe, however, that travelers will soon discover the unique beauty of Hokkaido’s snowy capital.
Sapporo is ready to satisfy our wanderlust, and it has fantastic offerings that are perfect not just for Filipino families or travelers like me, but for anyone from any part of the world as well.
Winter festivals and events
Sapporo is one of the coldest cities in Japan. This is why it hosts some of the major winter festivals in the country. Three of these are the:
Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo Snow Festival, or Yuki Matsuri, is Japan’s… coolest festival in Hokkaido. This week-long festival is held every February, the coldest month in the city. Yuki Matsuri’s highlights include spectacular displays of snow and ice sculptures made by residents, tourists, and competing participants. This showdown is best seen at night, when the ice sculptures are illuminated by colorful lights.
Jozankei Onsen Snow Light Path
Another must-see event held in February is the Jozankei Onsen Snow Light Path. As implied by its name, this event showcases a bright display of candles inside pots made from hardened snow. The hundreds of candles are then creatively placed on the ground to form hearts, and paths, among other things. This is held in the Jozankei district Shrine from 6 PM to 9 PM for four cold and snowy nights.
Sapporo International Ski Marathon
This is an official part of the Worldloppet Ski Federation’s series of 20 ski marathons held across various cities in Europe, America, Asia, and Australia. The Sapporo International Ski Marathon is held every February and involves a 25- and 50-kilometer freestyle skiing marathon of participants from all over the world.
Activities in the winter
Sapporo is one of the cities in Japan that actually has winters with snow that pile up. This is why the activities that people from the tropical countries can only dream of doing are very much doable in wintertime Sapporo. These include skiing, snowboarding, and even sliding down a hill on a sled. Heck, for me, just seeing the snow pile up and seeing almost half the length of my legs disappear under the snow is already a very worthwhile activity.
Soaking in an outdoor hot spring has also become a popular wintertime activity for both residents and tourists alike. There are many hot spring houses in Sapporo, and a cluster of which can be found in Minami Ward.
Activities in the other seasons
Of course, Sapporo isn’t just worth visiting when it’s subzero-cold. The city has a lot more to offer during the warmer months of the year. Unlike most parts of Japan that show signs of springtime as early as March, Sapporo usually enters the season of blooming only during late April to early May.
I am planning to return to Hokkaido on a spring month, in time for the famed Lilac Festival. Lilac Festival is also held in Odori Park like the Yuki Matsuri. Sapporo’s tree is the lilac—so if most of Japan has pink cherry blossom trees, Sapporo boasts of lilac lilacs. Odori Park particularly has a lot of lilacs, so it has become the central venue for the festival. A lot of workshops and food stalls are put up for this annual event.
Occurring simultaneously to the Lilac Festival is the Sapporo Ramen Show. As a foodie, I don’t think I need to explain why I can afford to miss this springtime event.
Speaking of food, did I mention that Sapporo is known for ramen, curry, seasonal sushi, and the grilled lamb meat dish Genghis Khan? Also known as the “City of Food”, Sapporo is the home of the Sapporo Beer, one of the oldest and most favorite beer brands in Japan. Some of the notable foodie heavens in the city are:
Shiroi Koibito Park
This romantic park isn’t just for sightseeing and walking. Cookies with white chocolate filling is this park’s notoriously sweet product, and for a small fee, you can make your own as well. It’s perfect for couples… or for foodies who want to eat a good-for-two pack of sweets by themselves.
Sapporo Central Wholesale Market
If you prefer cooking your own food overeating in a restaurant, this seafood paradise should be your first stop. I’m a huge fan of crabs, and if you are too, you’ll be pleased to know that this market sells a whole variety of them, ranging from hairy crabs to king crabs.
Sapporo Beer Garden
Located next to the Sapporo Beer Museum that is dedicated to the city’s favorite beer, Sapporo Beer Garden houses several grilling restaurants that serve tender lamb meat, vegetables, seafood, and beer. During my visit, our group dined in Kessel Hall on the second floor. I have experienced grilling my own healthy serving of lamb meat and vegetables, and I would like to affirm that there’s nothing better than grilling your own dinner in the middle of winter.
Sapporo Ramen Kyouwakoku
Sapporo Ramen Kyouwakoku translates to “Sapporo Ramen Republic”. This entire floor of noodle goodness is located on the 10th floor of the Sapporo ESTA complex near the Sapporo Station. The Sapporo Ramen Republic contains 8 ramen restaurants that each serve their own special bowls of ramen. On the same floor is a souvenir shop that sells ramen and ramen-related items, and a shrine for the ramen deity.
Sweets-lovers can indulge themselves in the many restaurants and cafes in Odori Bisse. This paradise offers all the pastries, desserts, and sweets one can imagine. In case you feel overdosed with sugar, there are other restaurants that sell meals on higher floors.
Sapporo also has various places that are perfect for the shopaholics. Tanukikoji is a favorite shopping street. It’s just a short walk away from Odori Station and is about a kilometer long. The covered street houses 200 stalls which range from souvenir shops, food stalls, small restaurants, and boutiques. Also inside Tanukikoji is a Don Quijote, a famous discount store brand in Japan that sells a wide range of products.
Sapporo ESTA near Sapporo Station is also a favorite shopping mall. Aside from the Sapporo Ramen Republic on the tenth floor, this shopping complex has several other shops on its other floors.
Aurora Town is another local favorite shopping destination. Like Tanukikoji, Aurora Town has stalls that sell a variety of items, ranging from cosmetics to electronics, to kimono fabric. There’s a McDonalds in here as well, if you suddenly feel like eating familiar fast food.
Places old and new
Sapporo is a city of both the old and the new. It is very urbanized yet at the same time it has some well-preserved historical sites. Greatly contrasting next to these time-frozen sites are modern buildings. Some of Sapporo’s structures that show the city’s rich history and even richer modernity are:
Sapporo Clock Tower
This wooden, Western-style building stands out famously in Sapporo. First built in 1878, the clock tower has been standing almost as old as Sapporo itself. It’s the last few Western-style buildings. The outside of the clock tower is a favorite tourist spot, but the museum inside the building is often visited as well.
Historical Village of Hokkaido
Despite its busy, urban streets, Sapporo also houses the Historical Village of Hokkaido. This is an entire compound that is made to look like Hokkaido during the frontier period, which pertains to the years during the 1850s to the early 1900s. Say goodbye to Sapporo’s trains and buses, and say hello to horse carriages. Tour around this peaceful village and visit stone buildings and farmhouses. Maybe visit during autumn to catch the local festival in the village shrine.
Mt. Moiwa Ropeway
Mt. Moiwa is a 531-meter-tall mountain right in the middle of Sapporo. The ropeway is open even during the winter season and serves as a famous hiking trail. The ropeway takes hikers halfway up the mountain, where they can take a cabled car to the peak. The top of the mountain serves as the perfect view deck for Sapporo, especially if you prefer mountains over observatories.
Moerenuma Park is an open-space park that is both artistic and environment-friendly. Park facilities, like play equipment and the fountain, are all constructed in geometric shapes. The Glass Pyramid in the park is installed with an air-conditioning system that uses nature-friendly energy generators. The building has a workshop, a museum, and a restaurant. In overall, this isn’t your ordinary park.
Okurayama Ski Jump Station
Also known as Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, this skiing paradise is known for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics. Aside from the 90-meter ski jump, the stadium also has other facilities that even non-skiers can enjoy. Some of these are the viewing lounge, which offers a view of Sapporo, and the double lift, a five-minute cable ride that will take you to the top of Mt. Okura. The Okurayama Crystal House inside the compound sells souvenirs and food.
First opened in 2001, Sapporo Dome hosts football games, and the national favorite sport, baseball. The dome has a capacity of more than 41,000 seats and even has free Wi-Fi for spectators. Aside from watching games, you can also visit the dome for food (there are bento stands and other small restaurants in the area), and the observatory, which is open during weekends.
Sapporo has a grid style plan that makes traveling very convenient even for first-time travelers. Areas are grouped together by blocks and addresses are numbered and are often easy to locate because of the city’s grid street plan (for example, Sapporo Beer Museum’s address is “Kita 7-Jo, Higashi 9-chome”).
In addition to this neat city plan, Sapporo also has very clean streets and environment-conscious regulations. For example, the city has a very active campaign against smoking in public areas. There are only a handful of places in Sapporo where people can smoke openly. Animal crossing signs are also another concrete example of Sapporo’s efforts to take care of its wildlife.
A convenient stay
Sapporo is one of Japan’s largest cities in terms of both population and size. The center part of the city is urbanized enough to make transportation, accommodation, and leisure convenient. Trains and buses travel frequently within and in and out of the city. Most bus lines stops at major landmarks and hotels.
As for accommodation, tourists can select from luxury hotels to the more affordable apartments and inns. Restaurants serve meals that can be afforded by anyone, even by those who are traveling on a budget. Food stalls abound as well, so those are an alternative option.
Road signs are usually with images so there’s no need to worry about the language barrier. However, there are several websites online that offer translations for common Japanese signs. You can save them in your phone just in case.
My general verdict
Here is my advice for my fellow travelers out there: the city of Sapporo shouldn’t be something you should miss. The city shows Japanese culture in every street corner and in every building, but it also differs from metropolitan Tokyo, traditional Kyoto, and fun-filled Osaka in many ways. I went to Sapporo during the wintertime and I’m looking forward to visit it again during the warmer seasons.
It’s a city in the same city but the experience is different. There are a lot to see in Sapporo that you won’t find elsewhere, and I can’t, and wouldn’t, put what those are into words, because they are for you to see and discover. Let Sapporo satisfy the wanderlust in you.
Many thanks to Sapporo City Tourism Office for letting us experience Sapporo Snow Festival 2017 in Hokkaido Prefecture.