(Part I- downtown)
Sapporo, known mainly for its annual Sapporo Snow Festival and the sculptures made of ice, is the capital city of Hokkaido. Built at the edge of Ishikari Plain, an unusually large expanse of flat, well drained land which is relatively uncommon in the otherwise mountainous geography of Hokkaido, the area was home to a number of indigenous Ainu settlements. The plain helped the planers of the city to closely follow a grid plan with streets at right-angles to form city blocks.
In 1866, at the end of the Edo period, construction began on a canal through the area, encouraging a number of early settlers to establish Sapporo village. The settlement's name was taken from the Ainu language “sat poro pet”, and can be translated as "dry, great river", that denotes Toyohira River, which runs through the south-eastern part of the city. 1868 is the officially recognized year celebrated as the "birth" of Sapporo.
The Meiji government in 1870 approached the American Government for assistance in developing the land and establish modernizing agricultural techniques.
The American consultants who arrived on the island established sheep and cattle ranches and the Sapporo Agricultural College to train students on the modern farming techniques. This resulted to today’s excellent farming and agricultural products of Hokkaido. If there is one American who has associated his name with the early days of Sapporo this is certainly William S. Clark, who was the president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College and who came to be the founding vice-president of the Sapporo Agricultural College for only eight months from 1876 to 1877. His statue on Observation Hill has become one of the symbols of the city and his face can be seen everywhere on the island.
As a new city, Sapporo is not like the other “old” Japanese cities which feature centuries-old castles, palaces, shrines and temples. There are not worldwide known attractions here, but the city is very agreeable and a real pleasure to explore and walk around. Besides, Sapporo is used by many visitors as the base to explore the southern part of Hokkaido. Most visitors come here during winter, as Sapporo receives most snowfall than any other big city in the world. But, a visit during summer gives you more freedom to enjoy the city and the nature around it.
When visiting historical buildings search for the Red Star, the symbol of the Hokkaido Development Commission. The star which decorates the cans and bottles of Sapporo beer symbolizes the polar star, which was used by the Hokkaido Development Commission. The Hokkaido Development Commission was established in 1869 and used a red star on the "Hokushinki", its flag. This Star was also used on buildings built by the Commission. Visitors can search for the red star when visiting several Sapporo historical buildings and sites, like the Sapporo Clock Tower and the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building.
In the western edge of the city, where the mountains start, stands probably the most interesting tourist attraction of Sapporo, the Hokkaido Shrine. The shrine is located in Maruyama Park, next to the Sapporo City Maruyama Zoo. The Hokkaido Shrine enshrines four kami (Shinto deities: spirits, phenomena or "holy powers") including the soul of the Emperor Meiji. Several early explorers of Hokkaidō such as Mamiya Rinzō are also enshrined here.
In 1869, by an order of the Emperor Meiji, a ceremony to enshrine three kami was held in Tokyo. They were enshrined as the three deities of the Hokkaido reclamation and they were later moved to Sapporo. An interim building of the shrine for the three kami was constructed in 1870 in Sapporo, although its location was different from the current point where the Hokkaido Shrine stands. In 1871, a shrine was erected to the current place and named as the "Sapporo Shrine" (Sapporo Jinja) and on September 14 an inaugural ceremony was held. The soul of the Emperor Meiji was enshrined only in 1964, and the building was officially renamed to "Hokkaido Shrine". The building was destroyed by a fire in 1974, and restored in 1978.
The shrine is beautiful and tidy, but if you have visited old shrines in other parts of japan, this one looks a bit too shiny-new!
There are a couple of souvenir and snack/coffee shops in the park outside the shrine, but do not bother. At the north-eastern end of the park, just meters away from the main entrance to the shrine area, there is a very beautiful Starbucks café. If you are looking for something more traditional head to Morihico Coffee, one of the most famous coffee houses in the city. It is located a couple of square blocks away from the eastern park limits.
Note: There is a parking lot outside the shrine area. By entering you are given a parking ticket, which you must stamp at the security office located just after entering the main gate to the shrine (on your left). By stamping the ticket, you can exit the parking lot without having to pay a single yen. Forget to stamp it and you get a huge monetary penalty.
During the season which cherry trees bloom in the area, the shrine is crowded with people enjoying Hanami. Many people also visit the shrine during Japanese New Year to go Hatsumōde. From June 14 to 16 in every year, the Main festival of Hokkaido Shrine, also called "Sapporo Festival" (Sapporo Matsuri), is held, and people bearing Mikoshi parades line down the street which leads to the shrine.
Odori Park is a 1.5km-long park, in the heart of Sapporo, which roughly divides the city into north and south sections. During the urban planning of Sapporo, it was originally designated as the city's Main Street, but it eventually became a park; so, it comes of no surprise that Odori means "large street" in Japanese. Throughout the year, many events and ceremonies such as the Sapporo Lilac Festival and the Sapporo Snow Festival are held in the park, and local landmarks including the Sapporo TV Tower and the Sapporo City Archive Museum are located within its boundaries.
Odori today, is covered with flower gardens, fountains, small squares, sculptures, resting and sitting areas for the people doing their shopping. The most significant landmark of Sapporo and one of the best known tourist attractions of the city is located at the very eastern end of the park: the iconic Sapporo TV Tower.
Sapporo TV Tower
Completed in 1956, Sapporo TV Tower is located at the eastern edge of Odori Park and offers a 360° view of Sapporo. It has been a Sapporo landmark and witnessed the development of the city for more than half a century. From the observation deck, which is approximately 90 meters above ground, visitors can enjoy beautiful seasonal views of Odori Park and various events carried out in the park. When the sky is clear, one can see as far as Ishikari Plain and the Sea of Japan. The observation deck is the best place to see the snow festival and park’s illuminated decorations in the winter.
The admission fee for the Observation deck is ￥720. There is a souvenir shop at the Observation deck and several restaurants at its base. Among them there is a Sapporo beer garden.
Underground shopping malls
Do not forget that Sapporo receives more snowfall than any other major city on Earth. Like several other cities which face cold and snow problems during winter, Sapporo has developed several underground shopping malls.
Sapporo Ekimae-dori, the most central and commercial street of the city intersects vertically Odori park, not far away from Sapporo TV Tower. Sapporo Ekimae-dori connects Sapporo Station (the central train station) with Susukino, the busiest neighborhood in downtown Sapporo. Under Sapporo Ekimae-dori there is a 520m-lomg underground walkway (Chi-Ka-Ho). It takes about 10 minutes to walk through. In the “resting space” on each side, there are tables and chairs for you to relax, and there is also a free Wi-Fi service. The “resting space” and “intersection squares” are alive with tourism promotions for various areas in Hokkaido, sales of specialty products and miscellaneous goods, and events such as exhibitions of artistic works.
To tell you the truth, the place is rather depressing, with low ceilings and, except of a couple of intersections, is of no interest.
Chi-Ka-Ho connects some major underground shopping malls: The Sapporo Station Mall and the Aurora Town & Pole Town malls, which both originate at the Odori Station at the intersection of the Namboku and Tozai Lines. “Aurora Town” extends to the east and “Pole Town” extends to the south. Aurora Town is 312m in length, and includes the event space “Aurora Plaza“ and an open space called “Aurora Square”. Aurora Town is a spacious area that puts visitors at ease. From the end of Aurora mall at the east starts a long underground passage that connects it to the Bus Center Mae Station and goes even further on. The multi-vision video projector HILOSHI, located in “Pole Square” in the front of the ticket gate of Odori Station, is a popular meeting place for young people. It is from this point that the 400m-long Pole Town begins ending at the Susukino Station on the Namboku Line. The underground shopping area hosts several shops and restaurants and it is completed with some smaller passages, which connect big stores and other points of interest.
In winter the “city under the city” is crowded, but when the weather is good, I really do not see the reason to go down there.
Around the Sapporo Station there are some of the best shops in the city. I recommend two of them:
a) the Sapporo branch of Kinokuniya bookstores, which is most probably the most up to date bookstore in the city. The Starbucks located inside it, has lots of light coming from the floor-to-ceiling wall-to-wall windows and thus it is the perfect spot to drink your coffee while reading a book. The bookstore is located opposite the western part of the Sapporo Station complex, overlooking another iconic Japanese store, the Daimaru Sapporo.
b) Daimaru Sapporo, is the local branch of the famous Japanese Department store chain. You ca spend a whole day in here doing your shopping, but what you certainly must visit is the underground level where the food store is located: lots of food, groceries, seafood, cakes and desserts...to take away or even eat on the spot.
Tanukikoji Shopping Street
Every major Japanese city has a covered shopping street, so people can do their shopping without worries about the weather condition. Sapporo has Tanukikoji (aka Long Arcade), which is one of the oldest shopping streets in Hokkaido (established back in 1873). The word Tanuki comes from “raccoon dog” in Japanese and the word Koji means a narrow street. This covered street is parallel to Odori park, some 5 blocks to the south. It starts at Sosei River on the east (just opposite the Nijo Fish Market) and finishes 7 blocks (chome) away to the west. This historic 900m-long covered shopping arcade features more than 200 shops including restaurants, hotels, cafes, Karaoke, night bars and several pachinko (*)!
(*) Pachinko parlors look like nightclubs from the outside, but the main entertainment here are the many rows of machines emitting sounds similar to jackpot machines... yet are unique to Japan. Gambling is illegal in Japan and to circumvent that pachinko was created and technically speaking you play for little metal balls and not the money. In reality, the metal balls can be changed to money at another business that's operated separately from the pachinko parlor.
The eastern part has more upscale shops, but the western half has a bigger interest because it houses more traditional shops. The last block (7-chome) to the west is the most rundown and it feels like you have gone back in time to the 70s and 80s. It houses, among others, a secondhand cloth store, a specialist tea shop/tea rooms, a vintage and second-hand records music shop, as well as a couple of nice restaurants.
The area around the last block and further west has low buildings and several old wooden ones. In these buildings the visitor will find beautiful old cafes, jeans shops, wine bars and small restaurants. I recommend visiting the “Flamingo” jeans shop, which offers many old American-style casual wear, including Japanese denim brands such as Momotaro and Fullcount.
At 5-chome there is a Kit Kat specialty shop with a ton of flavors that could only be found in Japan and nowhere else in this world! Opposite the Kit Kat shop there is a shrine. “Honjin Tanuki Daimyo” shrine was erected (in 1973) on the 100-year anniversary of Tanukikoji. Here people pray to the god of business as portrayed by a Tanuki (raccoon dog). At the same block is located a pet shop (I always feel very sad and depressed to watch all these little animals with sad eyes looking at you begging for some love) and a very interesting tourist information center. They provide information from accommodation to car & bike rental; meal coupons; baggage storage; money exchange; Japanese cultural experience like wearing kimono and DIY traditional fan, etc. They also sell luggage and few traditional products such as handkerchiefs and chopsticks to bring back home as a souvenir.
The main gate of Hokkaido University is a 7-minute walk north of Sapporo Station. The buildings from the Sapporo Agricultural College era, built in the Meiji Era, are being used even today as school buildings. The walking course around the university, which is widely open to the public, is about 6 kilometers long and can be walked at a leisurely pace.
Hokkaido University first opened as Sapporo Agricultural College in 1876. Its historical buildings and elm and gingko trees draw many tourists. I recommend getting a campus map here before walking through the campus. The Hokkaido University Museum (Sapporo’s first reinforced concrete building, opened in 1929), which is free, is not to be missed. Here, one can see exhibits of scientific samples such as nipponosaurus and specimens of cattle skeletal structure. Opposite the Museum building there is a convenience store, with sitting area upstairs to enjoy your coffee or snacks.
The seas of northern Japan are rich with fish and crustaceans that have been part of the food culture of Hokkaido for centuries. Sapporo has a reputation in Japan for being a major gourmet spot for seafood for that reason. Nijo Market (Nijō Ichiba) is mainly a fish market, which occupies about one city block, on the east bank of Sosei River, two blocks south of Sapporo TV Tower.
Nijo Market developed in the early Meiji Period, when fishermen from Ishikari Bay started selling fresh fish there. At the beginning it was just a row of fishermen stalls along the Sosei river banks, but, eventually, noodle shops, bars, and greengrocers opened, laying the foundations for today’s Nijo Market. Over a century later, the market continues to serve local residents’ culinary needs. Owing in part to its central location, the market is also popular among tourists, who come in search of Hokkaido delicacies such as crabs and scallops. It is a place for gourmands to shop for fresh local produce and seafood such as crabs, salmon eggs, sea urchin and various fresh and prepared fish.
The market is open from around 7:00 to around 18:00 on all days of the week, with individual shops maintaining their own opening hours and closing days. Several restaurants can be found among the shops, including a collection of small drinking places and restaurants along a narrow corridor called Noren Yokocho, but the best ways to enjoy the market is to do what Japanese people call "tabearuki", which means to buy small portions of whatever tickles your desire while strolling through the area. You can try so many regional specialties grilled right before your eyes.
Susukino is Japan's largest entertainment district north of Tokyo, or at least this is what locals say. It is packed with stores, bars, restaurants, karaoke shops, pachinko parlors and red-light establishments. Of special interest to noodle lovers is the Ganso Ramen Yokocho (Original Ramen Alley), a narrow lane lined with little shops serving Sapporo's famous miso ramen soup.
Susukino is a rough area with uncertain borders and in tourist guides usually it is defined as the area lying between the roadways of Minami 4 and Minami 6 to the north and south, and from Nishi 2 chome to Nishi 6 chome to the east and west.
Susukino is originated back in 1871 as the Sapporo’s red-light district. The Settlement Envoyship pioneering Hokkaido decided to build a red-light area to keep laborers in pioneering in Sapporo engaged. The area went through changes, depending on prostitution enacting laws in Japan. At some time the red-light district moved to another part of the city, and Susukino was not an Akasen (red-line) district anymore, an area where prostitution was acknowledged by the government, but was actually an Aosen (blue-line) district, where a lot of restaurants and bars illegally promoted prostitution. In 1980s, a lot of hotels were constructed around the Susukino district and famous cabarets appeared.
Today, Susukino is an area crowded by tourists and locals, famous mainly for its bars, restaurants and neon lights.
Sapporo Clock Tower
The Clock Tower (Tokeidai) is one the city’s symbols, pictured in every single book or site about Hokkaido. It is located just north of Odori park, a block from the TV Tower. The wooden building is of American design and is one of the few surviving Western-style buildings in Sapporo, a city developed in the 1870s with assistance from the American government.
The tower was built in 1878, and is all that remains of the drill hall of the former Sapporo Agricultural College (now Hokkaido University). The building was one of the earliest to be built in Sapporo, as the city itself was chosen as the administrative centre of Hokkaidp in 1868, which is the date currently recognized as the official birth of the city. In 1881, a clock purchased from Boston and installed on it, which continues to run and keep time, and the chimes can be heard every hour.
Currently, this is the oldest building standing in Sapporo, and it serves as a museum with displays about the building's history and Sapporo on the first floor. On the second floor are displays about the clock and a spacious ceremony hall that calls to mind the simple buildings of the colonial American Midwest. The hall can be rented for private functions and occasionally is used for concerts.
Sapporo Beer Museum/ Sapporo Factory
The Sapporo Beer Museum (Sapporo Biru Hakubutsukan) is a brick building set in a green area together with the Sapporo Beer Garden and another big "Bavarian-style" restaurant. The complex is located some blocks to the east of Sapporo Station and the parking is free of charge. A Shopping mall is located at the back of the complex.
The Sapporo Beer Museum was originally built in 1890 as a sugar factory and owed much to the ideas of William Clark, a former President of Massachusetts Agricultural College, who became a Vice-president of Sapporo Agricultural College.
The first beer production in Japan actually began on the site of the present Sapporo Beer Factory in 1877 based on German beer-making techniques brought back to Japan by Nakagawa Seibei, who teamed up with Murahashi Hisanari to establish the Sapporo Beer Company. The site of the original sugar factory now the Sapporo Beer Museum was purchased by the Sapporo Beer Company in 1903.
Sapporo beer production continued on the site until 1965 and the Sapporo Beer Museum opened in the renovated building in 1987, with further renovation and a re-opening in 2004.
Now the three-story brick building is a modern museum dedicated to the history of beer brewing with exhibits explaining the process of making beer including a large copper kettle, the ingredients needed for beer-making, as well as the history of Sapporo beer in Japan from its first beer hall in the Ginza area of Tokyo to its present status as one of the big four breweries in Japan along with Kirin, Asahi and Suntory.
The Sapporo Beer Museum has an interesting focus on the design of Sapporo beer bottles over the years and of Sapporo beer posters showing some superb graphics from the 1920's and 1930's as well as more recent posters. There is also a collection of historic wooden Sapporo signs from beer halls from all over Japan and an introduction to the development of the Sapporo Black Label logo.
Finally visitors can enjoy Sapporo beer and buy Sapporo beer products in the beer hall after completing their tour of the museum.
The Sapporo Beer Garden housed in the red brick building adjacent to the Sapporo Beer Museum offers visitors the chance to drink Sapporo beer direct from the brewery and enjoy Jingisukan BBQ at two Bavarian-style restaurants in the building. During summer months, the restaurants extend their business under big tends set in the garden. Opposite the Sapporo Beer Garden Building there is another Beer Garden housed in a big building with a tower and an impressive weathercock on top of it.
“Sapporo Beer museum” should not be confused with the “Sapporo Factory”, which is also an old brewery located several blocks to the south-west of the former (closer to the Toyohira River). The Sapporo Factory stands where the former “Hokkaido Development Commission Brewery”, built by the Hokkaido Development Commission in 1876, once stood. The Hokkaido Development Commission Brewery was the first brewery to be made by the Japanese.
Today, Sapporo Factory is a large shopping and entertainment complex that was opened in 1993. There are about 160 establishments that include clothing stores, souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes and a multi-screen movie theater. The shops are concentrated around a five story atrium, which is similar to a large greenhouse and provides visitors a refreshing and spacious atmosphere. The old brewery building, a red brick (Akarenga) building, has also been transformed into a crafts shopping mall, which also includes a small, functioning brewery, a beer hall and a tasting bar.
The Mall has a parking lot located two blocks to the north, which is not free of charge, but reasonably priced. It is a bit tricky to follow the signs, so spot it on the map first. Do not try to communicate with the people at the info kiosk inside the mall asking if you are entitled for a discount at the parking if you do your shopping there. They do not understand you or they do not have a clue: a perfect example of completely being lost in translation!
Nagayama Memorial Park
Adjacent to the eastern part of the Sapporo Factory stands a small but very beautiful park: the Nagayama Memorial Park. In the park the visitor can see the Former Takeshiro Nagayama Residence. Built around 1880, this residence was built as the home of Takeshiro Nagayama, the second director of the Hokkaido Agency. The interior of the residence, which is surrounded by a garden fill of azalea and Japanese yew trees, combines Western and Japanese architectural styles. A purely Japanese study, for example, connects to a Western drawing room. It is an early example of residences incorporating Western architectural technologies, which became popular during the Hokkaido pioneering period.
After his position as director of the Hokkaido Agency, Nagayama moved to Tokyo and served as a member of the House of Peers and died in 1904. His ashes were sent back to Sapporo as specified in his will.
The two-story building on the north side of the property is a Western building that the Mitsubishi Mining and Cement Co., Ltd. built upon purchasing the residence after Nagayama passed away. In contrast to the wooden one-storied Nagayama residence, it features roof made of plain wood and wood painted green. The newly established café-restaurant on the 1st floor of the Former Mitsubishi Mining Company Dormitory offers Western-style dishes based on those from the era in which Nagayama lived, as well as contemporary desserts. The café is based on a “combined Western/Japanese-style coffee shop” concept that reflects the characteristics of the Former Nagayama Residence.
Former Hokkaido Government Office
The iconic red building in central Sapporo, the “Former Hokkaido Government Office” (aka "Akarenga Chosha" or Red Brick Building ), houses today a conference room, a museum shop, a tourist information office, and a few historical exhibition rooms and libraries. Visitors can enter the building for free. Flower gardens and a pond are located in front of the building, which occasionally are designated as event venue. Its central location, between the Sapporo Train Station and Odori Park, makes it one of the most well known spots for tourists.
The building replaced an earlier wooden building, which was constructed in 1873 but destroyed by fire in 1879. The red brick building that replaced the old one was built in 1888, but fire destroyed its interior once again in 1909. The building we see today is the 1911 version, while a replica of the original wooden building can be visited in the Historical Village of Hokkaido, located just outside Sapporo.
Ginkgo trees line the road leading from Sapporoekimae dori (the central artery, which connects the Train Station to Susukino area) towards the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building. What is so remarkable about this is that, in the autumn, these leaves will turn into a dazzling shade of golden yellow, which makes for a stunning, sharp contrast with the red brick of the building standing at the background. It's one of the most famous fall color spots in Sapporo, and a must see for visitors during that season.