Sapporo Japan – Did you know that Japan has more than 6500 islands? About 430 of them are uninhabited. Most of the Japanese people live in the largest ‘home’ islands of Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu (where Tokyo is) and Hokkaido. Honshu is the most visited island of Japan, with cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka ,and Hiroshima attracting many tourists each and every year. Hokkaido island is Japan’s northernmost prefecture. It’s a very pleasant island to visit, with its many mountains, ski resorts, and very authentic culture. In Hokkaido, the capital Sapporo is the most visited city. I stayed there for 4 days in February 2017 and this blog post is about that trip.
How to get there?
The most convenient way to travel to Sapporo is by air. There are many companies that offer local flights throughout Japan. Personally, I went with Skymark. As you can imagine, prices go up during the snow festival season so try to buy your tickets early to enjoy the best rates available.
I bought my plane tickets in November and for a trip to Sapporo in February. I think I got the lowest prices for the Haneda-Shin-Chitose flight (Sapporo airport). The return flight cost me about 18,000 yen, or about $158. It’s about an hour and a half flight.
On the other hand, if you have a JR Pass, you can also go to Sapporo from Tokyo by Shinkansen. The trip lasts about 8 hours; here is an example of a route you can take:
The key to enjoying good quality accommodation at good prices is to book early. There are many hotels and hostels in Sapporo although ideally, you would book a room in a ryokan. There is the Nakamuraya Ryokan which is very charming, located near the train station and also rather cheap at around $46 a night. There’s also a good public bath I’m sure you will enjoy, especially during the winter.
For more Ryokan recommendation in Hokkaido, feel free to read this blog post: Hokkaido Ryokan.
Sapporo Japan – The Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)
Since 1950, the city of Sapporo has been organizing a big snow festival featuring huge sculptures. These can be more than 10 meters in height. The construction of snow or ice sculptures requires a lot of manpower. Starting January, members of the Japanese army work together to build the sculptures just in time for the festival on the first week of February (February 1st to 12 in 2017).
Sapporo’s Yuki Matsuri (meaning snow festival in Japanese) takes place in central Sapporo, in Odori Park, along 1.5 kilometers. The festival includes activities such as sculpting, ice skating on outdoor rinks, acrobatic ski and toboggan performances, and of course, a lot of food tasting!
When I visited Sapporo in February 2017, I walked along Odori Park to look at the different sculptures that year. In 2017, the themes of the great sculptures included Star Wars, Final Fantasy, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Kofukiji Temple of Nara.
My favorite was the Arc de Triomphe, given its impressive size, and of course for the reference it makes to France. I went back to Sapporo Tower to warm up and enjoy the festival from up there. Built in 1957, the Sapporo TV Tower is 147 meters high and has an observation deck standing at 90 meters.
The view overlooks Odori Park and the ticket to the observatory costs 720 yen ($6.5) for a one-time view and 1,100 yen ($10) for a daytime/evening ticket. I recommend the second option because it allows you to see the festival from up above the park during the day and the night! In the evening, the entire festival shines with thousands of colorful lights and becomes a completely different experience you should absolutely try.
So I looked at the sculptures and climbed up the tower, then got back to my hotel and went back in the evening to enjoy everything one more time by night.
It wouldn’t be a Japanese festival without the street food of course! There is a variety of dishes (many served hot) in the yatai (the greasy spoons) of the festival.
Most of it is seafood as it is abundant in Hokkaido, with a large variety of street food of course, like okonomiyaki, takoyaki, etc. It can be tough to choose when there are so many possibilities! Here are some dishes I tried:
The snow festival is not all there is to see in Sapporo. I had planned to spend 3 days in the city so I had the opportunity to explore more of it. Here are two other interesting activities you can do in Sapporo.
Sapporo Japan – Beer Museum
Does Sapporo remind you of the beer brand of the same name? The city’s old brewery, which is now a museum, is a very popular attraction not to be missed. The Sapporo Beer Museum is a 20 minute walk from Sapporo Station (exact location).
The old red-brick building has three floors. On the second floor, there is a small exhibition that explains the history of the company from 1876 all the way up to the present today. For example, you can see how bottle labeling evolved over the years for the beer brand.
A large tank as well as other machines that were used for beer production are exposed. You can also walk around the showroom and see old Sapporo commercials.
Thirsty yet? You can try several types of beer on the first floor, including the very first Sapporo beer using the brand’s very first recipe. I couldn’t decide which beer to try so I opted for the full tasting option which includes three beers with two pieces of cheese for 600 yen, or about $5.
I sat at one of the big tables in the lobby, drank my beers and felt like I was having a drink in a pub from yesteryear. There is also a restaurant and a souvenir shop near the museum’s entrance if you’re interested.
Sapporo Japan – Nijo Fish Market
Nijo Ichiba is at a walking distance from Odori Park. It’s a very popular fish market in Sapporo where you can find a wide range of freshly caught fish and seafood. Sea urchins, salmon eggs, mussels, oysters, crabs, you name it, everything is in there!
As you make your way through the market’s winding alleys, you’ll come across restaurants where you can try the local Hokkaido dishes like the kaisendon, which is a bowl of rice with various sashimi.
During my visit, I found a small sushi bar that had only one seat and where the sushi looked deliciously fresh. I bought a 2,300 yen ($20) sushi set and it was one of the best sushi I have ever had in my life!
You can also buy omiyage (Japanese souvenirs), poki or melon Kit Kats, miso instant ramen soup kits, etc. Nijo market is a culinary and cultural experience you shouldn’t miss! It might remind you of the Tsukiji market in Tokyo.
I also recommend the miso ramen soup (with butter and corn!), a Hokkaido specialty that is absolutely delicious and nothing like other kinds of ramen you will find in Kansai or Kanto. Book your flights and accommodations early, dress warmly, and travel to Sapporo for a unique Japanese adventure. It’s not a tourist city so it doesn’t get crowded at all, and yet it has so much to offer.
Have a nice trip and bon appétit !
Before to end up this blog post, if you want to visit another beautiful city in Hokkaido, check out this article: Hakodate Japan.
By Alicia Quintard for Asian Wanderlust