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Sapporo, the North Star
Snow, beer, or colonial architecture… What best defines Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido? Discover northern Japan in the city covered in snow most of the year, through its streets, its festivals, and its food.
The Origin of Sapporo, a contemporary city
With its checkerboard plan, straight avenues, and perpendicular streets, you could imagine yourself in New York or Hong Kong. Similarly, Sapporo is a colonial city founded in 1866 by the Japanese government with its intention to "civilize" the island of Hokkaido ... to the detriment of the Ainu, the native people of Hokkaido who called its place home for thousands of years.
A century and a half later, the fifth largest city in the country has two million citizens, and still bears the traces of colonization. In the clock tower, for example, the symbol of Sapporo: a simple wooden house built by the British, where an American bell has been chiming the time since 1881; the charming red brick of the former government building; or the peaceful botanical garden (only its greenhouse is worth visiting during winter).
Just 15 minutes from the city center (by bus or subway), the Sapporo Beer Garden is the first brewery to have opened in Japan (1876). Only twenty years after the opening of the country to the rest of the world, Sapporo emerged with a Western drink that soon became the first national alcoholic beverage: beer. The brewery, an iconic red brick structure, topped with a large vertical banner with the iconic single red star synonymous with the world-renowned Sapporo Beer has now become a museum.
Sapporo beer is still brewed locally today and is one of the three most consumed beers in the country (along with Asahi and Kirin), and you will find it absolutely everywhere
Discovery of the Susukino district in Sapporo
The beer flows freely, in the bars of the Susukino district. With 4,500 restaurants, this lively and bustling district enjoys a certain reputation: it is said that to be the busiest place north of Tokyo! With its neon lights, cabarets, and pachinko parlors are busy almost every night with tipsy workers and visitors, Susukino mostly comes alive at night.
But, at decent hours, you can find good restaurants to sample the local specialties. The cold waters of the region offer the most famous fresh crab in Japan, as well as sea urchins, scallops, and squid: spells seafood heaven! The Genghis Khan (a grilled mutton dish) and Sapporo ramen (noodles in a miso broth) are the two great culinary points of pride of Sapporo.
Sapporo's winter in a white coat
With six months of snow and a freezing temperature at the beginning of the year of -8°C, from November to April Sapporo lives under a thick white snowy blanket, which the city has embraced to its advantage. The slopes of Mount Moiwa or the Niseko ski area offer skiers a long and extended ski season, and it's no coincidence that this is where the first Winter Olympic Games in Japan were held in 1972.
In February, when there is the heaviest snowfall, the Snow Festival brings two million visitors who come to admire the giant ice sculptures spread out in Odori Park, the streets of Susukino, and the massive Tsudome stadium.
This Yuki Matsuri, organized since 1950, is a major event, and the Japanese flock from all over the country. This is, of course, the privileged period if you plan to go to Sapporo.
And to experience the hot springs in winter, the body immersed in an open-air onsen while the snow falls around you, the stations of Jozankei, Noboribetsu, or that of Mount Teine are only an hour's drive away by train.
- Read also: The best onsen in Hokkaido
What to see and do in Sapporo?
Sapporo is a city well worthy of interest. The city is accessible by shinkansen from Tokyo (however 8 hours by train), covered by the JR Pass. The quickest way is to get there from Tokyo by plane, with a 50-min. flight, landing at Shin-Chitose airport.
Here are the main points of interest in Sapporo:
- The Sapporo TV Tower. Address: 1 Chome Odorinishi, Chuo, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0042
- The Sapporo Beer Museum . Address: Kita 7-JoHigashi 9-chome Higashi-ku, Sapporo
- The Odôri park . Address: 7 Chome Odorinishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0042
- The Historic Village of Hokkaido . Address : 50-1Konopporo, Atsubetsu-cho, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo-shi
- The Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art . Address: 17 Chome Kita 1 Jonishi, Chuo, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0001
- Hokkaido Jingu Shrine and Maruyama Park . Address: 474 Miyagaoka, Chuo, Sapporo, Hokkaido 064-0959
- The botanical garden of the University of Hokkaido . Address: 3-8, Chuo, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0003
In terms of food, the city is famous for its white chocolate (notably the Shiroi Koibito, a cookie with chocolate), but also the crab kegani, as well as the more affordable miso ramen. Hokkaido is also renowned for its fresh dairy products (butter, creams, cheeses ...).
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