Sapporo Travel Guide   札幌

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Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival


Skiing in Niesko, Hokkaido

Snow and Beer

Snow, beer, or the colonial architecture ... What best defines Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido?

With its grid street plan, straight avenues and cross-roads, you could almost think you are in New York or Hong Kong. Like them, Sapporo is a colonial city, founded in 1866 by a Japanese government that intended to "civilize" the island of Hokkaido at the expense of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, settled there for thousands of years.

The first sip of beer

A century and a half later, the fifth largest city in the country has two million inhabitants, 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 in winter). 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 emergend with a Western drink that soon became the first national alcoholic beverage: beer. The brewery, a nice red brick building, topped with a red pole star has now become a museum. But Sapporo beer is still brewed locally.

Susukino Nights

Beer flows like water in the cafés of Susukino. With 4,500 restaurants, this noisy 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 clubs busy every night with tipsy workers, 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 crab in Japan, as well as sea urchins, scallops, and squid. The Genghis Khan (a grilled mutton dish) and Sapporo ramen (noodles in a miso broth) are the two great culinary prides of Sapporo.

Read more: Specialities of Hokkaido

Cold, cold, cold!

With six months of snow and a 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 learned to use to its advantage. The slopes of Mount Moiwa or the Niseko ski area offer skiers a long 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 together two million visitors who come to admire the giant ice sculptures spread out in Odori Park, the streets of Susukino, and the large Tsudome stadium.

Finally, Sapporo offers you the chance try the hot springs in winter. Immerse yourself in an outdoor onsen while snow falls on pine branches which are already heavy with snow. The resorts of Jozankei and Noboribetsu are only an hour away by train.