One of Japan's newest and nicest cities, Sapporo's population has grown from 7 in 1857 to nearly two million today. Being a new city, especially by Japanese standards, means it has little in the way of traditional architecture and the like of cities such as Kyoto. But what it lacks in "Japanese-ness" it makes up for with its lovely open, tree-filled boulevards to enjoy in summer and excellent snow (and facilities to cope with said snow) in the long winter.
Sapporo is Hokkaido's main transport hub.
All international and inter-island flights land at New Chitose Airport (CTS) to the south east of the city. The route from Tokyo is the most heavily traveled in the world, with several dozen Jumbos flying daily on a variety of carriers and flights as low as ¥10000 one way if you book more than one month advance. From the airport, JR trains run every 15 minutes directly to Sapporo station (36-40 mins, ¥1040; reserved seats are ¥300 more expensive).
A few local flights within Hokkaido also land at the older Okadama Airport (OKD) to the north of the city.
JR trains run from Honshu to Hokkaido via the Seikan Tunnel, the longest tunnel of any kind in the world (the Gotthard Base Tunnel, under construction in Switzerland, will surpass it by about 5 km).
The fastest way to get to Sapporo from Tokyo is 10 hours in duration, taking three trains (one Shinkansen and two Limited Express trains, connecting in Hachinohe and Hakodate). The one way fare is ¥22,470 so this option may only be of value to Japan Rail Pass holders.
Perhaps the most popular way to reach Sapporo by train, however, are on the various overnight sleeper services. These are popular, so book in advance.
Japan's most prominent - and most expensive - overnight train is the Cassiopeia (カシオペア) which runs a few times a week between Ueno Station in Tokyo and Sapporo. The one-way trip takes about 16 1/2 hours. The less expensive and more frequent Hokutosei (北斗星) makes two daily runs from Ueno.
The Twilight Express (トワイライトエクスプレス), which makes a few runs a week from Osaka and Kyoto, is the longest overnight train service in Japan, making the journey to Sapporo in about 21 hours.
The daily and less expensive Nihonkai (日本海) runs twice daily from Osaka and Kyoto to Aomori, from which two connecting express trains bring you to Sapporo by the following afternoon. The total journey time is about 20 1/2 hours.
Note that for these sleeper trains, the Japan Rail Pass will only cover the basic fare. Pass holders will be responsible for paying for the room, as well as any limited express and other surcharges. For example, a B2 room on the Hokutosei costs ¥12,600. Up to ¥6,000 in surcharges will also have to be paid, which includes a charge to travel between Morioka and Hachinohe over lines which are not owned by Japan Railways.
A free overnight option from Tokyo to Sapporo for Japan Rail Pass holders is to take the Shinkansen to Hachinohe and a Limited Express to Aomori, then take the Hamanasu (はまなす) express train to Sapporo. The one-way ride takes just over 13 hours, with arrival in Sapporo at around 6 AM the next morning. The return trip to Tokyo takes 12 hours, owing to a faster ride on the Shinkansen.
The JR Sapporo station is at North 2, West 1 on the subway Namboku line.
Express buses connect to most points in Hokkaido. The main terminal is next to the Bus Center-Mae station of the subway Tozai line.
Although Sapporo is located inland, there are two major ferry ports nearby: Otaru and Tomakomai. Both have scheduled car and passenger ferry service to points outside Hokkaido.
Most unusually for a Japanese city, Sapporo is logically organized thanks to its strict grid system. The main thoroughfare, the leafy Ō-Dōri (大通り、 lit. "Big Street"), runs east-west across the city and divides the city into North and South, while Sōsei-Gawa (創成川、 lit. "Creation River") divides the city into West and East, running under the main street Eki-Mae-Dōri (駅前道リ、lit. "In Front of the Train Station Road"). The address of every block in the center is thus of the type "North X West Y" (prominently signposted at all intersections), making navigation a snap. However, most businesses etc. will still provide maps to their location, building names or landmarks, because the address "North X West Y" or the like simply means that the place you are trying to find will be somewhere in the block, and blocks in the centre of the city can be quite large!
Sapporo has three subway lines, all converging at Ōdōri station at the center of the grid. The Namboku Line ("North-South") runs north-south, the Tōzai Line ("East-West") runs along Odori west-east, and only the Tōhō Line breaks the mould by running in a C-shaped curve from northeast to southeast.
Single fares cost ¥200 and up, with a choice between subway-only tickets or subway-transfer (bus and streetcar) tickets, or you can buy the oddly named With You stored value card (lowest denomination ¥1000).
On weekends and public holidays, the Donichika-Kippu (ドニチカキップ, lit. "Saturday, Sunday, Holidays Ticket") allows you to travel all day, anywhere on the subway network for a bargain ¥500. On weekdays the "One-Day Card" allows the same, but costs ¥800. The "One-Day Card" isn't limited to weekends, but why pay ¥800 when a ¥500 card does the trick? That said, for ¥1000 you can buy a Bus & Subway transfer "One-Day Card" which allows travel on the entire suburban bus, subway and streetcar network, all day. For all of the above, Child tickets are usually about half of the adult fare.
A streetcar of relatively little utility to most visitors trundles around the southwestern side of Sapporo, connecting to the subway at Susukino. Its most important stops are probably the Chuo Library (Main Public Library in Sapporo) and the Mt. Moiwa Ropeway. It's most useful in winter, when walking the icy footpaths to get to the library or otherwise less-accessible south-western areas of the city becomes quite treacherous. Single-trip tickets are ¥170. They also sell a "Do-san-ko Pass" on weekends and holidays which allows you to ride all you want for a day for ¥300. Since this is less than the cost of 2 normal trips, it is usually advisable to buy this if you are going to make a round trip on an eligible day.
Tokeidai, Sapporo's icon
Clock Tower (時計台 Tokeidai), close to Odori station. This rather diminutive building has become a symbol of Sapporo, mostly by being the oldest building still standing. It was constructed in 1878 for the Sapporo Agricultural College (now the Hokkaido University) and would not look out of place in Smalltown USA. 200 yen for entry, the inside is a small retrospective of its history. However, visitor beware, this is a mecca for Japanese tourists coming to Sapporo (no trip to Sapporo would be complete without a photo in front of the Tokedai), but was actually recently rated as Japan's third "most disappointing" tourist attraction!
Ishiya Chocolate Factory A 15-20 minute subway ride away from the main park, the chocolate factory has an incredibly corny, but fun, tour building up to a view of the actual chocolate making floor, and ending with a random toy museum. Also there are two restaurants, a souvenir store, and an hourly robot show complete with annoying music. The factory is temporarily closed (Oct 2007) due to bacterial elements found in some produced wares.
Sapporo TV Tower, the eastern end of Odori, . A tourist trap carbon copy of the Eiffel Tower with an observation deck at 90m (entry ¥700).
Sapporo Beer Museum, North 7, East 9, tel. 01-1731-4368, . Run by the Sapporo Brewing Company, offers free guided tours covering the history of beer in Japan and the process of brewing. At the end of the tour you can "taste" all the different beers for a small fee (200 yen for a mid sized glass, or a sample of three for 400). Finish off the tour with more brews at the Beer Garden next door (see Eat). Open 9 AM to 6:00 PM, get there on the Loop 88 Factory bus line from Odori Station.
Hyakunen Kinentou, Memorial Tower near Pioneer Village
Pioneer Village, A large historical village on the outskirts of Sapporo, offers a snapshot of Japan in the newly-industrialised age. The front gate (an old railway station) opens up into a series of opens alleys and buildings of the style pre-20th century. Also a variety of different gardens and shrines. Don't expect costumed performers however - everything is self guided (so a Japanese host would be advisable). Just down the road there is the 100th anniversary Memorial Park (Hyakunen Kinentou), the site of a giant (and somewhat imposing) tower which can be climbed, providing a good vantage point of Sapporo (though quite some distance from the city centre) and surrounding mountains. Admission is free, but expect to compete with school groups.
Moiwayama, or Moiwa Mountain, overlooks the city and is especially worthwhile at night to observe the city-lights. Can be reached by cable car, or with a car, the summit (and tourist centre) can be reached directly. To reach drive there by car, a small entrance fee is required, but the lookout has free entry.
View from Asahiyama overlooking Sapporo city
Asahiyama Koen, (admission free) beautiful flower garden and natural parklands that overlooks the city centre. Noted for being a good place for romance, and is particularly good for cherry blossoms in spring and autumn colours, and local wildlife such as squirrels and foxes (somewhat of a feral pest around Sapporo).
Hokkaido Shrine, (admission free).
Teineyama, or Mount Teine, a ski mountain within easy drive from most of Sapporo. This ski mountain featured in the 1972 Winter Olympics. Offers a good mix of beginner and experienced slopes (in two distinct parks; Highlands and Olympia which have recently been connected).
Autumn at Houkaikyou Dam, Jozankei
Jozankei, on the southern outskirts of Sapporo (but still nominally in the city), approximately 40 - 60 mins drive. This area is famous for both it's onsen (due perhaps to proximity to Sapporo) and the very beautiful autumn colours (especially around the Houhaikyou Dam).
Sapporo is famous for its ski resorts. There are some ski resorts near downtown Sapporo, easily accessible by bus.
Edo-jo recreated from snow/ice at Yuki Matsuri
Historical theme of Perry arriving in Japan at Yuki Matsuri
Sapporo Snow Festival (雪祭り yuki matsuri), . Held on the first week of February, this is Sapporo's largest event. The festival is best known for the ice sculpture competition attracting artists from around the world, competing to create the largest and most elaborate artworks from ice and snow. Book accommodation early, as even a big city like Sapporo gets booked out during this major festival.
The festival is focussed on Odori Koen, in the centre of Sapporo. It consists of a combination of large-scale replicas and artistic sculptures; children-aimed attractions; and a separate section for world-wide competitors (where you can see a wide range of smaller artistic sculptures). The festival should be enjoyed both in the day - but particularly at night when the sculptures (especially the larger ones) are lit up. When the weather is warmer and there's a bit of melting, the smaller sculptures are literally remade everynight to ensure that they are in perfect condition the next day.
For those living in Japan who have an omiyage (souvenir) obligation to fill in your Japanese office when you return from your Hokkaido holiday, the best omiyage to buy in Sapporo is the ubiquitous Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人, "White Lovers"). It is a chocolate slice sandwiched in two wafers of sweet biscuit, individually wrapped and available boxed in a range of different quantities — tasty enough, but rather bland, and few Westerners would associate the taste with Japan. The original flavour is white chocolate sandwiched in plain sweet biscuit, but there is also a dark chocolate version. It's available in every souvenir store in the city (try the Sapporo JR area or Tanuki Koji Shopping Arcade when shopping for souvenirs), and also most souvenir stores around the island.
Being a wintery kind of place for a good part of each year, Sapporo also has many stores selling all manner of snow goods. At the beginning and end of each season, many good deals on the previous year's gear can be found, often at discounts of up to 60% off, sometimes more! Also, there are several sports recycle stores in the city and suburbs where good deals on barely-used gear can be found, thanks to the Japanese fondness for having new gear every season. Ask Tourist Information to help you locate sports recycle and snow-goods stores.
Sapporo is famous for hairy crab (毛蟹 kegani), an expensive treat available at any seafood restaurant, and miso ramen (味噌ラーメン), sweets and a more affordable local variation of the ubiquitous noodle dish with miso paste added to the stock. The ramen in particular will warm you up nicely on a chilly winter day. Sapporo soup curry (just what it sounds like) is also increasingly famous.
As elsewhere in Hokkaido, you can also enjoy dairy products (milk, cheese, butter, chocolate and ice cream), seafood (especially as sushi), fruits (honeydew melon, strawberries) and meat (sausages, ham, bacon and beef).
Aji No Tokeidai (味の時計台). A famous noodle (ramen) chain store from Sapporo, Hokkaido. Many famous people have eaten here including former Japanese prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama. They also have a chain store outside Hokkaido. Miso ramen (630yen) is the No.1 dish, but if you want something special, order the bata-kon ramen, an Hokkaido specialty made with a hearty broth of corn and butter.
Ramen Yokochō (ラーメン横丁). Also known as Ramen Gai. This alley is chock full of ramen shops of all varieties. Get butter corn ramen, crab ramen, and even scallop ramen. Just east of Susukino Station. This is now principally visited by tourists - locals generally avoid this area, and many Japanese are disappointed.
Sapporo Beer Garden. At the same location as the Beer Museum is the Beer Garden, an incredibly popular Genghis Khan (mutton barbeque) restaurant. Even though the dining rooms span three large buildings, come early and expect to wait. The restaurant offers 100 minute all you can eat and all you can drink plans, as well as à la carte food and drink if you'd prefer. WARNING: you should not plan to wear your best clothes, as the atmosphere is incredibly heavy with the scents of cooking meat (plastic coats are provided - seriously)
"Romantei" One of the most popular sweets shops. Famous for its Chocolate Mont Blanc, a delicious concoction of sponge cake, whipped cream and ganache. Other delectables include cream puffs, apple pie, and strawberry bavarian. Located at Moiwa Mountain.
The drink of choice when in Sapporo is obviously Sapporo beer, and the cheapest way to get sloshed is the factory tour (see See).
Susukino (すすきの), to the south of the center, is one of Japan's largest nightlife (and red-light) districts. It has a somewhat unsavory reputation due to heavy yakuza involvement in the business, but is generally safe for travellers not actively looking for trouble. Get there on the subway Namboku line, Susukino station.
O'Neills Irish pub, Sapporo station. An escape from Japan while you wait for your train: here you can watch baseball on the big screen, listen to U2 and eat fish and chips from photocopied(!) newspaper.
Ino's Place, in Shiroishi (白石) (7 minutes from Ō-Dōri station on the Tōzai line), . Describes itself as Backpackers Hostel and is a very friendly, open and clean place offering dorm room beds for ¥3400. Slightly more expensive private rooms are available as well, as are discounts for long-term stays. Several 24h showers and a Japanese-style bath, free to use kitchen, a comfy living area and reasonably priced internet access make this one a sure winner.
Safro Spa & Capsule Hotel, South 6 West 5 (in Susukino), . Formerly the Hokuo, this is a capsule hotel bolted on to an extensive spa complex, with separate floors for men and women. ¥4100 gets you entry into the spa and a capsule for the night, with an extra ¥500 slapped on top on weekends. You can come and go freely, but your bill must be settled before they will let you out.
Auto Resort Takino in Sapporo's Minami-ku (南区 - South Ward). From April (~27th) until November (~3rd), there is a campground in Takino, which is ¥1000 for the site and ¥800 per person. Near the Art Park. Has all the facilities you would expect in a suburban campground, including a playground, restrooms, cooking area, water, public phones, vending machines, showers, store, laundromat. Ph. 011-594-2121. According to Outdoor Japan (www.outdoorjapan.com) "there are some beautiful waterfalls to hike around in Takino Suzuran Koen and the campsite is large and comfortable".
Comfort Hotel Sapporo, 9 nishi (West) Minami 3jo (South), near Susukino, about 20 minutes walk from JR Station. Midrange western-style rooms; bathrooms included, Internet computer available in lobby.
Sapporo Grand Hotel was first established in 1934 and is a historical monument in itself. Although some of the rooms are rather aged, it is a stylish hotel and is very conveniently located.
Washington Hotel One Right next to the train station and newly remodeled as of August of 2006. Each room includes a complementry computer and internet access to use while you stay.
There are a quite few internet cafes in the city, ask at the International Plaza (in Sapporo JR or near the Clock Tower) for current information and directions.
YahooBB Park, near Tokyu Hands and the North Streetcar Terminus. Fast (50Mbps) broadband internet access (though not free anymore). It has lots of terminals and a nice simple atmosphere. You'll need some kind of ID (Passport, "Gaijin Card" or Drivers Licence) to join.
Tully's Coffee, in the Sapporo Station, Stellar Plaza 6F, has an excellent free WiFi hotspot and a great view.
Otaru, approximately 60 mins by car (shorter by highway). A very pleasant small town located on the coast, and famous (within Japan) for its attractive canal which is very european in design. Also famous for its seafood, music box museum (with associated tourist shop) and glass works. Also famous for being the setting of the movie Love Letter.
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