I’m not going to lie. I have a secret love affair with Japan. We had such an enduring romance that I couldn’t stay away for more than 12 months at a time for the better part of the last decade.
The people, the culture, the countryside, the wildlife, even the buildings.
The real draw card (for me) is the contrast. The differences are what make a new location exhilarating to both explore and absorb.
So, all this preamble aside, let’s see what this city is actually all about and take a breather from all this gushing.
Sapporo is the capital of the mountainous island of Hokkaido.
It’s roughly on the same latitude as Vladivostok in Siberia, and is famous for its beer, skiing and Snow Festival featuring large ice sculptures in winter.
Even before I fist visited Japan, I already had visions of a highly efficient transport network, punctuated with the eye watering speeds of the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). When travelling to Sapporo, you arrive at Chitose airport. Fortunately for us travellers, the train station can be accessed directly inside the airport (which is grand if you decided to visit in Winter like I did).
If you’ve done your research, you’ll find that Japan is predominately a cash society. It’s handy to have a wad of Japanese Yen before you begin your journey as this makes life a lot easier when you begin your adventure after clearing Japanese customs. Tickets are around 1,070 yen one way to Sapporo Station. This journey takes around 37 minutes.
It was mayhem trying to figure out how to buy a ticket at the kiosks, as there were people everywhere and you want to know exactly where you’re going beforehand so you can figure out which ticket to buy.
My friend and I leveraged the support of the Help Desk to make sure we got to where we were going, as we needed to make a transfer to get to our accommodation. Being winter and travelling with a snowboard bag, it was prudent to utilise the trains and subway as much as possible to insulate yourself from the frigid conditions.
That being said, I still opted for shorts.
We stayed in the centre of the city very deliberately. The Snow Festival was in town when we went, and it’s always nice to be in the middle of the action. The Festival feature incredible sculptures of snow and ice on display for free around Ōdōri Park and a couple of other locations nearby. Sapporo had all the hallmarks of a Winter Wonderland, with caricatures of animals and mythical beasts lining the streets, with streets illuminated by fairy lights dangling from trees.
Sapporo is like a lot of Japanese cities, lots of square architecture, with buildings looking like a patchwork of different colours and intentions, emblazoned with neon signs advertising whiter skin, beer, beer, whiskey, some more beer, and what I’ll assume was Sailor Moon extolling the benefits of better cell phone coverage. You know, standard Japanese fare.
This is a city that knows how to deal with harsh winters. Lots of buildings and shops are interconnected by underground walkways. I always prefer to remain above ground to take in my surroundings, but it is a welcome retreat from the weather at times.
The subway network is extremely efficient, if you can figure out where you’re going.
If you’re ever in Japan, you can’t miss the chance to visit one of their shopping malls. These are hives of activity that offer anything and everything, with all the electronic stores to satiate your need for toys and gadgets. This is where I picked up my travel game changer, the multi use power adaptor. I know I was late to the game with this item, but better late than never. I guess these are just like other malls all around the world, the Japanese just have a knack for adding their own style to the experience. I’m not what you would call a “shopper,” it was just good to just have a wander.
If you’re a normal person who likes beer and food, make sure you visit the Sapporo Beer Garden. It is a great place for a meal and drinks after a long day snowboarding and exploring, with your very own hot plate to cook your own meals. We were are very efficient group of chefs.
So, why choose Sapporo?
I’ll admit, cities in general aren’t a real draw card for me. It’s nice to visit for a couple of days max, but the novelty, along with my interest, soon wears off. Sapporo will be your jumping off point for the island of Hokkaido, and if you come in the winter like we did, it’s a great base for the rest of the island in terms of visiting all the ski hills which are up to 2 hours away in all directions.
I’m sure there’s a lot the city can offer, but I like to speak from experience and not get all gushy about details while plagiarising information from others experiences.
Get to the point, Chris.
Our motivation for visiting Hokkaido was snow. World class, high volume, dumping, puking, insane snow.
The Snow Festival was great to punctuate the trip, whose sole purpose was getting armpit deep in powdery Japanese snow. From the city you can take a bus to any of the snow resorts that are within 2 hours drive from the centre of Sapporo. From the major hotel lobbies you can book day trips with lift tickets included to a variety of ski resorts (this list is not exhaustive);
So if this is your thing, it is easy to make Sapporo your base while you take excursions into the countryside to experience some of the best snow Japan has to offer.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more highlights of Japan, with a focus on ski resorts on the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, plus many many more articles on destinations from around the world.
I believe in honest story telling. You won’t find much in the way of “you MUST see/do/experience this” unless I’ve actually done it myself and think you’d be wise to give it a shot.
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