Japan’s major train stations can be confusing. For example, JR Tokyo, JR Shinjuku, and JR Ueno are enormous maze-arrays of trains, subways, superways, escalators, shops, underground passageways, and constantly-flowing crowds. Compared to them, JR Sapporo is a breeze. Even when completely revamped in 2003, and despite serving a city of nearly two million people, JR Sapporo Station managed to remain self-contained and manageable.
Coming from New Chitose Airport, you will disembark on an elevated platform with views of the city facing North and South. It’s a pleasant view, and a good preview of the city, but follow the crowds downstairs to the main floor. You’ll pass by kiosks, shops, and, if it’s wintertime, Sapporo denizens standing snugly around portable space heaters installed by the station. Winters in Hokkaido are quite cold, and JR Sapporo Station’s platforms are of course somewhat exposed to the elements. But not to worry. Keep walking: You’ll feel the station sharply warm up by degrees the closer you get to the exit ticket gates, which face East and West.
If you pass through the East Ticket Gate onto the East Concourse, you’ll find yourself facing several stories of luxurious shops, boutiques, and fancy restaurants under the JR Tower Hotel. If you pass through the West Ticket Gate on the West Concourse, you’ll find yourself on the cheaper side of the station, offering more practical shopping, food, drugstores, and eateries.
If you’re ready to take in tourist information, the northwest corner of Sapporo Station has the JR Information Desk and the Hokkaido-Sapporo Tourist Food and Tourism Information Center. A stop there sometime during your stay is recommended. You can pick up multilingual pamphlets and discount coupons for Hokkaido sights, and talk to staff who can tell you how to get around if necessary.
Either ticket gate you choose, you’ll find yourself on the ground-level floor. Sapporo Station has essentially two exits to the outside: North and South. You can peek out of the North Exit to board a bus or walk to the leafy campus of Hokkaido University (click here).
Or you can step out of the South Exit, walk to the main street curb, and turn around for a remarkable view of the exterior of Stellar Place Sapporo (which houses JR Sapporo Station) and environs. Topped by the JR Tower Hotel, and surrounded by skyscrapers on all sides, the quad offers lovely night illumination all year-round.
However, given Hokkaido’s six-month winters, most of the exciting stuff takes place indoors, so let’s return. Look up as you reenter the South Exit and you will see the open-air enclosed piazza of Stellar Place Sapporo, with multistory shopping hemmed in by balconies. We talk more about shopping around the station in a separate article, so loop around and follow the southbound crowds underground.
Walking down a cascade of short stairwells will bring you through underground malls and by the Sapporo Subway stop, offering access to all major areas within city limits. But walk farther south beyond the subway, and you’ll see a yawning underground corridor that stretches for half a kilometer (close to half a mile) under Sapporo’s major thoroughfare (Ekimae Dori) all the way to Odori Park.
Opened in 2011, the Sapporo Ekimae-dori Underground Walkway (Chikaho) offers climate-controlled comfort in defiance of Hokkaido’s persistent winters. When you eventually reach the Odori area, the walkway passes by “Aurora Town” (a mall running under Odori Park for three blocks). Then the walkway itself becomes an underground mall called “Pole Town” for another half-kilometer. (For information on both malls, click here). Follow that and you’ll reach the end of the passage, which is Susukino, Sapporo’s party zone. If you’re not in the mood to retrace your steps, then jump on the subway; it’s only two stations back to JR Sapporo.
But JR Sapporo’s environs are not all people passing through. We have selected a number of noteworthy hotels within walking distance, and all are to some degree serviced by the well-lit, clean, and spacious underground walkway that originate from JR Sapporo Station.
Again, JR Sapporo Station is relatively easy to navigate, thanks to Sapporo’s layout on a grid. The general rule of thumb is: Destinations are North-South, sights and shopping are East-West. Arrive at JR Sapporo Station, drop your bags, and explore Sapporo’s above- and below-ground world. Yes, you might temporarily get lost. But at least, cozily-nestled underground with everyone else, you’ll stay warm.
Article by Dr. Debito Arudou. All rights reserved.