Sapporo is known to some as Japan’s largest small town, with a comfortably-urbanized city center surrounded by suburbs where people live relatively relaxed, middle-class lives. While Sapporo is not chock-full of attractions on the scale of Tokyo or Kyoto, there is still plenty of sightseeing. Many sights are clustered downtown between JR Sapporo Station and Odori Park, but others listed below are an easy urban walk regardless of the season.
Odori Park (Odori Koen)
If you’re ready for a twelve-block walk (it’s 1.4 kms, or about a mile long) in a park framed by skyscrapers, Odori Park awaits. Start at the Sapporo TV tower (vaguely modeled on the Eiffel Tower, which every major Japanese city seems to want to replicate) and work your way west. Depending on the season (and they are dramatically different in Hokkaido), you’ll see toddlers trying to jump in fountains, young people cuddling on dates or showing off on skateboards, middle-aged folks taking breaks from office work, and elders gumming corn on the cob and potatoes while sniffing roses and lilacs. The farther west you go, the more trees, swing-sets, and statues you’ll see, culminating in a rose garden and an old archive building with public displays of arts and crafts. If you’re too tired to walk back, hop on the local subway (Nishi 11-chome) and take the one stop back to Odori.
There’s almost always something going on at Odori. In Spring, you’ll see the Lilac Festival and the YOSAKOI So-ran dance festival. In Summer, you’ll see the joyous Beer Garden (with each block reserved for a major Japanese brewery; the foreign brews are consigned to the far south), and tipsy Sapporoites reveling outside for the short warm season. In Autumn comes the Obon Dance and booths featuring local harvested goods (with fresh delicacies from each part of Hokkaido).
Once the snow starts falling, Odori battens down its hatches, ready for the world-famous Sapporo Snow Festival in early February – which takes up all twelve blocks of the park, and then some!
The underground passage between JR Sapporo Station and Susukino subway station (Sapporo Chikagai)
Under Odori Park are two shopping centers called “Aurora Town” (running parallel with Odori all the way to the TV Tower), and “Pole Town” (running perpendicular to Odori, south from JR Sapporo Station all the way to Susukino). Both offer pleasant shopping for Sapporoites without the bother of having to surface and brave the city’s six-month winters. In fact, you can walk the entire length underground from JR Sapporo Station to these shopping areas (and beyond) through a new passage called the Sapporo Ekimae-dori Underground Walkway (Chikaho).
All areas are worth a browse, and you will satisfy your urban wanderlust while getting your daily exercise. When you’re ready for dinner, head south to the end of the passage and surface in Susukino (Sapporo’s party district), where hundreds of restaurants and bars await your custom.
Former Hokkaido Government Building (Kyu-Docho or “Akarenga”)
Close to Odori is a lovely red-brick structure that you should drop by any time of the day at any season. Built in 1888 to show off how modernized Japan (and particularly newly-colonized Hokkaido) was becoming, it reflects historical construction styles seen hardly anywhere else in architecturally-sterile Sapporo.
If you’re there when it’s open, have a look inside, and imagine people with mutton-chop mustaches more than a century ago trying to figure out how to finish Japanizing Hokkaido before the Russians, Americans, and other imperial powers got stuck in.
Hokkaido University (Hokkaido Daigaku)
Famous as one of Japan’s former Imperial Universities (roughly equivalent to an Ivy-League school in Japan), Hokkaido University, or Hokudai for short, has one of the nicest college campuses in Japan, where tertiary education focuses on building classrooms and facilities, not on landscaping and leafy walkways.
A reasonably short jaunt northwest from JR Sapporo Station, it’s worth a stroll for its trees and old-ish architecture, especially in Summer and Autumn. The main street runs about 6 km (nearly 4 miles) north, and there are other sights along the way.
Tanuki-Koji Shopping Arcade (Tanuki Koji Shouten-Gai)
A place celebrating both the weird and wonderful, the Tanuki-Koji Arcade (named after a quirky little animal that looks like a cross between a badger and a raccoon) offers kitsch, cheap eats, knock-offs, and the like for people bored with sterile shopping malls. Running south and parallel to Odori Park for seven blocks, it has been gentrified in recent years, but the farther west you walk (the arcade roof disappears after the seventh block), the more decrepit the stores become. Worth exploring for Hokkaido souvenirs and other Japanese-style whimsy.
Sapporo Clock Tower (Sapporo Tokeidai)
Just one block off Odori Park is a tiny barn with a clock on top that is known as Sapporo’s symbol. You’ll see the clock gable on just about any pamphlet or Sapporo-based merchandise.
However, there isn’t much to recommend the Sapporo Clock Tower, except that it sits nestled within Sapporo skyscrapers, chimes on the hour, and has a rather esoteric history and an American-frontier architectural style. But if you don’t at least drop by, your Japanese friends may ask why you didn’t, because for them it’s a must-see.
Nakajima Park (Nakajima Koen)
If you’re a fan of parks and are in the mood for a walk, Nakajima Park, about eight blocks beyond the start of Susukino, may be the ticket. Offering a boating pond in summer and cross-country ski rentals in winter, it is an expansive green space ideal for a stroll. When you surface at Susukino, keep walking South along Eki-Mae Dori until all the eateries and nightlife emporiums end. Then the road hits a t-junction, and straight on you go into the park. You can take a subway back (three or four stops) to JR Sapporo Station when finished.
Article by Dr. Debito Arudou. All rights reserved.