SAPPORO: JAPAN'S HIDDEN GEM
Odori Park in the heart of Sapporo
On Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaidō lies the charming city of Sapporo, famed for its beer and wintertime snow festival. In the dynamic city centre, you’ll find traditional Japanese tearooms on bustling street corners, breweries riding the craft ale boom, and plenty of green spaces, including Mount Moiwa, which rises up through the urban sprawl. Venture out of the city and take a dip in the incredible hot springs of nearby Jozankei or hike through the gargantuan national parks. Despite being the fifth largest city in the country, and Hokkaidō’s regional capital, Sapporo is often overlooked by travellers, making it one of the Japan’s most alluring unspoilt treasures.
Modern day Sapporo is a vibrant cultural hub, but until the 19th century it was merely a peaceful hunting and fishing village. Explore its historical and cultural museums and landmarks to discover what it was like to live in the city during the boom of the 19th and 20th centuries, from agriculture and religion to that all-important beer production.
The Hokkaidō Shrine dates back to 1871, when the wooden structure was built as a home to three enshrined Shinto deities at the order of Emperor Meiji. You’ll find the shrine amidst beautiful, tranquil scenery, surrounded by mountains on three sides and frequented by wildlife. Festivals – including the Sapporo Festival – often take place here, and in springtime, the area flourishes with cherry blossoms transforming it into a fairytale scene.
Wander around Kaitaku no Mura – or the Historical Village of Hokkaidō – to find out what it would have felt like to live in Hokkaidō during the “frontier days” of the Meiji era (1868–1912), as well as during the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito (1926-1989). Ride the horse-drawn trolley along the main street and discover the 52 relocated or recreated buildings. The village’s Shinto shrine continues to hold harvest festivals in autumn.
Embrace the awe-inspiring natural surroundings of Sapporo with one of the many inspiring day trips that can be experienced from the city. Head to nearby hot springs for a therapeutic dip amidst otherworldly scenery or embark on an invigorating hike to see the whole of Sapporo laid out before you.
A 50-minute drive from Sapporo you’ll find the breathtaking Jozankei Onsen Hot Springs, one of the most popular hot spring areas in Hokkaidō. The Jozankei district is home to 56 hot spring sources, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees C. Take a pleasant stroll amidst the region’s famously stunning scenery, explore the hot springs, and then take a dip in one of the pools designated for people to enjoy.
If you’re seeking a panoramic view of Sapporo you’ll struggle to beat the 360-degree vista from atop Mount Moiwa, located within the city. Take an easy hike up the mountain or opt for the cable car instead. Once there, admire the stunning cityscape and treat yourself to a pastry at the mountaintop restaurant and cafe. Visit at night to see the city decked out in twinkling lights.
Sapporo's Skyline as seen from the top of Mount Moiwa
While Sapporo has numerous restaurants dedicated to traditional Japanese dining, at heart it’s a modern city on the cutting-edge of culinary trends. Indulge yourself in its cafes and izakayas, enjoy authentic and freshly made sushi, delicious noodles or tasty miso soup, or explore the booming craft ale scene to get a true sense of the city in the 21st century.
If you really like your caffeine, you are well-catered for in Sapporo, where you’ll find traditional coffee shops – or kissaten – on every corner. Visit at least one izakaya during your visit too; these Japanese pubs foster a relaxed atmosphere perfect for a casual drink, and the dining style is similar to that of a tapas bar. Sit on a tatami mat to eat from a low table, or drink standing up. One of Sapporo’s most iconic watering holes is the award-winning Bar Yamazaki, where bartenders mix original cocktails in luxurious surrounds.
Sapporo has a long tradition of brewing, with its eponymous lager produced since the late 19th century. Head to establishments such as Moon and Sun Brewing – a brew pub with its own on-site equipment – and Beer Bar North Island, where you can chat to brewers as you sample the rotating menu of ales. Visit Sapporo Beer Museum to learn about the history of beer-making in Japan, and the instrumental role Sapporo played in this.
Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho (or Ramen street)
No matter what time of year you visit Sapporo, you’ll find a fantastical festival occurring. In winter, Sapporo holds its world-famous Snow Festival, drawing huge crowds. Summertime, meanwhile, signals the start of firework season, when locals and visitors gather at night to enjoy the warm weather and trace bright colours through the sky.
Sapporo Snow Festival has been a major winter event since 1950 when it was started by a group of high school students. Held annually each February, the population of Sapporo almost doubles during the time of the iconic festival. Gaze upon enchanting ice sculptures illuminated by neon lights at this world-famous event, and attend the international ice sculpture competition.
Fireworks are seen as a hallmark of Japanese summertime, and during this time of year Sapporo hosts a number of vibrant festivals, where the sky is streaked with glowing colours and music fills the air. Hokkaidō Makomanai Music Fireworks Festival in Makomanai Park is one of the largest festivals of its kind, with more than 20,000 fireworks lighting up the night sky. Alternatively, you’ll find Doshin UHB Fireworks Festival – established over half a century ago – in central Sapporo near the Toyohira River Minami Bridge.
Sappporo Snow Festival
As the capital of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō, Sapporo is often seen as a gateway to the treasures of this mountainous region. While there’s plenty to keep you in the charming city itself, take a few days to explore other Hokkaidō highlights too.
Hokkaidō is home to breathtaking greenery, and nowhere is this more evident that at its spellbinding national parks. You can reach parts of Shikotsu-Toya National Park in under an hour’s drive from Sapporo, and highlights include hot springs, caldera lakes, and endless mountains, including Yōtei-zan. Travel north to reach Daisetsuzan National Park, translated literally as ‘Big Snow Mountain’. Within this vast wilderness you’ll explore active volcanoes, crystalline lakes, and best of all – with only small numbers visiting – it remains completely unspoilt.
Hakodate – one of Hokkaidō’s major cities – sits in the shadow of Mount Hakodate. Hike through breathtaking scenery to spectacular vantage points, meander its colourful Western-style streets and gaze upon early-20th century architecture. At Hakodate Asaichi, the morning market, sample fresh seafood including squid and sea urchin, before visiting The Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward – the city’s major landmark.
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
To get to Sapporo in the most convenient and comfortable way, fly with THAI from London, which was recently voted the World’s Best Economy Class for the second year in a row. The timeliest flight to take from Heathrow is the 2125 departure, as it offers you the best connection from Bangkok. If you take this route, and are heading straight to Sapporo, there will be one daily connecting flight from London. If you choose to stopover in Bangkok, there will be two flights available to you.
For Royal Silk and Royal First passengers, we recommend heading to the Royal Orchid Spa at Bangkok Airport in-between connecting flights to Sapporo – it was recently voted the best in the world for the fourth year running.
From Sapporo, you can also easily explore the rest of Japan, with the ability to fly back to London with THAI from Fukuoka, Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo.