Take a Stroll in Sapporo Central Area and Enjoy Its Attractions



 Sapporo, the capital of the north. Sapporo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan as a result of the compactness of its many tourist attractions.

How did Sapporo become a huge city?

 Until the end of the Edo period in 1867, this undeveloped area, where only a few Ainu and ethnic Japanese people lived along the banks of the Toyohira River, was rapidly developed by the Kaitakushi Development Commission. Here and there in this northern metropolis with its beautiful scenery surrounded by nature, there is a hidden history of our predecessors who staked their dreams on pioneering the wilderness. The keys to success were the development of towns by the Development Commission and farmer-soldiers, and the expansion of farmland through drainage technology. Sapporo’s soil was formed by an alluvial fan which provided hard ground and abundant water, and peatlands which were not suitable for either farming or residential lands. The Development Commission began their development from the fan-shaped area. The wide road in the center of the developed area is today’s Odori Park. Later, as the farmer-soldiers settled in the area, farmland became available in the peatlands through the excavation of artificial rivers and the use of drainage techniques such as burying earthen pipes in the ground.

 After World War II, when the coal mines that had created a distinctive era in Hokkaido closed, people seeking work poured into Sapporo. During the high economic growth period of the 1960s, the urban area spread and the population grew rapidly as companies located in the mainland of Honshu expanded into Sapporo. The population exceeded one million in 1970, and as transportation systems were improved, including the opening of the subway system in 1971, farmlands were converted to residential lands. Incidentally, the roads in Sapporo are basically laid out in a grid pattern, but there are some deviations. This is the result of connecting surrounding towns that were originally developed separately. In this way, Sapporo developed into the enormous city of 2 million that it is today.

Must-sees in the center of Sapporo!

Odori Park

 Odori Park is a lush oasis of greenery that stretches 1.5 km east to west in the center of Sapporo, and is also a venue for events in all four seasons.

 The Snow Festival in February is followed by the Lilac Festival in May, the Yosakoi Soran Festival in June, then the Sapporo Summer Festival in mid-July with one of the largest beer gardens in Japan, the Autumn Fest, a gourmet event featuring delicacies from all over Hokkaido in September, the White Illumination and Munich Christmas Market starting in late November, and many more.

 The history of Odori Park can be traced back to 1869, when the north and south sides of this area were divided and the present Odori Park became the boundary between the government-owned land to the north and the townspeople and merchants to the south. At the same time, this area began to serve as a firebreak zone. To put it bluntly, this was built to prevent fires in the merchant district from spreading into the government district to the north. During World War II, fields were created to grow food and compensate for shortages. The first Sapporo Snow Festival was held in 1950, when the park had been restored to its former status again after the war, and the park was made into a green zone.

 Now let’s take a stroll from one end of Odori Park to the other.

 At the eastern end of Odori Park is the TV Tower. It was built in 1956 as a tower for transmitting TV signals and opened as an observatory the following year. The architectural structural engineer Tachyu Naito built six towers in six locations across Japan, known as the “Six Tower Brothers,” starting with the Nagoya TV Tower, which was completed in 1954. Incidentally, Sapporo TV Tower is the fourth and Tokyo Tower is the fifth brother. The tower is 147 meters high, and from the observation platform 90 meters above ground level, you can see Odori Park, the entire city, and the magnificent Ishikari Plain in all four seasons.

 Although not located in Odori Park, the Clock Tower, an iconic symbol of Sapporo, is a short walk from the TV Tower.

 It was built in 1878 at the suggestion of Dr. Clark, who became the first vice principal of Sapporo Agricultural College, as a military drill hall there. Dr. Clark witnessed capable students falling like flies during the American Civil War because they were not trained as soldiers. So he proposed a military drill hall so that when war broke out, the students of the agricultural college would be ready to respond.

 Initially, the building was a two-story wooden structure with a hall on the second floor used as a military drill hall, which was also used for entrance and graduation ceremonies, and as an assembly hall. Interestingly, there was no clock tower at that time, and the Development Commission later took charge of a clock with a self-ringing bell that had been ordered from the Howard Company of Boston. However, the clock was too large to fit in the top of the building, which was therefore rebuilt and the clock was finally installed.

 Coming back to the park, there are also dynamic fountains in the center of the park, and further to the west is a waterway and sandbox. Various objects, including Black Slide Mantra designed by a famous sculptor named Isamu Noguchi, are also scattered throughout the park.

 The Sapporo City Museum stands at the western end, with a rose garden in the foreground. This museum was built in 1926 as the Sapporo Court of Appeal. The exterior walls are made of gray Sapporo soft stone, a volcanic tuff found in the area, with bricks on the inside, and the front of the building is symmetrical, giving it a classical feel. Sapporo soft stone is a rock hardened by pyroclastic flow from the volcanic activity that formed Lake Shikotsu 40,000 years ago. Because of its easy processing and excellent fire resistance, Sapporo soft stone was widely used as an inexpensive, noncombustible building material by the Hokkaido Development Commission. Particularly interesting is the Criminal Courtroom Exhibition Room, a restored courtroom from the Appeals Court era, which is open to the public and where visitors can borrow legal uniforms and take photos.

 Above the main entrance is a blindfolded statue of the Goddess of Law, and on either side are reliefs of a balance and a sword. The goddess is blindfolded because she represents equality before the law in spite of wealth or power.

Hokkaido University

 Hokkaido University Sapporo Campus is located just a short walk north of Sapporo Station and is surrounded by abundant nature, which is so beautiful as it changes from season to season. If the timing is right, you can catch a glimpse of mandarin ducks walking around the pond, as well as red squirrels and great spotted woodpeckers etc. that appear between the trees. Several foxes are also studying something on the campus.

 Sapporo Agricultural College, the predecessor of Hokkaido University, opened in 1876 in the area where the clock tower now stands, and moved to its current location in 1903. The verdant campus with large elm trees is dotted with historical attractions. The General Museum on the campus is in the former main building of the Faculty of Science and houses academic research materials and specimens from the Sapporo Agricultural College era, with exhibits ranging from the fields of archaeology and paleontology to science and technology. The domed ceiling and reliefs in the atrium are also magnificent. When you are tired of walking, take a break at the café in the museum. There you can also enjoy delicious soft-serve ice cream and Hokkaido’s limited-edition Sapporo Classic draft beer.

 Walking west along the side of the museum, you will find a row of poplar trees, the symbol of Hokkaido University. Also, gingko trees line the street from Chuo Dori Street to Kita 13-jo gate to the east. This is one of the best spots in Sapporo for yellow leaves, and the autumn colors of the mountain maples on the outside of the row of trees are also spectacular.

 Walking south from the museum on Chuo Dori Street, you will find Sapporo Agricultural College No. 2 Farm, which was modeled after the barns Dr. Clark built at the Massachusetts Agricultural College.

Tanukikoji shopping street

 This is one of the oldest shopping streets in Hokkaido, celebrating its 150th year in 2023. It is also one of the largest shopping streets in terms of scale, with seven blocks totaling approximately 900 meters in length, all with covered arcades, and it houses 200 stores.

 Tanukikoji translates directly to Raccoon Dog Alley. It is said because of its proximity to the red-light district of Susukino at that time, described later, the area was lined with bars and pubs, and at dusk, ladies nicknamed raccoon dogs beckoned from the darkness, hence the name Raccoon Dog Alley. Another reason may be that raccoon dogs were regarded as bewitching animals in Japan.

 In July 2023, a new landmark was born there to brighten the future of the city, named “Moyuk” in Ainu language or “raccoon dog” It is a complex facility with direct access to Raccoon Dog Alley and the underground shopping center. What’s more, there is also an urban aquarium on the fourth to sixth floors of that building, where visitors can relax and enjoy watching penguins and fish.

Hokkaido Shrine

 The shrine was founded as Sapporo Shrine in 1871 as a spiritual home for Hokkaido’s pioneers. Today, the shrine enshrines four deities: the three pioneer deities and Emperor Meiji. The 180,000 m² precincts are decorated by cherry and plum blossom in spring and autumn leaves in fall. The deities of Hokkaido Shrine offer a wide range of blessings, including increased financial fortune, prosperous business, marriage, and family safety. Maruyama Park, with its protected primeval forest, is also adjacent to the shrine, so those who wish to enjoy the natural beauty of Sapporo should stroll around there as well as Hokkaido Shrine.

 Maruyama Park has long been a popular cherry blossom viewing spot, and during the cherry blossom viewing season, the park is crowded with many citizens, who enjoy lamb barbecues, other dishes and drinks under the cherry trees. And interestingly, most people are too busy grilling meat, and producing billowing smoke, to appreciate the cherry blossoms. Incidentally, Hokkaido seems to be the only place in Japan where people enjoy barbecuing under the cherry blossoms.

Soseigawa Park

 This park was completed in 2011 along Soseigawa Dori, which divides central Sapporo from east to west. The Soseigawa River was formerly known as an irrigation channel built in 1866, and later the riverfront was crowded with circus huts and street vendors. To carry on the atmosphere of that time, a promenade was built in the 820-meter-long park stretching from Minami 4-jo to Kita 1-jo. The sides of the promenade are dotted with some artworks.

 To the east of Soseigawa Park is Nijo Market. It is said to have started 150 years ago when fishermen from Ishikari Beach came up the Ishikari River to Sapporo to sell their seafood. Because of its central location and accessibility, the fish market attracts many tourists and is bustling from the morning. It also offers a variety of seafood gourmet restaurants.

Sapporo Beer Museum

 Until 1965, the museum served as a malt house where the barley used to make beer was germinated. The museum is now the only beer museum in Japan, and in addition to exhibiting a variety of actual materials, a model of a former factory, and beer advertising posters, it also introduces the history of beer through videos.

 You can enjoy a premium tour at the Sapporo Beer Museum for a fee of 1,000 yen. This program consists of three parts: the story of the birth of Sapporo Beer shown on a screen, a guided tour, and a tasting of Sapporo beers. Unfortunately, the guided tours are in Japanese only, but that won’t be a problem as your private guide will explain in English. In the tasting at the end of the tour, you can compare Black Label beer and an exact replica of the original recipe of Sapporo Beer. It has a slightly stronger alcohol content than today’s beer and a more mature taste with a stronger bitterness. This beer is now only made at the Sapporo Factory’s brewery. This premium tour is so popular that if you can’t make a reservation, you can still enjoy three beer tastings in the Star Hall on the first floor. This is also available for a fee of 1,000 yen.

 And a 15-minute walk from the Beer Museum is the Sapporo Factory. This is the site of the former Sapporo Brewery, which has its roots in the Sapporo Kaitakushi Beer Brewery established in 1876. Sapporo Factory opened in April 1993 on this historic site . About 150 stores and restaurants are located in seven buildings on the site. The brick buildings there were constructed as a beer brewery which was changed to a commercial facility later.

Mt. Moiwa

 Mt. Moiwa, 531 meters above sea level, is a popular mountain that citizens can climb easily. The summit can also be reached easily by ropeway and mini cable car. The mountain itself is protected as a primeval forest. There are many opportunities to encounter small animals and birds, such as red squirrels, chipmunks, red foxes and long-tailed tits etc. The summit commands a panoramic view of the city of Sapporo, Ishikari Bay, and even the Mashike-Shokanbetsu mountain range. The night view especially is so spectacular that it has been selected as one of Japan’s top three new night views.

 In addition, if you have some more time to spare, please try to drop in at Mt. Moiwa Shrine there. It is located near the transfer station between the ropeway and the mini cable car. Mt. Moiwa has long been a mecca for skiing. Mountain skiing in Sapporo is said to date back to 1912, when a group of people who had learned skiing techniques from an Austrian soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Lerch, decided to go skiing up the mountain. Based on this historical background, the shrine was built in 1987 as a branch of Sapporo Fushimi Inari Shrine. It enshrines not only the deity of Fushimi Inari, but also the god Ull (the Norse god of skiing), Lerch and Brundage (IOC President during the Sapporo Olympics), and is the place to pray for the health and safety of skiers who visit Mt. Moiwa. Why did the IOC president become worshipped as a deity? Apparently because he was a benefactor of the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972. President Brundage, who valued the amateur spirit, may be saddened by the current state of the Olympics.

Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium

 After mentioning the spectacular view from Mt. Moiwa, it is impossible not to refer to the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium. This was the ski jumping venue for the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. Many international ski jumping competitions are still held there today. On days when there are no competitions, visitors can take a two-seater lift to the observation lounge at an altitude of 300 meters and enjoy a panoramic view of Sapporo. The starting line is also right in front of you, and the sheer steepness of the slope is astonishing.

 The Sapporo Olympic Museum is also located on the same site. The museum introduces the history of the Sapporo Winter Olympics and the history of winter sports in Sapporo, and offers realistic simulated experiences of ski jumping, cross-country skiing, bobsledding and so on.

Nakajima Park

 With Mt. Moiwa in the background, the park is rich in greenery and water, and is located almost in the center of Sapporo City. Together with Odori Park, it is recognized as one of the hundred best urban parks in Japan. The 21-hectare park has a variety of facilities and serves as a venue for various events.

 Hoheikan is an elegant wooden Western-style house in Nakajima Park and it is a representative work of architecture by the Kaitakushi (Hokkaido Development Commission) at that time. During the daytime, the building is used as a tourist and cultural facility to tell the history of Hoheikan, and as a museum in its own right, where musical performances and lectures are held, allowing visitors to experience the original value of this cultural asset.

 Sapporo Concert Hall was also established in 1997 in a corner of Nakajima Park. It includes a large hall, a small hall, and rehearsal rooms. The Main Hall is equipped with a large pipe organ in front of the stage, and curved reflective walls and acoustic reflectors on the ceiling allow visitors to enjoy a beautiful sound no matter where they are seated. The Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, the only professional orchestra in Hokkaido, is based at Sapporo Concert Hall and has always been popular as an orchestra whose transparent sound and powerful expressiveness are a suitable and attractive match for the magnificence of Hokkaido. After enjoying a stroll in Nakajima Park, why not lose yourself in the music of Hokkaido’s splendid orchestra?

Susukino, the area that never sleeps, with its neon lights.

 Susukino, a nationally famous entertainment district, is not an official place name, but is widely used as a name for Susukino Crossing, Susukino Station, etc. As mentioned in the history of Sapporo pioneering at the beginning of this blog, the initial settlers were all men; it was not always safe for them to work, and people were constantly fleeing from the harsh winter cold, so it was difficult to make progress. In 1871, the government built the Susukino red-light district, and the development of the city accelerated around this area as a result. Later, as the city developed, the red-light district was relocated to the suburbs, and the area temporarily declined, but it eventually became lined with cafés, bars and restaurants and the area regained its liveliness. Today, some 3,500 restaurants and bars are concentrated in this area, and on weekends it always draws many people throughout the night and right up until dawn.

 Susukino Zerobanchi is the oldest underground restaurant district in Sapporo. About 30 small restaurants/bars are lined up underground. A market was established at this location in 1923. In the 1960s, restaurants/bars started to gather to form the current line-up you can now see. Although it has a long history in Susukino and is well known, information about it is scarce and few locals have ever visited it. If you have come all the way to Sapporo, why not have a day to immerse yourself in the nostalgic atmosphere and have some drinks there.

 Anyway, it is difficult to introduce all of the charms of Sapporo’s central area in this limited space. Whatever you do, please come to Sapporo first. Your guide will help you experience the splendor of Sapporo even more. Sapporo is always a good idea!!