The capital of Hokkaido Prefecture and Japan’s fourth largest city, Sapporo sets itself apart from other cities on the main island with its right-angled streets and city blocks—a remnant of the neo-American style designed by foreign urban planners, engineers and architects in the late 19th century. And the best thing is, most of Sapporo’s attractions are centralized in the downtown area, easily accessible on foot or public transportation! Here are my top picks that truly capture the essence of the city.
1. ODORI PARK
Spanning several blocks, this well-tended public space is the centre of Sapporo urban life. Locals and visitors alike hang out on its spacious lush green grass at almost all hours, enjoying views that include the majestic Sapporo TV Tower. In winter, the park is covered several feet deep with snow, and plays host to the annual Snow Festival.
Literally meaning “red building”, Akarenga is the Old Government Building of Hokkaido. The façade of the majestic building is made entirely of exposed red bricks, hence its nickname. Flowers bloom in eye-popping colours, while lotuses float gracefully in ponds in the courtyard. Akarenga is exceptionally breathtaking in winter, when the white snow lies in perfectly contrast against the bright red walls.
3. SAPPORO CLOCK TOWER
Perched on top of a wooden structure that used to be the drill hall of Sapporo Agricultural College back in the late 1800s, this tower has been designated as an Important Cultural Property for its unique western architecture. A symbol of Sapporo’s early development, the clock is still functional, and chimes every hour!
No trip to Japan would be complete without a trip to a shotengai (traditional covered market street). Even if one is not looking to shop, a stroll along Tanukijoji, which spans seven blocks dotted with shops displaying Japanese street food, souvenirs and wares, is a pleasure in itself.
5. HOKKAIDO UNIVERSITY
Established by William S. Clark during the Meiji (westernization) era, the campus architecture is more American than Japanese. Yet the buildings do not look out of place in between trees along the scenic Central Lawn, Poplar and Gingko Avenues. The Furukawa Hall, an off-white wooden building, is particularly beautiful when surrounded by snow in winter.
6. NAKAJIMA PARK
This green lung of Sapporo does not only offer rich natural scenery, but recreational opportunities for urban dwellers and visitors as well. While jogging and strolling are common all-year round, boating is available during warmer months. The park is also home to important cultural properties such as the Hoheikan and Hossokan buildings, Kitara Concert Hall and the Sapporo City Astronomical Observatory.
7. MARUYAMA PARK
Spread out over a vast ground, Maruyama Park is well-known for its primal forest. A leisurely stroll is always the best way to enjoy it, with a compulsory stop at the Hokkaido Shrine, strategically located in the heart of the park. Maruyama Zoo, one of the most nature-oriented zoos in the country, and a baseball stadium are nearby.
8. NIJO FISH MARKET
It would be a shame to be in Hokkaido, a seafood heaven, yet giving this century old market a pass. Known as the Home of Hokkaido Snow Crab, one would have a great time marveling at familiar and not-so-familiar sea creatures native to Hokkaido waters, such as crabs, salmon roe, sea urchin and a variety of fresh fish!
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Rebecca Ilham is a Japanophile with a penchant for marathons and specialty coffee. Trained as an engineer but passionate about writing, she has also dabbled in translating literary works and articles from Malay into English and vice versa.