Sapporo Cityscape

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A Sapporo retrospective article here. My wife and I decided to spend a month in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido back in the summer of 2014. It was the right choice because the rest of Japan is stiflingly humid in the summer; whereas the summer weather in Hokkaido can be hot, but it can still be comfortable. 

Riding above the Sapporo cityscape on a JR train

Sapporo is what I would call a North American city built in Japan. There is a strong central core with office towers and taller apartment buildings. Radiating from the middle of town, Sapporo becomes fairly flat quite quickly. There’s more apartments than would be found in a typical North American city, but outside of the core, the towers tend to be 10 stories at most.

Sapporo is a modernist city complete with a grid street setup. Many of the streets don’t have names. Places are found according to the block numbers. For example, our shared house could be found on the block roughly translated as North 14 East 12. However, if you’re like me. All those numbers would get muddled up in my head. It’s best to know landmarks and that would be an easier way to get around. Only one time did I actually have to use an address to find a restaurant. Thank goodness the blocks were completely square in that section of town. Otherwise, I find Japanese addresses really confusing.

giant parking lot at the Sapporo Racecourse

Space is also not a premium in Sapporo like it is in the rest of Japan. Hokkaido is like the frontier lands of Japan. It was only settled in 1800’s by the Japanese. Also, the colder, snowier winters probably keep the population of Hokkaido on the lower side.

Homac hardware big box store

Because of the space, things are built further apart and the car becomes more of a necessity for many residents of Sapporo. Even one of the teachers at the Japanese language school offered to lend me his car to go somewhere.

I was surprised by the amount of space dedicated to parking. I never really expected to see any big box stores just on the edge of the city centre. I found a Homac (home hardware store) and a Sport Depo (sporting goods store) just on the edge of central Sapporo with giant parking lots. 

Further afield from the city centre, one can actually find a large outlet mall in the southern reaches of the city. 

Sports Depo big box store

However, even though these large spaces felt North American to me, there was still plenty of more Japanese urban spaces that I had encountered before in other parts of Japan. There is some of the juxtaposition of old and new that I find in many Japanese cities. The contrast in Sapporo is not as stark as it is in other parts of Japan. Even the oldest of buildings in Hokkaido are nothing like the age of the buildings in other parts of Japan.

Tokedai (Clock Tower)
Older modern Japanese style building

At times in Sapporo, we find some of the narrow urban spaces that I associate with Japanese cities. Something like the covered shopping arcade is very common across Japan and Sapporo’s Tanukikoji is a good example of one.

Tanukikoji – covered shopping arcade


JR Tower viewed from a narrow Sapporo street

At its core, though, Sapporo is still a Japanese city. The city centre is anchored by the central Sapporo Station that collect all intercity JR trains and the local metro/subway services under one giant roof along with the mega shopping centre on top. There’s even a hotel tower to top of the cherry on the train station cake. That would be the JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo, if you were wondering. I hear it really offers great views of the city. And trust me, there’s not much blocking its view. It’s the tallest tower in town.

sapporo station
The large edifice of JR Sapporo Station with it’s giant shopping complex

Some of you may be more interested in a more lively night life. Then Susukino is where all that is happening. Parts of it are reminiscent of Tokyo’s busy neon lights and giant billboards. It’s almost like Susukino’s version of Times Square, but there’s also a cute streetcar line that serves the area.

#susukino. #Sapporo #night #district with #brightlights. #Japan
Susukino’s famous signs and the Nikka whisky man
sapporo streetcar at susukino station
The Sapporo Tram

I think Sapporo is definitely worth visiting. It’s not your usual Japanese city and it may only be your starting point for a winter vacation and skiing. Or maybe it’s the springboard for a comfortable summer Asian getaway with beautiful scenery. Whatever the case, try to spend some time in the city to feel the Hokkaido city vibe.

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