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A Winter’s Day In Sapporo: How To Make The Most Of A Day Spent In Japan’s Winter Wonderland

There’s something magical about Sapporo. You can feel it as soon as you step off the plane. Translating to “important river flowing through a plain” in the indigenous Ainu language, Sapporo has been a relatively late bloomer – the city had a whopping population of seven people in 1857. Though these days it’s a bustling metropolis, and an absolute must see if visiting Japan, no matter the season.

But it’s when the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall that Sapporo truly shines. Though with only so many hours in a day, how is one to make the most of their time in the magical winter wonderland? Never fear pal, we’ve got you covered.

So fresh and so clean in Sapporo

A bowl of rice, meat and vegetables from the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market

The early bird gets the worm, but you’re going to be up even earlier than that dumb bird. That’s right. No time to waste. Your first stop is the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market to watch the live fish auctions which commence at 5:15am (yikes, but trust me it’s worth it). Things can get heated as the fishermen all bid for the prime picks of the morning’s catch, but you know what they say; all’s fair in love and fish auctions.

And while it’s all well and good to bask in the lively atmosphere of the market, what we’re really here for is the fresh sushi. From the fishing boats into your bowl, it doesn’t come any fresher than that really.

If you’re planning on visiting the Central Wholesale Market, keep in mind that you need to book at least two days in advance. And for groups of 11 or more people, you’re going to need to book 10 days in advance. Bookings can be made via email.

Frolic in Moerenuma Park

Snow-covered trees in Moerenuma Park in Sapporo

This 4km² park on the outskirts of the city is the perfect spot to round off the morning and take in a spot of nature. The impressive man-made park was designed by the famous Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi who unfortunately passed away years before his design would come to fruition in the park’s 2005 grand opening.

The glass pyramid "Hidamari" in Moerenuma Park in Sapporo

In the winter, Moerenuma becomes a fantastical frozen wonderland. The soft powdery snow reaches hip height in some places – making this the ideal setting for some intense snowball fights. Or you could just walk around and enjoy the scenery and not sneak attack your friends with snowballs to the face, I guess.

Warm up in Sapporo City

 

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Lunch time. Warm those bones with some Sapporo-style ramen from, well, the choice is yours really. You see, Sapporo is home to the famed Ramen Alley – a narrow laneway lined with ramen shops, located in the entertainment district of Susukino. You can’t go wrong really. Whilst you’re in the area, you’d be wise to check out the award winning organic tea shop “Farmer’s Herb”, known in Hokkaido for its vast array of pesticide-free straight from the farm products. And best of all, they offer endless free samples. Perfect spot to warm up.

Walk off all that ramen with some retail therapy. Susukino is Japan’s largest entertainment district north of Tokyo, and well known throughout Japan for its shopping streets filled with charming boutiques. One of my personal favourites to visit whenever I’m in town is the “Kanata Art Shop”, which sells a vast and ever-shifting catalogue of works from craftsmen all throughout Hokkaido.

Speaking of shopping, be sure to take advantage of Japan’s Tax Exemption available to tourists staying less than six months. If you’re spending over 5000 yen, just show your passport and you can dodge the pesky 8% consumption tax all Japanese nationals need to fork out.

Sapporo Beer Museum

A street view of the Sapporo Beer Museum

The Sapporo Beer Museum is basically Disneyland for beer lovers. But don’t let that put you off, you don’t need to love beer to enjoy yourself here—especially in winter when the outer grounds of the museum transform into a Christmas themed snowscape.

Inside the museum you can learn about the history of the famous beer and the changes the company has undergone since 1876, intertwined with a brief history of modern Japanese industrialisation. But the best part (I reckon) of the Sapporo Beer Museum is the Sapporo Beer Garden, which is where you’ll be having dinner.

Genghis Khan all-you-can-eat BBQ and beer extravaganza

Glasses of beer at the Sapporo Beer Garden

Ahhh Sapporo Beer Garden. This truly is a place of splendour. Let me explain. Here, my friends, here you can partake in something truly beautiful. All-you-can-eat BBQ and all-you-can-drink Sapporo beer on tap! Yeah but what the hell is Genghis Khan? Hey, I hear you. It’s one of Hokkaido’s signature dishes – named after the tyrant founder of the Mongol Empire, it’s basically lamb or mutton grilled on a piping hot dome shaped metal skillet. It’s a bloody treat trust me.

A screenshot from The Simpsons of Homer being dragged away from a buffet

Actual photo of me at the Genghis Khan buffet. Image: The Simpsons

Whilst you’re there be sure to try a “Sapporo Classic” and a “Sapporo Five Star”, the former of which is only sold in Hokkaido, whilst the latter is only available on tap at the Beer Garden! Sip it and feel ultra VIP.

Sapporo White Illumination

Light installations at the Sapporo White Illumination event

An incredible 830,000 light bulbs light up the night of Sapporo city. If you can still walk after indulging your inner hedonist at the Sapporo Beer Garden, the winter illuminations are the perfect spot for an after dinner stroll. Grab a warming hot chocolate (or a cheeky mulled wine) from one of the many market stalls speckled throughout the main strip, and finish off your perfect winter day in the nation’s northern capital.

While you’re in the area, you should also check out Sapporo’s underrated sister city Otaru.

(Lead image: Japan National Tourism Organisation)