When winter comes, Sapporo becomes very cold. In spring and autumn, it still can get chilly. Come summertime, however, the rest of Japan wants to escape to this Northern city’s cool summer.
I didn’t write the paragraph above to discredit Hokkaido’s capital city and Japan’s fifth largest city in other seasons. Sapporo hosts one of the world’s most famous snow festivals every February that will make braving the constant sub-zero temperature and thick snow worth it. The city has some spring and fall colors to offer too. But with summer in other regions being notoriously hot (temperature usually almost reaches 35 °C or even goes over 35 °C for consecutive days) and very humid (the reason why even a Thai person like me finds Japanese summer uncomfortable), it is very tempting to visit Sapporo and other cities in Hokkaido where temperature is usually in the 25-30 °C range or slightly higher sometimes. Apart from being the gateway to Hokkaido with many domestic and international flights and the northernmost region’s hub with all the main train lines to other Hokkaido cities and well-developed facilities, Sapporo itself is brimming with interesting attractions and fresh and delicious food. I both traveled in Sapporo and used it as a base for day trips to nearby cities, thus having chances to try a lot of great food for dinner. I recommend you do this too.
I went to Sapporo for the first time in August 2019 and for the second time in August 2021. The places I visited on my first trip are conveniently in the city center and I will share easy trip ideas from that visit in this post. Despite all these destinations being in the center of Hokkaido’s most populous city and my visit being in the peak tourism month of August, I really like that Sapporo felt generally uncrowded, with comfortable summer weather, reliable transportation, and chill yet joyful vibe on both trips.
Maybe that is why the city inspired by Sapporo in the video games Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum is called Jubilife City, with “City of joy” as its slogan. Without further ado, I will now recommend things to see in Sapporo for first-timers, locations featured in Pokemon and the K-pop group NCT 127’s itinerary during their Sapporo concert that even non-fans might find interesting, and of course, tasty local food.
I have written many posts about Hokkaido before, but I actually flew from Nagoya to Sapporo and started my Hokkaido trip by traveling in Sapporo on my first and second days. Here is my actual first glimpse of Hokkaido.
But I arrived in Sapporo in the late afternoon, so I couldn’t really get around on my first day. Still, I had not only delicious but also entertaining dinner at Sapporo Ramen Republic.
Conveniently situated on the tenth floor of ESTA Shopping Center next to JR Sapporo Station, Sapporo Ramen Republic opened its door in 2004 and has since been serving up a variety of Hokkaido ramen (among the top three most beloved ramen in Japan) in a fun retro setting, which you can visit for free even if you don’t eat at any of the restaurants. The wall art at the entrance of Sapporo Ramen Republic shows some of the most well-known cities in Hokkaido with individual designs that reflect the character of each city.
Before eating, you can take your time strolling the dimly lit area to see the unique decorations and photo spots that will remind you of yesteryear.
They even created ramen god and constructed a shrine dedicated to the god.
Take your time studying the menu of each restaurant too. At the time of my visit, there were eight ramen restaurants from different Hokkaido cities specializing in local ramen recipes, such as Asahikawa, Hakodate, Sapporo, etc. The restaurants at Sapporo Ramen Republic have been chosen from famous ramen shops around Hokkaido, but please note that they may move out and be replaced after some years.
Sapporo ramen is the most common and the most popular in Japan among all Hokkaido ramen. The miso (soybean paste) broth was first made in Sapporo and the noodles of Sapporo ramen are especially curly, hence greater texture and flavor retaining. Still, if you can make more than one visit to Sapporo Ramen Republic, please try non-Sapporo restaurants too because they are also delicious. If you want something lighter, shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce) ramen are also available at all the restaurants.
I visited Sapporo Ramen Republic twice in 2019 and once in 2021, so I have tried three restaurants. I am posting all three photos here for everyone’s convenience.
This was my very first time trying Hokkaido ramen and I decided to choose Shodai. The restaurant is originally from Otaru, but they have miso ramen too. From the moment I took my first sip of the soup, I decided right then that I must return for another bowl of miso ramen (albeit at another restaurant; not because Shodai was bad for me, but for variety’s sake). The broth is so richly flavored and that is the heavenly factor for me. The chashu pork pieces are also big.
On my second visit, I tried a spicier, oilier option of miso ramen at Yoshiyama Shoten. The portion of ramen served in Japan is usually big and when I first saw this ramen, I wasn’t sure if I could finish such a big bowl with strong flavors, but it was so good that I finished. Another special thing about this ramen is that the pork is grilled. I absolutely love grilled pork. It will be heavier than other ramen, but I highly recommend this for those who love grilled pork and strong flavors.
In 2021, I tried Yukimura’s Miso Special ramen. The ramen is advertised as being available only at their ESTA branch, so I was curious. Even if it weren’t, I wouldn’t want to miss the amount of pork and butter and corn. Corn and butter (also other dairy products) are Hokkaido specialties, so the Miso Special ramen is a bowl full of delicious local flavors.
Speaking of Hokkaido specialties, don’t leave Sapporo Ramen Republic before checking out the souvenir shop and its many delicious local products. While you can get various souvenirs at New Chitose Airport, the store at ESTA seems to have more diverse selections. It is a great place to shop if you don’t need to change accommodation after visiting or if you want something to snack during your trip.
For readers who are unfamiliar with Hokkaido souvenirs, I have never seen anyone dissatisfied with the widely beloved and affordable Sapporo chocolate like Royce’ and Shiroi Koibito. I love, love, love them, the best chocolate in Japan for me, along with Yubari Melon Pure Jelly by Hori. They will be great souvenirs for your loved ones.
Other than these brands, dairy, melon, corn, and potato products will likely not go wrong. I love that Japanese staple sweet and snack brands have many local flavored products, which is a great way to promote local economy and tourism. Take for example Yubari melon-flavored Pocky and Caplico, rare cheese-flavored Umaibo corn snacks, and Calbee potato sticks made from Hokkaido potatoes. Among all the prefectures that I have visited in Japan, Hokkaido food, snacks, and sweets are my no. 1 and many of my friends and acquaintances who have been to Hokkaido agree. Definitely prepare more budget than usual for souvenirs, so you can get these Hokkaido delights.
Lastly, let me show you some of local Hokkaido instant ramen. With its cold sea, Hokkaido seafood is of the top quality in Japan, so Hokkaido has a lot of seafood-flavored ramen, especially crab and scallop. Some of the other brands have creative packages and concepts too. Like the bears because of their habitat in Hokkaido and Zomramen (Zombie-themed ramen).
On summer nights, JR Sapporo Station area may offer outdoor dining opportunities. On my 2019 visit, there were some food stalls with a seating area outside ESTA. I was busy visiting different ramen shops, so I didn’t try the food stalls. The atmosphere was nice though and the APIA glass dome outside JR Sapporo Station looks pretty at night.
The next morning, I started my Sapporo exploration for real. Most points of interest are in Odori Park area, which is close to JR Sapporo Station.
Due to Hokkaido development starting only around 200 years ago, Hokkaido feels young compared to the other regions in Japan. Sapporo also has a modern image, but we can still find some historical traces in this city, many fused with Western influences because Sapporo development began in the Meiji Era where Westerners were key figures in Japan development including the pioneering of Hokkaido.
This is Tokeidai or Sapporo Clock Tower, built in 1878 during Sapporo early days as theatrical hall of Sapporo Agricultural College (now known as Hokkaido University). The clock came from Boston and is still functioning today. The frontier era-style wooden building of Sapporo Clock Tower has become a symbol of Sapporo.
Sapporo has a lot of trees and in summer, many flowers bloom, making the stroll even more pleasant. Former Hokkaido Government Office Building, nicknamed Red Brick Office, is a particularly green and colorful area. What’s more, it boasts beautiful Neo-baroque architecture, becoming another icon of Sapporo. With its striking appearance and historic importance since 1888, no wonder it became an inspiration for Galaxy Office in Jubilife Village in Pokemon Legends: Arceus.
Still, the greenest and most flower-filled place in Sapporo has to be Odori Park, which is a pretty long park. The streets of Sapporo were developed using the grid system. Established in 1871 and bisecting the city into the northern and southern areas, Odori Park was built following Sapporo’s rectangular street system and in spite of many buildings along the streets, the long park makes the city feel relaxing and refreshing.
I didn’t stroll from one end of the park to the other, but I walked until I reached Sapporo TV Tower at the eastern end of the park. Finished in 1956, this 150-meter tall tower is the most visited area in Odori Park and if you go up to its observation deck at the 90-meter point, you can gaze down the park and the grid of Sapporo.
The cubic building of Jubilife TV station in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum doesn’t look like Sapporo TV Tower, but as the only TV station in the games, it might be a reference to this most well-known TV tower in Hokkaido.
A summer thing to do in Odori Park is eating boiled or grilled corn from one of the Tokibi Wagons. I really wanted to eat grilled Hokkaido corn, but sadly, I didn’t find any corn kiosk when I visited. I probably arrived too early in the morning, so I bought a grilled corn-flavored snack instead.
Another heritage building is Sapporo Factory or nicknamed Akarenga. Formerly the first-ever beer brewery in Japan from 1876, the red brick warehouse has been transformed into an entertainment complex with an addition of a large atrium. It is now home to vibrant dining scene and several souvenir shops.
Sapporo Beer is considered the best beer in Japan and Sapporo Factory is one of the places where you can try it. I am not a fan of beer, so I passed, but Bierkeller, which unfortunately has closed down, was one of the places to drink and it served up a wide range of delicious food, from Japanese to German and Italian.
I learned about Bierkeller at Sapporo Factory thanks to Jaehyun, Taeil, and Jungwoo who did photoshoots around Sapporo for ViVi Magazine online content and as a fan of Jaehyun, I had to make a pilgrimage trip.
The guys had Hokkaido’s signature jingisukan (Genghis Khan) mutton barbecue at Bierkeller, but since I don’t like mutton (I am such a picky eater), but I ordered crab fried rice instead. At least, crab meat is still a Hokkaido specialty.
In addition to subway and bus systems, Sapporo has a streetcar network that has been operating since 1908. This adds a classic charm to the city. Although the number of lines and cars have been reduced since the subway was established in 1971 and is favored for their ability to operate during Sapporo’s snowy winter, the streetcars are still well-maintained and provide convenient stops near important places and interesting attractions, including Sapporo Train Bureau. The streetcars stop at the depot when they aren’t running. You can visit Sapporo Train Bureau for easy photo opportunities of various models and without having to worry about the traffic.
I discovered Sapporo Train Bureau thanks to Jaehyun, Taeil, and Jungwoo team’s online content in ViVi Magazine as well, but I didn’t know that everyone must visit with free tour (offered every day but in Japanese language only). I arrived after the last tour was finished and the staff told me I wasn’t allowed to go further at the depot, so these two streetcars were all I could see. Still, nice to have seen and caught the old green M101 model from 1961 on my camera. I never had a chance to see it clearly while traveling in Sapporo.
Sapporo streetcar also conveniently has a stop near Asian Bar Ramai, a restaurant with delicious soup curry. You won’t miss its storefront with eclectic Southeast and South Asian decorations.
The inside of Asian Bar Ramai is dimly lit and filled with decor from South and Southeast Asian countries. But soup curry has already been Japanized and Sapporo is credited as the birthplace of the dish. There are plenty of soup curry places in Sapporo, with some in other Hokkaido cities, and Asian Bar Ramai is one of the most well-known ones. Again, I have NCT 127 members to thank for introducing me to this restaurant. (Though they actually ate at another Asian Bar Ramai branch near New Chitose Airport and I chose this branch in Sapporo for convenience.)
Now I want to tell everyone first that I normally avoid most vegetables and I especially don’t like greens… And curry soup, no matter what kind you order or at what restaurant, always comes with vegetables. I actually wasn’t sure about trying curry soup at first, but because Jaehyun seemed really happy talking about it in this Vlive, so I decided to see for myself. Asian Bar Ramai menu was all in Japanese at the time of my visit and I was too hungry to Google Translate every ingredient that I couldn’t understand, so I randomly picked one with pork and got this.
Thanks to the taste of the curry (somewhere between watery and thick, with moderately spicy taste and a bit sweet too), it balanced out the taste of vegetables that I normally don’t like. I also found the vegetables really fresh. Crunchy lotus roots and asparaguses. Soft eggplants and carrots were neither too hard or too soft (this is how I like them). Sadly, my dislike for pumpkin and bell pepper in general is too strong, so I couldn’t finish them. But I finished all the other vegetables without having to force myself and combining with the tender pork meat, I still want to suggest curry soup to even fellow non-vegetable eaters!
At night, Sapporo remains a lively yet chill city. Susukino is one of the largest entertainment and nightlife districts in Japan, but it is much less crowded than Shinjuku in Tokyo and Dotonbori in Osaka. Safety precautions when walking at night still apply, but I felt more at ease while walking in Susukino.
Susukino is a great place for dinner because it is home to Sapporo’s Original Ramen Alley or Ganso Ramen Yokocho in Japanese. Though small and narrow, Ganso Ramen Yokocho has been overflowing with diverse flavors from long-standing ramen shops since 1951. There are now 17 restaurants and they are open for lunch too, but the lantern-lit alley is too atmospheric for me to not come at night.
I arrived before dinnertime rush, so all the ramen restaurants weren’t packed yet and that was a good decision because the restaurants are small and none of them seems to have more than ten seats. I walked back and forth in the legendary ramen alley, became torn between Tenhou and another restaurant with two bears as their logo, and randomly chose Tenhou in the end.
Once seated, I was torn again between Scallop Ramen and Butter Corn Ramen, but since Butter Corn Ramen is cheaper and that was my first time seeing Butter Corn Ramen, I went with it in the end. It was very delicious and the atmosphere made everything even better. Tenhou looks very simple, but since all guests sit at the counter where the chef cooks and serves himself, we can watch the chef prepare our ramen. There was another family eating there already and I could watch them and the chef chatting happily. Though I didn’t understand much Japanese, it felt heartwarming and I liked it.
A relaxing stroll among Susukino’s neon lights with cool summer breeze before I hopped on the streetcar back to my hostel.
JR Sapporo Station area is also a nice place to visit in and of itself. Before catching the train to New Chitose Airport, you can spend some time sightseeing, eating, and shopping.
APIA Glass Dome aside, the glass facade with star clock is another eye-catching feature of JR Sapporo Station and beautifully reflects the sky on a sunny day.
My Sapporo trip in 2021 fell on Starbucks Japan’s 25th anniversary period and that summer, they collaborated with local partners to whip up 47 JIMOTO Frappucino using local ingredients to represent the 47 prefectures of Japan. Being a Hokkaido milk and corn lover that I am, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to try Hokkaido Tokibi Creamy Frappucino at Starbucks Stellar Place branch. It was one of the only two JIMOTO Frappucino I got to drink before the campaign ended, but better than nothing.
Bento lunch boxes at Sapporo Station are among my most favorites in Japan. Fresh seafood galore. I love crab meat rice a lot and it goes well with the soy sauce provided.
Inside Sapporo Station, there is art as well. My favorite piece is Iwor-un-pase-kamuy. This big owl statue was crafted from an old tree found during an excavation in Hokkaido using indigenous Ainu people’s style of woodcarving. Owls are commonly found in Hokkaido forests and revered as deities of Ainu people, believed to be the guardians watching over their villages. I like how the owl spreads its wings as if it is protecting the people.
Before wrapping my Sapporo summer experience, I want to mention two hotels that I stayed at in 2021. Since the pandemic started, some of my travel habits have changed. To lower the infection risks, I mostly choose hotels with private bathrooms now unless it is really expensive. Normally, I don’t really review accommodations on this blog, but because I had not only comfortable and affordable but also memorable stays thanks to the owner/staff, I want to include both hotels in this entry.
The first hotel is called Plat Hostel Keikyu Sapporo Sky, but there are rooms equipped with private bathroom too. You can get more detailed information about facilities on Plat Hostel Keikyu official website and platforms like Booking and Agoda. I was so impressed by the staff. It might depend on who you meet, but every staff I encountered during my stay was very polite and helpful. I happened to check in on their opening day and was the first guest too and everyone was nice and welcoming. Not every staff I met spoke English, but everyone tried.
Since the place was brand new, it was impeccably clean, but if I only look at the price and the facilities (small and narrow room but with private bathroom and everything was enough for a solo traveler), I still want to recommend Plat Hostel Keikyu Sapporo Sky. It is also located pretty close to Odori Park and Susukino areas and there are a lot of convenience stores and restaurants nearby.
The other place I want to suggest is Art Inn 24 Sapporo. It is a bit further from the city center, but not too far and still close to subway station and convenient stores. Art Inn 24 Sapporo is actually private house and the owner opens a few guest rooms for travelers. K-san (the owner) speaks some English and I use both English and elementary Japanese to communicate with her. I was her only guest that day and she tried her best to show me around her house and explained things in English as much as she could, then helped carry my heavy suitcase up to my room on the second floor. The bedroom was spacious and among the coziest I have ever stayed in (very soft bed) and also very clean, so were the bathroom and the restroom (see Agoda or Booking for more information about facilities).
After putting my luggage in the bedroom, I had to go to JR Sapporo Station to catch a train to Shiraoi. K-san who was going to meet her friend somewhere else in Sapporo kindly offered to drive me to Sapporo Station too and on our way there, she asked me about my trip and introduced me to other places, including the beautiful campus of Hokkaido University which I didn’t have enough time to visit. After I came back from Shiraoi, she came to greet me and talk to me and let me meet her cat (could be a bonus for cat people). It was one of the warmest stays I had in Japan.
This isn’t all there is to Hokkaido summer. Sapporo is a wonderful base for day trips to lavender and rainbow-colored flower fields at Farm Tomita in Furano, Lake Toya and the Hell Valley of Noboribetsu, crafty canal city of Otaru, Biei cycling route, and more, as well as a good starting point before you head to the more remote cities in Eastern Hokkaido and Northern Hokkaido. Sapporo also has other attractions that I can’t cover in this entry or have yet to visit. Please stay tuned for my second Sapporo article once I finish writing about my first Hokkaido trip.
JR Sapporo Station
When to visit: Always accessible
How to get there: Unless you are already in other parts of Hokkaido, flying in to New Chitose Airport is the fastest, most convenient, and most cost-efficient way. There are domestic flights from many major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and many smaller cities in Japan. Some international flights are available as well, though most from other Asian countries. After arriving, you can take JR Rapid Airport train or bus from the airport to Sapporo Station.
Sapporo Ramen Republic
When to visit: 11am-10pm, daily
How to get there: Located a few steps from JR Sapporo Station on the tenth floor of ESTA Shopping Center.
Sapporo Clock Tower
When to visit: Always accessible, but if you want to enter, it is open from 8.45am to 5.10pm.
How to get there: From Sapporo Station, take Subway Toho or Nanboku Line to Odori Station. Then walk for about three minutes from the station.
Entrance fee: Free to view from the outside, but costs 200 yen to enter the small museum inside.
Former Hokkaido Government Office Building
When to visit: Always accessible
How to get there: Walk for about ten minutes from Sapporo Clock Tower.
When to visit: Always accessible
How to get there: Located just outside Odori Station.
Sapporo TV Tower
When to visit: 9am-9.50pm, daily
How to get there: Located close to Odori Station or walk for about 15 minutes if coming from Former Hokkaido Government Office Building.
Entrance fee: If you want to enter, check the ticket prices and package prices on the official website.
When to visit: Hours vary, but shops and restaurants are mostly open from 10am to 10pm.
How to get there: Take Subway Tozai Line to Bus Center-mae Station and walk for about five minutes.
Sapporo Train Bureau
When to visit: Go between 11am-3pm to join the free tour of the streetcar depot. You can get tour hours and other information here.
How to get there: The depot is close to Densha Jigyosho-mae Stop along the Sapporo Streetcar line. You can change from many subway stations to Sapporo Streetcar, including a major station like Susukino.
Asian Bar Ramai
When to visit: There are a few branches in Sapporo and you can check business hours on their official website.
How to get there: Depends on the branch, so please check on the official website. All branches are easily accessible by subway or streetcar.
Ganso Ramen Yokocho (Original Ramen Alley)
When to visit: Hours depend on each restaurant. See their opening hours here.
How to get there: Take Subway Nanboku Line to Susukino Station and walk for only about one minute.
When to visit: Always accessible, but most lively at night.
How to get there: Take Subway Nanboku Line to Susukino Station.
Pokemon Center Sapporo
When to visit: 10am-6pm, daily
How to get there: Walk for about five minutes from JR Sapporo Station and go to the seventh floor of Daimaru Department Store.
This post is also part of the Lens-Artists (week #208: Summer Vibes) (I am very sorry for submitting this post after the end of the week. I wasn’t able to finish the post in time, but still want to share my photos for this theme.), Flower of the Day (recent challenge), Cee’s Midweek Madness (Pick a Topic from My Photo) (Green, flower, streetcar/transportation), Photographing Public Art Challenge (recent challenge), and Which Way (recent challenge) Photo Challenges.