In May of this year I completed a long dream of mine to visit Japan. As part of a three week trip, the northern island of Hokkaido was included in the itinerary – mainly due to the seafood and contrasting climate and geology from that of the Japanese mainland. One place of all took me by complete surprise – the cold city wrapped in mountains – Sapporo.
Whilst I was excited to explore the island, I can’t say I expected it to be as special as I found it to be and I wanted my first post to be dedicated to Sapporo – my hugely memorable northern surprise.
Journey to Sapporo
The journey started early in Tokyo. We had some coffee and a savoury breakfast and then made our way to our Narita Express train bound for Tokyo Narita Airport.
We disembarked from the train and made our way to our plane. I hadn’t flown Jetstar before but the quality of the plane was really good considering the price.
I would be lying if I said that I don’t get a little apprehensive during flights but it kind of thrills me at the same time.
With that in mind, I was quite unnerved when we hit some rough turbulence during takeoff – to the extent that it had some passengers screaming. I didn’t really calm down fully until we were landed at New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. Despite my fear, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of the island as we approached from the air. It looked so icy cold and barren from afar – it had a mysterious air to it that I really liked.
Safely on the ground, we jumped on another train, this time headed to Sapporo where we would be staying for the majority of our time in Hokkaido.
We dropped our bags off and made a beeline for the main reason we headed to Hokkaido – food.
It wasn’t long until we stumbled across a fantastic-looking restaurant which had a great appeal and a nice atmosphere – unfortunately, the menu was only in Japanese. We persevered however and ended up with some amazing, fresh cook-at-your-table food which we wolfed down.
Having filled our faces, we had a stroll to Susukino where we followed up with some Octopus Balls and then finished the evening by making our way back to the hotel via Sapporo’s famed underground village.
Nikka Whiskey Distillery, Yoici and Otaru
Easily one of the best days of the trip because, as it seemed with most of Hokkaido, it was so unexpectedly interesting.
The Nikka Whiskey Distillery in Yoichi is free to get in, allowing you to stroll around at your leisure, including some free whiskey samples in the cafe (which has a beautiful view when it is snowing) and, of course, a souvenir shop if you wish to line your case with Nikka to take home.
The story surrounding the company was simply fascinating (even movie-worthy) following the life of Masatake Taketsuru who studied in Scotland, met a girl named Rita, returned to Japan with her to start his own company (to be known as Nikka) and their eventual deaths. The whole feel of the distillery was enchanting and the cold weather and snow really helped you imagine how life must have been back then.
Curb Market and Mt. Moiwa
Another fantastic day in Sapporo started with a gaze around the famous Curb Market. This is the place to buy your seafood in Sapporo. Expect eager salesman plucking huge crabs from their tanks to show you, octopus legs the size of babies arms and packs of seafood filled with creatures you never knew existed.
We found a great seafood restaurant to have breakfast in and for just £8 we ordered a huge donburi bowl (raw seafood) crammed with a variety of delicacies – cod roe, sea urchin, scallops, tuna, salmon and more.
Once we’d had our fill we decided to head up Mount Moiwa which stands proud above Sapporo and can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city.
The views were stunning and as we ascended during the week, we pretty much had the mountain to ourselves.
There is also the option to buy a padlock from the gift shop to leave on the railings at the top of the mountain which has also been named the “Satellite of Lovers Santuary” – why not immortalise your romance and leave something behind when you’ve left for your home.
The photo below really brings back my feelings of utmost idolisation for Sapporo every time I look at it. This was the view I had as I glanced up once we have descended from Mt. Moiwa.
The city was such a calming place to be. It is one of those rare places that makes you feel welcome without saying a word, that embraces you as a long-time resident on your first visit; it’s a city with the purest and most friendly vibe I’ve ever been to. The sun setting on this scene really screams out everything I feel for Sapporo and in this case, signalled the end of another day – with Noboribetsu, Kyoto and Tokyo still to come.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit Sapporo, I’d advise you to do so. It’s an unsung gem in one of the northernmost points in Japan.