What Is It Like to Travel in Sapporo? Your Sapporo Travel Guide
In this blog post I will be talking about similarities and differences between visiting 札幌 Sapporo and visiting central Japan. Places you ought to check out in Sapporo, and places related to anime culture to check out in Sapporo!
From October 25th to November 13th of 2018, my father and I worked and lived at an art center in Sapporo, Japan called 天神山アートスタジオ Tenjinyama Art Studio. As two of their many artists in residence, we produced a series of physical and digital paintings. We then held an exhibition before my departure on the 13th (my father stayed on a little longer, until November 25th).
We got to meet artists from all disciplines (painting, drawing, writing, film, music, sculpture, photography, and more!) from all over the world while staying there. It was an amazing experience that I highly recommend to anyone working in the arts.
This was my first time visiting Japan’s northernmost main island (北海道 Hokkaido), and before I went I was extremely curious about what Hokkaido is like. So, we decided to make this blog post all about visiting Sapporo!
Note: In this blogpost I romanize many names with a single お o that, when written in hiragana, would be an おお oo or an おう ou. These words include ほっかいどう Hokkaido, おおどおり Odori, たぬきこうじ Tanukikoji, and どうじんし dojinshi. I also romanized the 南北線 subway line as Namboku Sen, but in hiragana it is nanboku with an ん n. If you are having trouble when typing or finding any of the names or terms I used, please leave a comment!!
What Is the Same?
Generally speaking, traveling and staying in Hokkaido was not very different from traveling in 本州 Honshu. (Honshu is Japan’s main central island, where Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are located).
As in many areas of Japan, there are regional dialects of Japanese in Hokkaido. But if you are a student of the language you don’t need to have any worries about being understood (or understanding local people). The dialect is not nearly as noticeable as, for instance, the dialect in the Kansai region further south.
I did not notice any real difference at all between the Japanese I heard people speaking in Sapporo and Kanto/Tokyo dialect Japanese.(Which is what you are learning if you are studying Japanese outside of Japan).
The public transportation is just as clean, constant, and easy to use as in other regions of the country. The towns and cities are conveniently structured. It is an easy walk and/or short train ride from wherever you are located to a grocery store.
What Is Different with Sapporo?
One minor perk of visiting Sapporo (or Hokkaido in general), though, is that things are just a little less pricey there compared with central Japan. Traveling and daily living costs in Japan are not particularly expensive to begin with. However things like food (groceries and restaurant fare), entertainment, and public transportation were all slightly (but noticeably) cheaper than in areas such as Tokyo and Kyoto.
On the side of inconvenience, noted that Hokkaido fulfills its stereotype in having a more pronounced winter season. It begins around October or November than areas such as Tokyo.
I was not there, for the famed Snow and Ice Festival which takes place in Sapporo every February. I also did not personally experience snow (winter had a late start there this year).
However, my father (who stayed in Sapporo for another few weeks after I left) reported regular snowfalls. There was very little shoveling or plowing of roads and sidewalks, at least in the suburbs. To combat slipperiness, many vehicles install studded tires. And in every so many blocks there are boxes (approximately the size and shape of small postal boxes) set up.
These are filled with bottles or bags of sand or fine gravel (滑り止め用の砂 suberidome you no suna, anti-slip sand).
Pedestrians can take these bottles or bags from the boxes, and sprinkle the gravel on slippery-looking areas as they walk.
When it is not snowing, the weather is chilly but otherwise quite nice, and in fall the flora is truly beautiful.
Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples
Sapporo has many lovely Shinto shrines to visit, including a smallish 稲荷 Inari shrine. (Inari shrines are known for their long walkways of red 鳥居 torii arches. It is also popular for the spectacular 明治神宮 Meiji Jingu shrine. (I definitely recommend visiting, especially if you are able to go on Emperor Meiji’s birthday/Culture Day, November 3rd).
In fact, the place where I stayed (天神山アートスタジオ Tenjinyama Art Studio) is flanked on either side by a small Shinto shrine. One to 天神 Tenjin, a highly popular deity of scholarship, and one to 天御中主 Amenominakanushi, one of the eldest gods of the pantheon. Most shrines that I visited in Sapporo had banners up in commemoration of 2018 being the 30th year of the current emperor’s era (平成 Heisei 30).
However, in comparison with areas such as Kyoto or even Tokyo (known for being modern and metropolitan) it is not difficult to simply stumble upon mid- to large-sized Buddhist temples. Their temples are traditionally constructed buildings and the grounds are open to tourists. In Sapporo, there is quite a number of the Buddhist temples that are sternly modern in construction and not accessible for the passing tourist.
That being said, many of them (modern ones and traditional ones) did have beautiful interiors. Some temples do offer short classes; which could also be an interesting way to see their insides! (It should also be noted that I did not see all of Sapporo by any means and all of my observations are therefore subject to a margin of incorrect generalization).
What Should I See If I’m in Hokkaido?
Tenjinyama Art Studio and Tenjinyama Park
Well, first of all I simply must plug the arts center where I stayed! The Tenjinyama Art Studio is bordered by two small but well-kept and picturesque shrines. It is contained within 天神山緑地 Tenjinyama Park which is quite lovely. (The Japanese name uses 緑地 Ryokuchi, a less common word for a park or natural area than 公園 Kouen).
Featuring many Japanese maples and a beautifully landscaped pond garden, it has exactly the imagery one pictures when thinking of scenic Japanese fall color. In fact, while staying there, I caught a glimpse of one or two groups of cosplayers using the park for a photo shoot.
Incidentally, the park is also a great place to play Pokemon Go. Although the neighboring shrines do have polite signs posted asking people not to extend their mobile game playing to their grounds.
The Tenjinyama Art Studio is a great local resource (particularly if you are interested in arts-related attractions). Their brochure stands are extensive. It features information both on standard attractions such as museums and harder-to-discover temporary attractions such as art exhibits and performances. If you have questions, their staff speaks English! The art center itself also has a gallery with frequently rotating exhibits created by artists-in-residence who are staying there.
For more information about Tenjinyama Art Studio and Tenjinyama Park, click here!
Kaitaku no Mura
Because we were also working as artists-in-residence at Tenjinyama, we did not get around to going to very many museums in Sapporo. I definitely recommend checking out some of the museums and cultural centers related to the Ainu. (It is an ethnic group native to Japan, now concentrated in Hokkaido).
However, I did go to and highly recommend a place called 開拓の村 Kaitaku no Mura. It translates roughly as “Village of the Pioneers.” It is a large town made of historical houses and buildings of varying designs and purposes; brought to Kaitaku no Mura from other places.
Most of the buildings are early 20th century era, and visitors can (after removing shoes and putting on visitor slippers) walk through many of them. You will experience a visceral glimpse into what it felt like to be in Japan one hundred years ago, especially if you have been to similar recreation villages in your own country or have an interest in history. Seeing the parallels and differences with your own history and early 1900s Japan is an engrossing, eerie, and surprising experience.
Kaitaku no Mura does well at having a truly wide range of buildings and exhibits. They range from residences to a photographer’s studio, and from a silkworm-rearing establishment to a sled shop. There is even one giant building where a brigade of fishermen lived. It has adjoining buildings storing all of their semi-modern, semi-traditional fishing gear.
Most of the buildings and exhibits have signs and descriptions in English, although the Japanese signs tend to contain more information. (The English audio tour may be more complete, but we were a little short on time so I did not end up checking it out).
As with many attractions and modes of entertainment in Sapporo, Kaitaku no Mura has very inexpensive admission. It is also right next door to the Hokkaido Museum. So if you go early enough in the day you could potentially visit both in one shot!
For more information about Kaitaku no Mura, click here!
What About If I’m an Anime Fan in Hokkaido?
Don’t worry – me too!! I made sure to make the rounds to places of anime-otaku interest as much as I could. I know there are places that I missed. So if you have been to Sapporo and anything strikes you that I left out, please leave a comment!! (This goes for non-anime attractions as well – we would love to hear from you!)
If you arrive in Hokkaido by plane, the 新千歳空港 New Chitose Airport is most likely where you will land. The airport itself is actually a perfect place to start if you are interested in anime culture. Plan a little extra time into your arrival (unlike me!), and you can check out the Hatsune Miku exhibits at the airport before going to your lodging.
How to go to the anime attractions – Mandarake and Studio Sheata
All of the other anime culture spots I know of / visited are in the vicinity of さっぽろ駅 Sapporo Station, 大通駅 Odori Station, and すすきの駅 Susukino Station. These are three consecutive stops on the 南北線 Namboku Sen (South-North Line) of the Sapporo subway.
Starting with Sapporo Station, there is the Sapporo Pokemon Center. It is located inside the Daimaru Department Store building adjoining the station building.
Next, it is a relatively short walk from Odori Station to two clusters of stores. Both are very close to, although not directly part of, the shopping arcade street called 狸小路 Tanukikoji. Tanukikoji is above ground, but if walking from Odori Station the easiest way to find it is to go via the underground walk. It is also a shopping arcade that links Odori Station and Susukino Station. It eliminates the possibility of taking a wrong turn en route. Partway along the underground walk, there are exits for Tanukikoji blocks 1-2-3 and blocks 4-5-6.
If you take the exit for blocks 1-2-3, you can walk through Tanukikoji until you get to the intersection between blocks 2 and 1. Turn left, and you’ll see a large sign for the used book store Book Off. Book Off itself is, of course, a great place to get inexpensive Japanese books, CDs, movies, and games. And next to Book Off is a pair of buildings containing Animate (anime merch, books, and supplies for art and cosplay), several 同人誌 dojinshi (fan comics/self-published comics) stores, a comics and internet café, and a few other anime- and cosplay-related stores.
If you take the exit for Tanukikoji blocks 4-5-6, you will walk down Tanukikoji going the other direction. Walk until you get to the intersection between blocks 4 and 5. Turn left and walk for one block, and to your right, you will see a building crowned with the name ノルベサ Norbesa. Inside the Norbesa building are several large anime figurine/merch stores, an arcade with a plethora of machines, and Mandarake. It is part of a chain of excellent used-and-new comics/merch stores.
Mandarake is an amazing place to shop for vintage figurines, models, and manga. It also includes a shockingly complete stock of magazines such as Shonen Jump. (By complete I mean issues stretching from the 2000s to the late 60s, when the
magazine began!) Also other publications far, far older. They also sell new manga, non-vintage used manga, and dojinshi.
The Norbesa building also contains karaoke, plenty of places to eat, and an abundance of interesting gachapon capsule vending machines.
Lastly, a short walk from either Odori Station or Susukino Station is Studio Sheata. I did not end up getting around to visiting but recommend checking out if you are a cosplayer. Studio Sheata is a rentable cosplay photo studio. It contains about twelve exquisitely designed and furnished photo areas (manor, stage, traditional Japanese-style, dungeon, and so on). It includes appropriate furniture and some props such as wooden boxes, picture frames, books, chains, and vases. The prices for holding photoshoots at Studio Sheata are not cheap but are not terribly expensive either.
For more information about Studio Sheata, click here!
Visiting Sapporo was a wonderful experience. All of the artists and staff at Tenjinyama were kind and talented folks that I very much hope to stay in touch with until we meet again! And the city itself is a great place to visit. In many ways it felt similar to visiting central Japan. But as with any country every region has a different cultural flavor. And, if you visit Sapporo instead of Tokyo, you may save a little bit of money!
If you have been to Sapporo and feel I left out anything important, or if you have any questions, please be sure to leave us a comment below!
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Thanks for reading!