Just a century ago Sapporo was a small frontier town in the far northern reaches of the Japanese Empire on Hokkaido island. Now its the fourth largest city, and one of the most modern in Japan. Here unlike the rest of the country winters are cold, the streets are wide and straight, and insulated heated housing is the norm. Host of the ’72 Winter Olympics, and blessed with upwards to 10 meters of annual snowfall at a large number of ski resorts in the surrounding area, Sapporo is a great base to start a winter adventure.
1. Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival)
In 1950, six high school students built giant snow sculptures in Odori Park in central Sapporo. Since then, Yuki Matsuri or Snow Festival has become one of the world’s largest winter festivals, including other winter activities all over the city including slides, snow maze, food stands, ice carvings, concerts, and ski and snowboard competitions and showcase. Yuki Matsuri takes place in early February, and attracts about 2 millions visitors each year.
2. Go Skiing or Snowboarding in World Class Snow
Niseko, one of the largest and most popular ski resorts in Japan is a couple of hours drive away, but is arguably far for a day trip. Beat the crowds and stay in Sapporo by going to one of the closer resorts which may be smaller but often have just as much snow, often cheaper lift tickets, and free or nearly free shuttle buses and transport (reservations often required). Catch a free downtown shuttle to Rusutsu for some of the best tree skiing in the world, lift accessed backcountry and amazing summit views can be found within city limits at Sapporo Teine, or take the magical train ride along Ishikari Bay to Otaru and then a free shuttle bus to Kiroro Snow World.
3. Warm Up With Soup Curry
Soup Curry is a dish that originated in Sapporo. It is a curry based soup with choice of toppings, meat, tofu, vegetables, and noodles. Often very spicy, its a great way to warm up in the winter. Spice levels can be adjusted to preference and the dish pairs well with a pint of local Sapporo beer. Above is Veggie Soup Curry from Chaos Heaven near downtown close to Hosuisusukino station.
4. Play With Cats At Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens’ Greenhouse
If you’re in need of some greenery the Greenhouse at the Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens is open year round. For a small entrance fee, you can breath some fresh air and be surrounded by all kinds of exotic and native plants, flowers, mushrooms, and cacti. The friendly and playful resident cats are sure to give you even more fuzzy feels.
5. Nopporo Shinrin Kōen Prefectural Natural Park
While the large brutalist style Centennial Memorial Tower cannot be climbed in winter month, Nopporo Shinrin Kōen Prefectural Natural Park or sometimes refereed to as Nopporo Forest Park offers some great hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing accessible by bus from the city center. This large biodiverse park is over 2000ha large and entrance is free. You will, however have to pay to enter the frontier style Historical Village of Hokkaido, or brush up on you knowledge of the indigenous Ainu culture at the Hokkaido Museum.