There is much to celebrate this month of February. First up is Chinese New Year on the fifth of January and second is Valentine’s Day dated on the fourteenth.
To the people of Sapporo in Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture, the first week of February marks the start of their Winter Snow Festival.
Situated in the northern front of Japan, Sapporo City had its humble beginnings in the year 1898 when the Meiji Empire designated the region surrounding the Ishikari River as Hokkaido’s capital and center of industry. It was subsequently named Sapporo, an Aynu term that loosely translates to “dry, wide river.” The metropolis further advanced in the year 1870 when the Kaitaku-shi or the Hokkaido Development Commission was established, kicking off the development of Odori Park.
Considered the largest metropolis in Hokkaido, Sapporo has a lot to offer to visitors. One of their most symbolic landmarks is the wooden Clock Tower located in the Chūō-ku ward. It was constructed in the year 1878 and is the first structure to be built in the region. A simple white façade, double hung windows and a clock tower that chimes by the hour greet visitors from the outside, while the first floor houses an extensive exhibit of the building’s history. Upstairs is a wide ceremony hall available for private and public events. The Clock Tower is open daily from 8:45 AM to 5:10 PM.
Ten minutes away from the Clock Tower is the Sapporo Railway Station. The terminal brings over a thousand locals and tourists to different wards of the metropolis. It has five raised platforms and ten rail tracks. The Sapporo Railway Station also houses the iconic underground shopping center as well as JR Tower, a 38-story tall skyscraper that houses the Sapporo Stellar Shopping Mall, a cinema complex, a hotel, and the T38 Observation Deck that offers visitors a view of the entire metropolis at a height of around 160 meters. Another must-visit is the Sapporo Ramen Republic located inside the Esta Shopping Mall found on the south wing of the station. It is here that you can dine on the famous Asahikawa Ramen and Hakodate Ramen.
If you’re looking for another place to view the entirety of the metropolis from above, make your way to Sapporo’s TV Tower, the 147 meter observation deck found in Odori Park.
The structure was built in 1957 according to the design of Tachū Naitō. The structure is comparatively smaller than JR Tower, with its observation deck standing at 90 meters. Sapporo TV Tower’s distinct features include several stores on the first floor, a multipurpose hall on the second floor, a restaurant and souvenir shop on the third floor, and a digital clock installed onto the tower’s façade in the year 1961.
Another famous Sapporo attraction is the Sapporo Beer Museum located in the Higashi-ku Ward of Hokkaido. The museum once functioned as a sugar refinery company from 1890 to 1987 when it was converted into a beer museum. Now considered an iconic heritage site, the red brick building now hosts many artifacts and written materials chronicling Japan’s beer brewing process as well as old machineries and instruments used for beer making. Aside from the exhibits, visitors can get a taste of the famous Sapporo Beer and Yebisu Beer in several beer halls located on the museum premises. The eat-all-you-can mutton BBQ and drink-all-you-can beer are also famous features of the Sapporo Beer Museum making it a favorite among tourists.
Step inside the former Hokkaido Government Office which once served as the headquarters of the Kaitaku-shi before it got abolished in the year 1882. The red brick building houses a museum showcasing memorabilia from the early period of Sapporo, a conference room still sometimes used for government meetings and public events, and several archiving rooms and libraries preserving printed materials documenting the rich antiquities of Hokkaido and the Hokkaido Development Commission. Also a must-do activity is to roam the grounds of the vast flower garden and pond located in front of the office.
The Hiraoka Jyugei Center is another garden worthy of a visit. Located in the Kiyota Ward, the garden spans over 2.9 hectares of land complete with a traditional Japanese Garden, a small rock garden and grass park as well as a western garden that follows the American style. Tourists and locals alike can have a peaceful stroll across rows and rows of colorful trees of yew, azalea, maple, and cherry blossoms. The garden is best seen during autumn when the trees bloom in bright colors of red, pink, and green. However, it should be noted that the management of the Hiraoka Tree Art Center is strictly against littering and picking of flowers to further preserve the area’s beauty and charm. Bringing of pets and other combustible materials are also prohibited.
The Snow Festival
The first week of February is probably the best time to visit Hokkaido, Japan as that week marks the year’s annual celebration of the Sapporo Snow Festival. The celebration dates back to the year 1950 when a group of high school students built snow statues in Odori Park. The act was impactful enough to drive tourism into the region and was therefore recognized and declared an annual occasion, eventually becoming Sapporo’s most famous winter activity. The festival is celebrated in three separate locations throughout the region, starting with Odori Park, where the competition for best snow sculptures is centered and the Tsudome site where activities like snow rafting, snowboarding, and skiing are available to all as well as concerts and small competitions. The last location is the Susukino entertainment district where tourists and locals can view the ice sculptures, which range from prominent figures, anime characters, and significant events from the previous year as well as miniature replicas of Japan’s famous landmarks. It’s best to visit the event from 8 PM onwards, when the sculptures are made even more beautiful with different colored lights.
Moreover, visit the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, located on the eastern incline of Mount Okura in the Chūō-ku Ward. The stadium is an 8.2 hectare wide ski jumping spot, constructed in the year 1931 under the orders of Japanese entrepreneur Kishichiro Okura. The complex also houses a souvenir shop and restaurant located in the Okurayama Crystal House, the Museum of Winter Sports which showcases the history of the sport and stadium, the ski jump where the well-renowned 1972 Olympics were held, and the Mt. Okura Observation platform accessed via ski lift or hike along the hill trail. The observation deck rises from a height of over 300 meters offering a panoramic view of the ski stadium and the surrounding areas.
Last but not least, step into the magical world of chocolates at the Shiroi Koibito Park located in the Miyanosawa district. Interestingly both a factory and a theme park, the premises offer a guided tour through the history of Ishiya, a local Japanese chocolate brand, as well as a chance to observe the process of chocolate making at designated observation areas. Souvenir shops, chocolate stores, restaurants, and outdoor cafes complete the park’s areas and visitors should not miss their chance to taste the famous Shiroi Koibito cookies best partnered with a steaming mug of coffee.
The world of today is constantly bombarded by news of hatred, fear, and death. The word “love” is a rare commodity. And while this month’s theme is love, many have yet to know or remember it. Some journey around the world to find the true essence of love, and some might even say that you can find it in Sapporo.