Hokkaido self-drive with the family Day 1: Sapporo City

Exploring Sapporo city on foot at a relaxed pace the day after a long journey from Singapore. Sapporo is not the most fascinating city, especially relative to what the rest of Hokkaido has to offer, but it is a pretty and peaceful place to regroup after a long flight. Highlights of our one-day city exploration include:
– Nijo seafood market for seafood donburi (seafood rice bowl) lunch
– Tanuki Koji, an outdoor shopping arcade stretching ten blocks
– Sapporo Beer Museum (swap this for Shiroi Koibito Park if you have kids)
– Dinner at a popular izakaya (Japanese bar)

[Travel tip: When planning family trips it is advisable to schedule your first day with easy access to the hotel to take into account possible fatigue or illness from long flights.]

Location/orientation:
Sapporo is the biggest city in Hokkaido and its airport the main connection to the rest of Japan. It is a very walkable city and we walked to most places instead of using the subway. The 2.7km walking route pictured below covers the main points of interest in the city centre, and we completed it in about 3.5 hours, including many photo stops (Sapporo clock tower, Sapporo TV tower, Odori Park), shopping stops (Tanuki Koji shopping arcade) and a lunch stop (at Nijo market).

Our walking route (counterclockwise)

Exploring Sapporo city and Tanuki Koji shopping arcade [0930h-1200h]
After a rather luxurious breakfast of crabmeat porridge at our hotel, we set off for our walking tour of the city, guided by yours truly and Google maps. Our route took us past the Sapporo Clock Tower, a preserved wooden structure built in 1878 and originally used by the Hokkaido university as a drill hall. We are not history buffs so we didn’t enter the clock tower museum but just snapped a few pictures outside. Odori Park, a beautiful park in the middle of the city, made mum very happy as she loves flowers and gardens, and we spent some time there taking pics (Dad was also happy as he found a smoking room there).

Sapporo clock tower

Most of the shops at Tanuki Koji were not open yet when we arrived at around 1030am, but Dad immediately sniffed out a duty-free souvenir shop where he bought JPY16k worth of chocolates and biscuits as gifts for his business associates. Poor Panda had to be the mule, but luckily the shop assistants packed everything into a nice box. There were quite a few similar shops but this was one of the bigger ones with a wide selection.

[Travel tip: If you have extra time at the airport you should just get your souvenirs there when you depart Hokkaido instead of lugging it around. Of course, when Mum or Dad are involved, it is better to let them get the souvenir shopping done on the first day as they tend to stress about buying stuff for other people.]

Tanuki Koji- Dad went crazy in this souvenir shop

Tanuki Koji- Panda the mule

Tanuki Koji is sheltered from rain but otherwise outdoor, so it has a very fresh and spacious feel unlike a normal mall. There is a huge variety of shops, including clothes, shoes, electronics, fruit, toiletries, souvenirs, restaurants etc. The design reminded me of the covered shopping street in Tokyo’s Kochijoji. From what I observed, the most popular shops among tourist and tour groups were the biscuit/chocolate souvenir shops and the shops selling toiletries and beauty products. Hokkaido’s horse oil (bayu) products such as shampoos, hand creams, face creams etc. were practically flying off the shelves.

Tanuki Koji- Shops selling everything, even pets

Lunch at Nijo seafood market [1200h-1300h]
We walked Tanuki Koji from West to East (from Block 10 to 1) and ended up at Nijo market which is at the eastern end of the shopping arcade. This is the most conveniently located market in the city, but there is another seafood market (Jyogai) which is only slightly further out. As Asians, a wet market is nothing amazing, but Nijo is a convenient place to see a wide array of Japanese seafood such as urchin, fish row, scallops and of course crabs. There are also a number of small restaurants in the market selling fresh seafood for breakfast and lunch. Don’t expect it to be anything like Tokyo’s Tsukiji of course. Credit cards are accepted at most of the market stalls.

Nijo market- City centre location

Nijo market- you are allowed to bargain here

One of the first stalls that you will see as you approach the market from its western edge is one specializing in crabs. The owner speaks English and even offered us a “friendship price” for our selected crab to be cooked and eaten at a small restaurant across the road. We declined as we wanted to check out more stalls and restaurants (which was probably a good thing as I later read a negative review of this stall).

Nijo market- crab stall on the northwest corner of the market

We eventually settled on eating lunch at Ohiso on the next block, ‘cos Dad spotted a smoking area just outside the restaurant. My foodie inclination is to compare every stall and eat at the most “local”-looking one, but of course smart kids don’t argue with their Dad when he is low on nicotine. Ohiso turned out to be an OK choice, the seafood donburis we ordered were fresh and the prices reasonable. We chose the small portions as we had eaten a big breakfast at the hotel, but I think the large portion would be more suitable for a full meal.

Ohiso- located along the northern edge of Nijo market

Ohiso- Seafood donburis and happy faces

Ohiso- My seafood bowl (JPY2450 for small portion)

We took a slightly different route back to the hotel, making our way alongside the small and picturesque canal. Passed by the TV Tower which had loads of tour buses parked alongside (you can pay a fee to go up to the observation deck but that’s just ultra lame).

Clean and green longkangs

Sapporo beer museum [1430h-1630h]
After dropping off the shopping (and grumpy dad) at the hotel, we set off for the Sapporo Beer Museum, which we chose to visit instead of the Shiroi Koibito Park (the choice is clear, no?) The museum is about 1.5km east of the JR Sapporo station (or about 2km from our hotel). You can take a bus from various points in the city centre for JPY210/way if you do not want to walk.

You can walk or take the bus

Bus route (loop)

Bus timetable at Sapporo Beer Museum stop

Unfortunately for us, the facade of the museum was undergoing some restoration, so my photos do not reflect its full red-bricked glory. There is also a garden and beer hall behind the main museum building, from which delicious smells were beckoning. A BBQ mutton buffet is available but mum doesn’t eat mutton so we didn’t dine there.

Beer museum- Main building

Beer hall where you can enjoy a 100-minute BBQ mutton buffet

The museum is free and the exhibits show the various steps in the beer making process and the history of Sapporo beer. You get a brochure at the entrance which provides a short explanation on the numbered exhibits. For me, the most interesting part of the museum was the long wall of beer posters, where you can see how beer marketing has evolved since the early 1900s.

Beer museum- Self guided tour in main building

Beer museum- Hops smell sour!

Early 1900s- Kimono-themed beer posters

Mid-1900s: A bit more Western

2000s- why the shift to using male models?

The best part of the museum is the tasting hall on the ground floor where you can reward yourself for visiting a dusty old museum. The tasting set of three types of Sapporo beer is the best value IMO (you can share of course).

Buy your tasting ticket from the vending machine

Collect your beer from the pretty servers

Enjoy with snacks in beer hall

JPY500 tasting trio, comes with beer crackers, other snacks optional (JPY100 each)

Dinner at Kitamaru izakaya, JR Sapporo station West exit [1930h-2100h]
As my original choice of restaurant (a robatayaki near JR Sapporo station) was closed for some reason, we ended up at Kitamaru for dinner. I thought it would be interesting for the parents to dine at an izakaya, which is a common place for Japanese to drink with their colleagues after work. There is a smoking area inside, but much to Dad’s disappointment we were seated at the non-smoking area near the entrance.

Kitamaru- Introducing the izakaya concept to the oldies

As the staff do not speak English, Kitamaru has a basic English picture menu with selected popular items. You have to be able to read or speak Japanese to ask for anything that is not in the picture menu, but the staff were very nice and patient with us. Sounds challenging? Unless you want to eat at boring tourist restaurants, do learn some basic Japanese. We were the only non-Japanese speakers there as far as I could tell. This always makes me happy! Food was great too, except for the sashimi platter. The bill worked out to be JPY2,800/pax (c.USD23) with sake.

Kitamaru- Lamb with ponzu sauce, done perfectly medium (JPY1450)

Kitamaru- Clams in wine sauce, too subtle for me (JPY500)

Kitamaru- Corn. With BUTTER and BACON. ‘Nuff said. (JPY430)

Kitamaru- Squid, yam, ladies finger and natto (JPY500). Add soya sauce and stir for gooey goodness

Kitamaru- Deep fried shrimp, light and crisp (JPY500)

Kitamaru- Perfectly grilled hokke (JPY1,530), always a staple

Kitamaru- The only disappointment was the sashimi (not very fresh)

Greedy panda spotted a cheese tart shop as we left Kitamaru and we bought two to try. These turned out to be the best cheese tarts we ate in the entire trip (yes, even compared to the “famous” ones from LeTao in Otaru), with a perfect balance of sweet and savoury. When I visit Sapporo in December after my ski trip at Rusutsu I totally plan to stuff my face with these. I did not even know they were famous until I came back to Singapore and googled the shop, so my assessment is based purely on their high quality and not their brand name.

Kinotoya- Sinful cheese tarts for dessert (JPY183 each)

Conclusion / Additional tips:
A compact and walkable city but I would not recommend more than 1-2 days here as time is much better spent outside the city. If you can ride a bicycle you can use the city bicycle scheme where you can pick up from one location and drop off at another.

Date of activity: 30 Aug 2015
Location: Sapporo City, Hokkaido, Japan
Operator: N/A
Rate: N/A
Booking: N/A
Hotel we stayed: Richmond Hotel Sapporo Ekimae (review coming soon)

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4 responses to “Hokkaido self-drive with the family Day 1: Sapporo City

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