I wonder how many people realise that Sapporo is not just a brand of beer, but is in fact Hokkaido’s premier city and Japan’s fifth largest. To be fair I knew about the beer long before I knew about the city, it was for me an interest in the world class brew that encouraged me to come here. Anywhere that can produce beer that good can’t be that bad, with nearby snow encrusted mountains, producing an abundant volume of fresh clean water, the brewers here have a distinctive advantage.
Sapporo is a place that grew on me, at first I was underwhelmed by the place, it’s a new city that lacks the heritage sights of many other places in Japan. Sapporo is also not the prettiest of cities and is relatively new, less than 200 years old with much of the obvious architecture blocky and functional looking towers, I guess the growth period post 1945 was not too kind. Yet even as I say all this I can’t dispute the fact Sapporo has a vibrant feel that grows on you… it certainly became a city was very happy to be in, on the down low.
Lit up at night and Sapporo becomes much more forgiving on the eye, with the twinkling street lights hiding the uglier buildings and illuminating the more attractive aspects of the city. The central gardens get a generous night time light to add appeal, but these are nice during daylight hours to be fair especially as the weather warms, providing great places to sit and to looking at the few Meiji era, European inspired buildings that remain in the city centre.
The darkness does rob the city of one of it’s best daytime features, the snow shrouded hills that surround much of the city, easily visible from any tall building or from the banks and bridges of the fast flowing river that runs through the city, for me it’s a striking reminder that on Hokkaido, Japan’s formally wild frontier nature is never too far away.
I only got as close to nature as the Maruyama park would allow, I haven’t packed for snow covered hills, I did however pack perfectly to enjoy Maruyama park in full bloom Sakura, timing my visit to be here in the middle of golden week, a national holiday in Japan. The sakura where a solid rather than lavish display but the festivities underneath them certainly made up for the limited trees, with much drinking, laughing and eating, the park air filled with so much barbecue smoke it no longer resembled the crisp clean air I had enjoyed walking around Sapporo’s wide open streets.
The party nature of the crowds subdued a little near the parks large Shinto shrine, changing into a less impromptu affair with the shrine surrounds supporting the kind of food market I have seen accompanying every Sakura display in the country.
I spent much time in Sapporo walking the streets, enjoying a city that is unequivocally Japanese, it’s not flashy or pretentious, just an easy going place where it is easy to pass the time. I saw very few westerners and I found them at one of the city’s main tourist draws the Sapporo beer museum, home to Japan’s oldest brand the world famous Sapporo beer, they were like me enjoying the free self-guided brewery museum tour and trying out some of the excellent beer in the sampling room, I wonder if they liked the classic retro posters as much as I did?