It may not have the international clout of Tokyo or Osaka, but thanks to its varied climate, distinctive food culture and access to the countryside, there are plenty of reasons to head to Japan’s far north and discover why there’s nowhere quite like Sapporo, writes Rob Goss
Despite being a modern city that’s home to 1.97 million people, Sapporo is arguably more closely connected to nature than any other major city in Japan, with an urban-nature balance that reflects differently in each season. In summer, the warm temperatures and mercifully low humidity make Sapporo ideal for outdoor festivals, fireworks, or just lazy afternoons in the park. Not long after autumn starts to cool the air in September, and snow begins to cap Mount Teine on the horizon, it’s the perfect time to hike Mount Maruyama or take to Sapporo’s natural hot-spring baths for a soak surrounded by autumnal foliage. With the Sapporo Autumn Festival, it’s also the ideal season to take a deep dive into the city’s culinary heritage: warming soup curry, miso ramen and seasonal crab being just a few of Sapporo’s signatures.
With an average annual snowfall of almost six metres, Sapporo is one of the snowiest cities on the planet. As the year draws to a close, snow starts to transform the cityscape, with Sapporo and its environs offering up activities like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. In early February, the winter celebrations reach a crescendo with the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival), which sees giant snow and ice sculptures appearing at venues around the city, attracting millions of visitors in the process.
Finally comes spring. While cherry blossoms repaint much of Japan in April, Sapporo is just beginning to shed its winter layers. But once the annual pink wave of cherry blossoms reaches the city in early May, Sapporo’s green spaces and the outdoor art venues that have given it a reputation as an emerging art hub come into their own: places such as Isamu Noguchi’s sprawling Moerenuma Park or Tadao Ando’s otherworldly Hill of the Buddha. Put it all together and – in any season – there’s something special about Sapporo.