Back in December of 2019, I had the privilege of getting to travel to Japan’s northernmost region of Hokkaido. I have already shared posts about my visits to the ski village of Niseko and my luxury ryokan stay outside of Otaru, as well as the history of the beloved Japanese kimono, but I had yet to write about my visit to Hokkaido’s capital – Sapporo.
Sapporo was the last stop on our 8-day adventure around Hokkaido. I knew I couldn’t come to the region without spending a few days in the capital. Despite only spending 2 nights in Sapporo, and despite our visit feeling a bit rushed, I still really, really enjoyed my time there. It was a great way to end my first visit to Japan.
After spending a few days lakeside at Lake Shikotsu, we arrived in Sapporo on a chilly, cloudy afternoon. We drove in from the south, and since this was both of our first time driving in Japan, we did get a bit lost and circled around the same spot in the city center for a while before finally figuring out how to arrive at our hotel. We stayed at the JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo, which is both conveniently located in the city center and is also right above Sapporo Station, which has a direct train link to New Chitose Airport. For those who aren’t keen on a driving adventure, the train is a great way to get right into the heart of Sapporo.
I do not remember the floor number our room was on, but I do remember it was quite high and gave us a bird’s eye view of the city. Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan, and is quite large compared to the city sizes I am used to. The sun poked out behind the clouds for a brief period, illuminating the snow covered mountains in the distance beyond the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city.
For our first day and night in Sapporo, we kept things pretty low key. After checking in, we dropped off our bags in our room and immediately ran off to enjoy a delicious sushi lunch. I had just spent a week in Japan and had yet to eat at a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt, and I had the perfect spot in mind. Our hotel was connected to a grand shopping mall full of shops and restaurants, and one of those restaurants is Kaitensuhi nemuro hanamaru. I had read excellent reviews of this spot, which is why the beau and I happily endured a 2-hour wait to be seated for our lunch. And boy was it worth it! As decadent plates of otoro, ebi, uni, and more paraded in front of us, we tried as many dishes as we could before our stomachs felt so full they might have exploded.
After lunch, we explored the JR Tower mall and browsed several shops. I was very interested in exploring beauty shops and getting myself acquainted with Japanese beauty and skin care brands. I also fell in love with a few Japanese fashion brands and walked off with a few new pieces, although I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit everything in my suitcase with all the coats I had packed!
For dinner, we decided to stay in the hotel and dine at Sky J Restaurant and Bar on the 35th floor. The idea of dining on the upper floor looking over all of Sapporo at night sounded incredibly romantic to us, and it certainly was. It was a clear night, and we could see all the way to the mountains in the distance as the city thrived below. We dined on delicious wagyu beef and sipped red wine at the bar as we looked forward to enjoying our last day in Hokkaido.
For breakfast the next morning, we dined at Sky Restaurant Tancho, also located on the 35th floor. After watching the sun set from our table alongside the window the night before, it was dreamy getting to watch the morning sun peak over Sapporo at breakfast. Just like at our ryokan in Otaru, you won’t find pancakes and eggs for breakfast here. Instead, we dined on incredibly mouth-watering marinated salmon, rice, and other Japanese breakfast delicacies.
We spent the day wandering around Hokkaido, passing by parks and admiring city landmarks. Despite the temperatures dropping and the sun retreating behind big clouds, I found myself craving Hokkaido milk ice cream. Just because the temperatures were dipping below freezing doesn’t mean I am not going to get my hands on what has become my favorite ice cream ever!
If there’s one thing that I loved the most about our Hokkaido trip, it was my introduction to true Japanese cuisine. Prior to my visit, I was not much of a tuna eater, but after spending 8 days in Hokkaido I was now obsessed with fresh fatty tuna for lunch and dinner, marinated salmon for breakfast, Hokkaido milk ice cream for an anytime treat, a small glass of dry sake after skiing, and kaiseki for pretty much every meal. But there was one thing I had not yet gotten to truly enjoy since arriving in Hokkaido, and that was its world famous Hokkaido crab.
Crab Dinner in Sapporo
Hokkaido is well known for its scallops, but sadly I’m severely allergic to scallops so I was not able to try it. However, Hokkaido is also well known for their crab, and we were determined to eat some delicious crab before we departed. We made a reservation at Hyousetsu no Mon (to make a reservation, click here), which came highly rated as one of the best restaurants in Sapporo for crab. We ended up being in the only diners in our dining room (the restaurant is sectioned off into different dining rooms), so it felt like a personal, romantic experience. We indulged in the king crab course, which consisted of a daily appetizer special, king crab sashimi, charcoal grilled crab (this was done table-side), king crab shabu-shabu, bamboo steamed king crab, tempura, Japanese pickles, and sherbet. It was not an inexpensive set, but it was worth it and the beau kept mentioning how it was some of the best crab he’s ever had.
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Stuffed up to our noses with delicious crab, we decided to walk back to our hotel. As we began our 20 minute walk, a dance of flurries began to swirl in the air. Within a few minutes, the flurries became heavier until suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of an epic snowstorm. We had not checked the weather during our 8-day visit to Hokkaido, firmly believing it was too early in December for there to be any snow. But somehow it managed to snow every single day of our visit, no matter where we were in Hokkaido. As a snow lover, I found it symbolic and appropriate that it began to snow heavily on our last night in Japan.
We passed by the Sapporo Clock Tower, which reminded us of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and several other streets as they began to be covered in snow. It didn’t take long at all for the snow to stick, which of course made me happy. Outside of our hotel, Christmas trees designed out of lights twinkled in the snow as holiday themed music played from speakers in the courtyard. I couldn’t help myself and began dancing in the snow as the beau laughed. After going upstairs to our room, we looked out over snowy Sapporo wondering if it would still be snowing in the morning. It was.
For our last morning in Japan, once again we dined in the clouds on the 35th floor as we looked out onto snowy Sapporo below. The snow never stopped overnight, and the city was now blanketed in a dreamy layer of white fluffy snow. The sun poked out briefly to give us a view of the snowy city under pink and orange hues before disappearing again. It was the perfect final farewell before we returned to our room to pack and prepare to fly back to Hong Kong that afternoon.
I find myself dreaming about Sapporo often, especially in winter. I’d love to visit Sapporo in the summer as well, but there was something truly magical about the city in the snow. There’s still so much more of Sapporo left to see, including an ice sculpting competition that happens each year, and so I’m looking forward to returning again very soon. Most likely for another winter visit!
Check out my other Hokkaido posts about skiing in Japan and staying in a ryokan.