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Snow, Sushi, and Surprises in Sapporo

Snow, Sushi, and Surprises in Sapporo
Odori Park and the Sapporo TV Tower

Thanksgiving 2023 gave my kids and me the opportunity to travel to Sapporo on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido. Normally, when we travel to Hokkaido, we depart from New Chitose Airport and head inland to the Kamikawa Subprefecture, where one of our favorite getaways, Furano, is located. However, traveling to Furano around the time of the US Thanksgiving break tends to be very expensive due to the limited pre-season transportation options available. Since we had never been to Sapporo city before, we saw this as our chance to remedy that.

Sapporo, the most populous city in Hokkaido, is the second snowiest city in the world, averaging 16 feet of snow per year. And the prospect of snow over our break was a huge reason we took the long flight to the capital of Hokkaido Prefecture.

Welcome to Hokkaido

We arrived at New Chitose International Airport after ten hours of flying, the journey extended by our layover in Seoul. It had been five years since our last visit, and the airport greeted us with a familiar warmth. But there was no snow on the ground.

We got ourselves situated, purchased our train tickets, and headed into the city. The ride was pleasant, and we stared attentively out the windows enjoying the familiar landscape that we stared at each time we traveled to Furano, albeit devoid of snow. About 40 minutes later, we arrived at Sapporo Station, which, like all JR’s main stations, is located in the basement of a large mall. After indulging in some quick snacks (savory and sweet pastries and a baguette) and coffee, we caught a cab to the Ibis Styles Sapporo (Nishi 3Chome10 10 Minami 8Jo Chuo Ku, Sapporo).

Lunch was at the budget-friendly, revolving sushi bar, Kura Sushi (Sapporo, Shiroishi Ward, Higashisapporo 3 Jo, 1 Chome−1−1) for some comfort food and an intriguing reward game. We are a bit spoiled when it comes to good sushi, and although Kura isn’t in the top tier, it is still good and inexpensive, and it fit the bill of the moment. Back to the game - the Bikkura Pon Prize - offers a chance to win food, anime trinkets, and other items after inserting 15 empty plates into the bussing slot. This system incentivizes patrons to clear their tables while rewarding them for their patronage—the more you patronize, the greater your chances of winning rewards. Fortunately, my kids and I “patronized” a bit more than we perhaps should have, resulting in us winning several prizes like an eraser that resembled Ikura Makizushi (salmon roe sushi).

Lunch was followed by shopping and an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at Beef Impact (17-1 Minami 3-jo Nishi 4-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo), consisting of charcoal-grilled beef patties smothered in gravy and topped with cheese for my daughter and I and a sirloin steak on a hot plate for my carnivorous son. It was unconventional for Thanksgiving, even for us, but it provided an easy meal. Afterward, as we walked to our hotel, it began to snow!

Day 2

After fueling up on convenience store food from Lawson, we headed to Round One (3 Chome-6-1 Minami 5 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo) so my anime fan kids could indulge in some quintessentially Japanese arcade games and amusement. The arcade games were a bit beyond my hand-to-eye coordination, but it was enjoyable to watch my kids play the hira-daiko (traditional Japanese drum) to the beat of the game – much like Guitar Hero, but without the guitar. It was also a nice treat that my daughter snagged herself an Anya Forger (of the Spy x Family Forgers) figurine playing the claw game.  And then more shopping.

Lunch was once again unplanned, this time at the Ramen Kitaichi Tanukikoji shop (Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Minami 3 Jonishi, 1 Chome−3-3), which was both very affordable and quite delicious on a cold day. The shop was small, with two very busy women preparing food, yet they interacted with customers in the pleasantly engaging Japanese style, without making anyone feel rushed. It also provided a much-needed short break from the extensive walking we had already undertaken and what lay ahead.

After a long day of exploring the snow-covered streets of Sapporo, we attempted to have dinner at the Izakaya, Sapporo Noah’s Ark, only to find it completely booked. Undeterred and without a plan, we wandered the snowy and, in some places, icy streets in search of sustenance. The well-regarded Megumi Yakiniku, bustling with Friday night diners, was also full. Eventually, we discovered a very nice restaurant that Google Translate dubiously names “Forget Plum Pavilion”— a name I can’t seem to find on Google. The meal—steak for my son and seafood for my daughter and me—was beautifully presented and delightfully satisfying, making the earlier rejections from two restaurants well worth it.

After dinner, we worked off our calories with a walk to Round One for round two of the day. As closing time neared, we, along with the other entertainment-hungry patrons, were informed it was time to leave, and by then, it was nearly midnight. We had an enjoyable walk back to our hotel, throwing snowballs at each other along the way.

Snow, Sushi, and Surprises in Sapporo

Day 3

Our hotel was just two short blocks away from Nakajima Park (1 Nakajimakoen, Chuo-Ku, Sapporo), so we decided to start our Saturday with a casual stroll through this enchanting park, blanketed in snow. Spanning 58 acres, this peacefully quiet city park houses attractions such as Shobu Pond, Kitara (Sapporo Concert Hall), the Sapporo Astronomical Observatory, and Hōheikan (a historical building and wedding venue), among others. However, after a while, our tropical island blood urged us to seek refuge indoors to escape the cold and plan the rest of our day – or at least to decide our next destination in the city.

We took a taxi so we could start our walkathon from the Daimaru Department Store at Sapporo Station. Our walk took us through the business district, to Odori Park (home of the famous snow festival), the interestingly named Pole Town underground shopping center, and back onto the surface streets to the Tanukikoji Shopping Street and neighborhood. There were many opportunities for coffee and munchies, and we didn’t pass up too many of them. In hindsight, I should have described the day as an exhaustathon rather than a walkathon.

After a quick stop at our hotel to unload our purchases and change for the evening, we dined at Suage (located on the 2nd floor of the Toshimatsu Building, Minami 4-jo Nishi, 5-6-1, Chuo-ku, Sapporo), not far from Tanukikoji. Dinner was followed by after-dinner drinks and an excellent time at Avanti 5 (located on the 1st floor of the FDRESS Gobangai Building, 5 Minami 3-jo Nishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo).

Then, with full stomachs and smiles of contentment, we made our way back to the hotel, the snow crunching beneath our steps. Keeping with tradition, we picked up some late-night snacks at Lawson before taking inventory of our Christmas shopping haul. We filled our suitcases with everything we wouldn’t need for the remainder of our trip and began to wind down for the night.

Day 4

Bittersweet, as endings often are, we hailed a taxi back to New Chitose International Airport to savor some breakfast sweets before embarking on our long flight home. This trip to Sapporo, uncharacteristically spontaneous for us, turned out to be an extraordinary journey through a city unknown yet fantastic. More so, the graciousness of the Japanese people, their traditions, and the kindness they extended to my kids and me, reaffirmed the specialness of visits to Japan. 

Snow, Sushi, and Surprises in Sapporo
The Sōsei River

If you’re like me and are shopping a bit online, use the Rakuten service

for cash back and discounts – save yourself some money.



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