Sapporo Budget Travel Guide 2017

No one was expecting it to arrive that early, but it did.

On my last trip to Tokyo, it snowed. It would have been perfectly normal, but it was November and the first snow of the season usually falls in January. It was the first November snow in the Japanese capital in 50 years. And I was there. It was a foreshadowing. I never expected that just two months after the trip, I would be back in Japan. This time, in Sapporo.

Hokkaido has always hugged the top spot on my bucket list, way above other major Japan destinations, mainly for its longer winters and tight embrace of snow. Spending most of my life in the tropics, I’ve been kept hostage by my fascination with snow. Many of us whose roots are planted near the equator once imagined ourselves in that snowglobe we shook dreamily when we were kids. Snow is a reward, something that we could only see if we work hard enough to afford it, after we had been burdened by life’s many responsibilities. While I’m aware that too much of it has a dark side, for the young, naive me, snow is not ice powder but fairy dust, the stuff that magical places are made of. It’s no wonder I had planned on someday being able to join the Sapporo Snow Festival, but like that November snowfall, I never imagined it would come way sooner.

Sapporo
Sledding at Moerenuma Park

 

Understanding Sapporo City

This post is brought to you by Sapporo City Tourism Office.
It all began when the tourism bureau of Sapporo invited us to explore their city as part of their strengthened efforts to increase the number of international tourists. The northernmost prefectural capital in Japan, Sapporo requires a bit more effort to reach. Yet, it is the country’s fifth biggest city by population, which has significantly grown only in the past decades. Sapporo is one of the youngest urban areas Japan. According to tourism officials we talked to during our stay, before development began to take over in 1857, there were only 7 people living here. And because it was built not too long ago, the design of the city didn’t come about organically. It was measured and developed according to plan. The city’s blueprint is an almost perfect grid, with the Ekimae Avenue (north to south) and Odori Park (east to west) as the main axes. Much of the public infrastructures, like the subway system, were built in preparation for 1972 Winter Olympics.

Here are a few more facts you need to know:

  • Language: Japanese (Nihongo). English isn’t widely spoken.
  • Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY, ¥). JPY 1000 is roughly USD 8.92, EUR 8.12, PHP 450 (as of Feb 2017).
  • Modes of payment: Cash is preferred.
  • Electricity Info: 100V. Plugs have two flat pins.
The forest near Hokkaido Shrine

 

Best Time to Visit Sapporo

Winter, of course. Although the weather isn’t always comfortable, much of what Sapporo has to offer is best enjoyed in the cold months. It gets 6m of snow a year, and the first of the season usually falls in October. By December, the entire city is already a winter wonderland, and temperatures continue to drop as the season progresses. Here are more reasons to consider visiting when it’s covered in white blanket. (Warning, though: It can get really cold, with average nighttime temperatures reaching as low as -8C.)

  • Sapporo Snow Festival, an annual week-long event held in early February, showcases giant ice and snow sculptures in many parts of the city, with the one in Odori Park getting the most attention. Last year alone, it attracted almost 2 million visitors.
  • Sapporo International Ski Marathon, a cross-country skiing marathon, starts here.
  • Sapporo White Illumination runs from mid-November to December.
  • Sapporo is a popular choice for skiing and other winter sports.

April is when it gets warmer and snow begins to melt. Have you been dreaming of cherry blossoms but you’re always unable to travel in March or April? Sapporo to the rescue. The first bloom of sakura happens much later in Sapporo than in other major cities, usually in early May.

Autumn is good, too, if you wish to see its landscapes get painted bright red and orange. The Sapporo Autumn Festival happens in September, but make sure to bring a cardigan. If you plan to visit in October, you will need a jacket.

Sapporo Snow Festival, February

 

How to Get to Sapporo

By Plane

Sapporo is served by two airports, the new Chitose Airport and the Okadama Airport. If you’re flying to Sapporo from overseas, there’s a big chance you’ll be using Chitose. However, international flights are limited to China, Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau, Honolulu, Guam, and Australia. Most journeys make a connection in Tokyo or another major city.

FROM TOKYO. The flight from Tokyo to Sapporo usually takes 1 hour and 40 minutes. JetStar offers round-trip flights for less than USD 100 (PHP 5000).

Skyscanner

FROM OSAKA. Flights from Osaka takes around 2 hours but usually costs just a tad higher.

Skyscanner

FROM MANILA. If you’re coming from Manila, the lowest regular, year-round fares are often offered by Taiwan’s flag-carrier China Airlines.

Manila to Sapporo

But you can find much much cheaper promo tickets if you book the legs of your trip separately. For example, JetStar is known to sell roundtrip Manila-Tokyo promo tickets for as low as P7000. If you’re able to snag that and then book a Tokyo-Sapporo flight for P5000, then you’ll only be spending P12,000 for your full journey.

 

By Train

Taking the train to Sapporo from other major cities outside Hokkaido is both time-consuming and expensive, which is why I don’t recommend it unless you’re on a multi-city tour around Japan.

 

From Tokyo
  1. Take the Shinkansen Hayabusa to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. Travel time: 4.5 hours. Reserved seat fee: ¥11,130 ($100, P5000).
  2. Switch to Limited Express Hokuto Line and alight at Sapporo Station. Travel time: 3 hours, 40 minutes. Reserved seat fee: ¥1550 ($14, P700); Unreserved seat ¥1290 ($11.5, P580).

The whole journey takes over 8 hours, not counting the layover time. The total fare for 2 legs is ¥14,140. That’s on top of the seat fees. So the whole journey would cost you around ¥26,820 ($240, P12,000). That’s just one way!

 

From Osaka

To get to Sapporo from Osaka, you will need to make a transfer in Tokyo.

  1. From Shin-Osaka Station (not to be confused with Osaka Station), take the Shinkansen Nozomi to Tokyo Station. Travel time: 2 hours, 33 minutes. Reserved seat fee: ¥5700 ($51, P2550); Unreserved seat fee: ¥4870 ($44, P2180).
  2. Take the Shinkansen Hayabusa to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. Travel time: 4.5 hours. Reserved seat fee: ¥11,130 ($100, P5000).
  3. Switch to Limited Express Hokuto Line and alight at Sapporo Station. Travel time: 3 hours, 40 minutes. Reserved seat fee: ¥1550 ($14, P700); Unreserved seat ¥1290 ($11.5, P580).

Total travel time is 10.5 hours, excluding the layovers. The total fare from Osaka to Sapporo is ¥18,140. Add the seat fees and you’ll have to shell out around ¥36,520 ($326, P16,400).

See now why we advise against it? Flying is faster and much, much cheaper.

But if you’re visiting multiple cities, then you will get great savings if you just book a JR Pass. This makes sense if you want to explore not just one or two cities. For example, if your itinerary includes Osaka, Tokyo, and Sapporo in 7 days.

Also, riding the bullet train across the Japanese countryside is quite an experience too.

If you’re visiting multiple cities in Japan and you’re staying for 7 days, you can save A LOT OF MONEY by getting a Train Pass. Check the rates here: Japan Rail Pass.

japan-rail-pass   japan-rail-pass-banner

 

Where to Stay in Sapporo

Top Budget Hotels Under $60

Daiwa Roynet Hotel Sapporo-Susukino
2-1 Nishi-1-Chome, Minami-4-jo, Chuo-ku, Susukino, Sapporo

Check Rates & Availability

JR Inn Sapporo-eki Minami-guchi
1-10 Kita 3-jo Nishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo Station, Sapporo

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HOTEL MYSTAYS Sapporo Station
4‐15, Kita 8jyo nishi, Kita‐ku, Sapporo Station, Sapporo

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Tmark City Hotel Sapporo
Minami 7 jonishi 5-1 Chuo-ku, Susukino, Sapporo

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Top Sapporo Hostels

Ten to Ten Hokkaido Hostel and Kitchen
5-288-5 Minami 8jo Nishi, Chuo-ku, Susukino, Sapporo

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Guest House Wagayado -Hale-
8 Chome-3-12 Kita 7 Jonishi, Kita Ward, Sapporo Station, Sapporo

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Sapporo House Seminar Center
Kita 6-jo 6-3-1, Kita-ku, Sapporo Station, Sapporo

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Social Hostel 365
SOCIAL HOSTEL 365 South 5 West 9 Chuo-ku, Susukino, Sapporo

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Search for more: Sapporo Hotels

 

How to Get from the New Chitose Airport to Sapporo City Center

  1. From the New Chitose Airport, travel on foot to the New Chitose Airport Station (train).
  2. Take the JR Rapid Airport Line headed for Otaru or Sapporo.
  3. Get off at Sapporo Station.

Fare is ¥1070 ($9.6, P480). You may reserve a seat for ¥520 if you want, but you can simply hop on to the cars with unreserved seats (FREE).

Travel time: 37 minutes.

Jozankei Shrine.

 

How to Get Around Sapporo

Thanks to grid design, it is easy to explore the city center of Sapporo even on foot. You can simply divide the map into four quadrants with the Ekimae Avenue (north to south) and Odori Park (east to west) as the main axes. Each block in the city measures 100 meters so it’s not difficult to keep track how far you are from where you came from. I thoroughly enjoyed walking around even in the cold, cold evenings. And if you’re walking along Odori, it’s literally a walk in the park!

For not-so-short distances, there’s always the subway. To make it even easier, go to Hyperdia.com/en/ on your web broweser. Enter your origin and the station where you’re going. It will then display possible route options including how much the ride costs and transfers needed to get there. At the train station, you can double check the price. Just look at the route map, usually above the ticket machines. The map displays the price based on distance. Sometimes, the map is in Japanese characters only, which is why Hyperdia is useful.

 

Places to Visit in Sapporo

Historical Village of Hokkaido (aka Kaitaku no Mura), an open-air museum that showcases 60 Meiji- and Taisho-era buildings that were moved from different parts of the prefecture. Admission: ¥830.
Hokkaido Shrine, built in 1869 in honor of the three pioneering gods of Hokkaido. Admission: FREE.
Odori Park, at the heart of the city, offers a natural respite from the sprawling metropolis. It also hosts the Snow Festival in February. At the end of it stands the Sapporo Clock Tower.
Moerenuma Park, a great destination for snow activities like sledding and snowboarding in winter. It’s a beautifully manicured park for the rest of the year. Admission: FREE.
Mt. Moiwa (Moiwayama) provides one of the most spectacular city lights views in Japan. Accessible via cable car. Fee: ¥1700
Jozankei, which is an hour drive from the city center. Famous for its hot springs (onsen) and shrine.
Sapporo Beer Museum and Beer Garden, where you can take a free guided tour on Japan’s beer culture. Afterward, you may sample the beers or have what locals call the Genghis Khan, a dish composed of grilled lamb meat and vegetables.
Sapporo Dome, where the biggest baseball and soccer (football) games are held. There’s also a small exhibit inside.
Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium, which was the site of the 90m jump competition at the 1972 Olympics. A double lift system takes passengers to a viewing deck atop, for a wonderful vista. Fee: ¥500
Mt. Teine (Teineyawa). Another 1972 Winter Olympics venue with slopes perfect for skiing for beginners and professionals alike. 7-hr lift access + Bus fares: ¥6700. Ski set rental: ¥4900
Ishiya Chocolate Factory, where a guided tour will let you see how they make the famous Hokkaido white chocolate.

 

Interesting Events in Sapporo

Here are some of the biggest happenings in Sapporo that can help you decide when to visit.

Sapporo Snow Festival, February
Sapporo International Ski Marathon
Jozankei Yukitouro (Snow Lanterns), a few days in winter (dates change)
Sapporo White Illumination, mid-November to December (not in pic)
Cherry Blossoms, late April to early May
Sapporo Autumn Festival, September.

 

What to Eat in Sapporo

Kaisen Don (assorted sashimi on rice). Although widely popular all over Japan, Hokkaido’s specialty is seafood!
Crabs! Hokkaido is famous for its crabs including King Crabs, Hairy Crabs, and Snow Crabs.
Miso Ramen. Every city in Japan has its own signature ramen. For Sapporo, that’s the miso variety.
Sapporo Beer
Seafood hot pot
Genghis Khan (grilled lamb with vegetables)

Soup curry is also wildly popular in Hokkaido!

 

Sample Sapporo Itinerary

Here’s a sample 5-day 3-night itinerary. As always, make the necessary adjustments to match your preferences.

Day 1: ARRIVAL
Arrival in Sapporo
Hotel Check-in
Jozankei Onsen and Shrine

Day 2: Snow Fun Option A
If you want to ski: go to Mt. Teine.

Day 2: Snow Fun Option B
If you don’t want to ski, you can still enjoy other snow activities at Moerenuma Park
Lunch and shopping at JR Sapporo station complex
Mt. Moiwa at night

Day 3: History and Beer
Hokkaido Historical Village
Lunch
Hokkaido Shrine
Sapporo Beer Museum
Dinner at Sapporo Beer Garden

Day 4: Food Trip and Shopping
Shop at Sapporo Central Wholesale Fish Market
Seafood Lunch
Odori Park (Snow Festival, if happening)
Shopping

Day 5: DEPARTURE

Sapporo peaks

 

Other Useful Tips

  • Snow can be dangerously slippery. A good sign that the snow is good to be stepped on is if it’s white and powdery. If it’s gray or blackish and looks compact because a lot of people have stepped on it, there’s a big chance they’re slippery. So be careful. You can also buy those anti-slip… uhm… things (I don’t know what they’re called, haha) that you can attach to your shoes, just not the metal ones. (The metal ones have to be removed when you go inside an establishment.)
  • Make time allowance for the traffic. Sapporo’s best attractions are so far apart, and while the subway is there, some can only be reached by bus or by car. If that’s the case, consider the time you’re gonna spend in traffic.
  • Japanese chocolates and biscuits are a bit cheaper at the New Chitose Airport than in Haneda or Narita. For example, Royce’s Nama Chocolate costs ¥720 per box in Chitose and ¥780 in Haneda. I know that’s not much, but savings are savings.
  • If you have low cold tolerance, purchase a heat pack from a convenience store and keep it near your body (inside your jacket). This will make your trip more comfortable.
  • Tipping is not common in Sapporo. To settle your bill, you are expected to approach the cashier on your way out. The cashier is usually stationed by the entrance/exit.
  • Many vending machines serve both cold and hot drinks. Most people are surprised to learn about the hot options. Really helpful when you’re out in the cold.
  • Japanese bills look alike (same color). What varies is the size of the bill. The ¥1000 and ¥10,000 can be confusing so be careful. However, the Japanese are highly UNLIKELY to take advantage. They will even be the first to tell you.
  • When using the escalator, keep left if you’re not moving.
  • Learn a few Japanese phrases. The most useful would be Sumimasen (Excuse me, sorry) and Arigatoo gozaimasu (Thank you).

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  • Nice topic I liked it. Thanks author for this great post. Knew many things about japan