Sapporo is Japan’s premier frontier city, blossoming into a major urban hub after its debut on the world stage in 1972, when it hosted the Winter Olympics. In 2021, the city will be part of Olympic history yet again, hosting the iconic marathon as part of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Despite this history as a focal point for arguably world’s biggest sporting events (it also hosted three games as part of the 2002 Football World Cup), comparatively little is known about Hokkaido’s capital. Sapporo effectively links the main island of Honshu with the vast enclaves of Hokkaido’s wilderness. As the hub of the area, it has matured into a modern, cosmopolitan city while maintaining its distinct personality. It sets itself apart through its sheer livability; indeed, the reason the marathon was moved to Sapporo is due its comparatively mild temperatures when compared with the scorching heat of Tokyo. Furthermore, with easy access to world renowned ski hub Niseko and other nature highlights, residents and visitors alike get to enjoy a titillating mix of urban life while remaining in striking distance to Hokkaido’s grand natural landscapes. On the other hand, a defining feature of any major, modern city is its nightlife, and this showcase aims to introduce Sapporo, after dark. Once the sun sets in the city, the first destination for many remains the iconic nightlife district Susukino, which encapsulates the city in its own way. Featuring more than 4,000 bars, Izakayas, restaurants and clubs, not to mention the pulsating neon lights ubiquitous to Japanese nightlife, the area radiates energy. Whether your adventure in Hokkaido is just starting out, or you are looking for one last memory to cap off the trip, Susukino will provide you with a memorable night (provided you don’t indulge too much in the local alcohol selection).
The natural starting point is Susukino Crossing (pictured above). Facing the appropriately named Susukino Building, the iconic King of Blenders sign from Nikka Whiskey quickly catches the eye. Feel free to begin your stroll around the area by grabbing a Sapporo Classic (limited to Hokkaido!) from a nearby convenience store, as there are no open-container laws in Japan. You can literally move in all directions from here as you will find yourself lost in a seemingly endless array of options.
One of the first spots that will catch your eye is the nearby Ramen Yokocho, or Ramen alley, which is located one block south of the crossing. While the Ramen Yokocho has developed a reputation among the locals as having become increasingly touristy over the years, it is still worth a stroll through. Aji no Karyu, situated on the southern mouth of the alley, is notable for being featured on the late Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Starting (or capping off) your night with a bowl of piping hot Ramen is always a good idea.
If you head north from the crossing, you will encounter numerous side streets featuring some local hot spots. Notable chef Aki Nagao’s casual offering Bird Watching is a great choice to sample Japanese Izakaya staples, while local delicacies such as Genghis Khan (grilled lamb) and soup curry are available seemingly on every corner. Just a few streets away is Tanukikoji, a roofed shopping street divided into blocks (or chou, in Japanese), which each have a distinct personality. Recently, the seventh block (nana-chou-me) has been a hotspot for locals for its myriad of gourmet options, and the adventurous can head further west outside of the roofed area, where new places are seemingly opening up by the day. For lovers of local booze, a night on the town can be easily combined with a sampling of what the region has to offer. North Island Brewery pairs craft beer with pub grub, while Winecafé Veraison will give you an overview of the booming wine scene – be sure to try the selection of natural wine, one area where the region has been able to carve out a niche even on the global scale. For a complete overview of Hokkaido’s booze, you can’t miss Bar Kamada, featuring a selection of over 300 varieties of Hokkaido liquors shochu, wine, local beer, whisky and liqueurs, including limited run sake and seasonal bottles.
As the night gets later, you will again be presented with a myriad of options as to where you want to take your night. For a classic clubbing experience, three-story King Xmhu has you covered. For something more relaxed, Slow Boat is one of Sapporo’s true hidden gems. An intimate jazz bar opened by the late jazz pianist Ryo Fukui that hosts both professional gigs and amateur jam sessions. Another option is Provo, an eclectic bar that features regular DJ performances, a communal vibe and very funky lighting. However, feel free to explore, as the area is generally considered to be extremely safe. For a truly local experience, venturing inside the ubiquitous depatos congregated around the area is a great option. Depatos are multi-storied buildings filled with restaurants, izakayas, bars and other establishments – and are always an adventure in itself: the higher you go up, the deeper the experience will get is one rule to tackle these mainstays.
The above suggestions should merely serve as a pointer. As Sapporo develops, new offerings to spend the night come with it. One thing is clear though, awash with revelers under the buzzing neon lights, the Susukino area serves as an ode to the image of Japanese nightlife perpetrated by the likes of Tokyo’s Shibuya or Osaka’s Dotonbori and is not to be missed. Once it is safe to do so and you are planning a trip to Japan, don’t underestimate Sapporo’s unique charms and especially its rapidly rising nightlife pedigree.
This article was provided by Hokkaido Tourism Organization.