The youngest of Japan’s major cities with a population of just over 2 million, Sapporo forms an oasis of modern living amid the wilds of Hokkaido. It’s a well-groomed and well-organised metropolis, laid out in a grid plan around the Toyohira River and long, leafy Odori Park, which cleaves through the high-rise blocks of downtown towards the outlying mountains.
Odori Park plays host to several themed festivals through the year, ranging from a Munich-style ‘beer fest’ in the summer months (Japan’s number-one brand is brewed locally) to ‘autumn colours’ in September, when the scarlet maples steal the show. The biggest crowds, however, descend for the famous Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri), in February, when the centre is adorned with over 400 ice sculptures and statues, illuminated to spectacular effect after dark. With its vibrant nightlife, fine seafood restaurants and spectacular setting, Sapporo makes the ideal launchpad for explorations of the island.