Sapporo Me Another One

Posted by on Sep 22, 2011 in Hokkaido, Travel Volunteer Journey | 4 Comments
Sapporo Me Another One

It’s taken eight days of our trip to reach one of Japan’s big cities. With a little under 2 million inhabitants, chilly Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido, may be a fraction of the size of Tokyo, but there’s no doubting it’s a major city; if it were in the UK, it’d only have London ahead of it in terms of population.

It’s hard to imagine it while the streets are still bare, but up here, Japan spends as much half the year blanketed in snow. There are salmon in the rivers, bears in the wilderness and an annual snow festival. It’s a skiing Mecca and in the past there’s even been a Winter Olympics on the outskirts of the city.

Yet, really, it’s not that far north – Paris and, even parts of Spain, are closer to the North Pole than Sapporo. The Arctic conditions are all to do with wind, specifically the frigid gusts that arrive unhindered from Siberia. Imagine Superman doing his freeze-breath thing. For six months.

That’s Sapporo.

People are cold more often than not up here, and, as any grinning alcoholic will tell you, the quickest way to get warm is with a drink. Or five.

It’s no surprise, then, to learn that Hokkaido is home to some of the country’s biggest breweries and distilleries. More on the whiskey another time, but today Sapporo is home to perhaps the best beer company in Japan. In one incarnation or another, the Sapporo Brewery has been making residents of the city, happy and forgetful for 135 years, making it Japan’s oldest purveyor of beer.

The success of both the city and the brew are linked: as Sapporo grew, so did the number of beer drinkers; as the company grew, so it needed to employ more people.

Of course now it’s all a tremendously large corporate venture, but for visitors, the old red-brick brewery just east of the city centre offers the chance to learn about how the beer got a foothold here first, before going on to become a globally recognised brand.

It’s well worth a visit, not least because there’s some heavily subsidised beer to try and the end – and no cover charge. In the wrong hands, that kind of generosity could turn into a raucous pub crawl.

But not us. Partly because we wanted to get out, see some more of the city, and to eat some Gengis Khan.

Not that there’s any of the old warlord left to go around – no one even knows where he’s buried. Instead here in Sapporo one of history’s more fearsome warriors lends his name to a tasty dish of DIY barbequed lamb. Would the terror of Asia be happy with this? Who knows, but he’d surely doff his furry hat to the wild popularity of his dish. It took us almost an hour of trudging around, being continously turned away from full restaurants, before we found a seat. It must be impossible on weekends.

Sapporo, and all its varietals may be the king beer here, but it’s not the only thing on offer. A good friend of mine told me that “for the love of God” we should check out the Mugishutei Beer Inn on the south side of the city centre because, in his opinion, it’s the best bar in Asia. As my friend is often correct, and would likely punch me in the face if I passed up the opportunity, we decided to head along.

And he was right: it is special. Not only for the sheer number of beers on offer, but for the clearly obsessive collection of cans and bottles from across the years, and around the globe. If you found a collection like this in your great uncle’s attic, you’d think he was mad, but in a wee bar, tucked away down a dank flight of stairs, the whole thing, like all of Sapporo, is kinda cool.











  1. steven
    September 22, 2011

    I’m that mad uncle you speak of, ah miss spent youth, those were the days! If i ever make it out there I’ll defo be checking out that bar. I knew that parts of Japan had really cold snow laden winters, but I never knew it was so far south though

  2. September 22, 2011

    Sapporo puts starch in it’s beer.

  3. Robert
    September 23, 2011

    Mmmm Whiskey ;9

    That means if it was me a visit to Yoichi where the first Nikka Distillery is located.

    And while you are on the island of Hokkaido you might as well visit the town of Asahikawa City, apart from being the coldest town in Japan (1) its the place where the Otokoyama Sake Brewery is located. In my opinion one of the best.

    (1) -41 degrees Celcius on january 25th 1902, the lowest temperature ever measured in Japan.

  4. Make up ideas
    September 29, 2011

    it was greatly riveting to look over your blog, I want to reproduce your post in my blog. It can ? And you et an account on Twitter?