Whether you’re looking for a traditional Japanese inn, budget-friendly hostel or something a bit quirkier (how about a comic book-themed capsule hotel?), there’s something for you in Sapporo.
Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido island and the largest city in northern Japan, is chiefly famed for its well-known beer (the oldest in the country) and the February Snow Festival, featuring huge illuminated snow sculptures in urban parks. Skiing and hot springs are also a prime draw, and the almost-central location of the city makes it a useful springboard for exploring this relatively undeveloped and scenic island.
Pirka Sapporo offers down-to-earth yet fastidiously clean hostel-style accommodation in a quiet residential neighbourhood of downtown Sapporo. Although not particularly close to the city sights, it’s within easy reach of the metro, and the attentive host couple run a tight ship. Choose from capsule-like bunk-bed dormitories or Japanese-style rooms, all with shared facilities, abundant toiletries and a communal area with complimentary tea, coffee and water.
In the midst of Susukino, the south-central restaurant and entertainment district of Sapporo, the modern apartment-rooms of the Base each accommodate up to six guests. Stepped neon-white bunk-beds and futons lend an affable fun-with-friends – or family – vibe, and each is thoughtfully complemented with a small kitchen, dining table and washing machine. It’s immaculately kept, relatively spacious, and the room balconies along with the sleek building facade almost suggest plusher accommodation.
Immaculate, modern and faintly austere suites equipped with kitchens, washing machines and hot tubs characterise this small centrally located property between Odori and Nakajima Parks. More like apartments with one per floor, their spaciousness and flexibility – up to three bedrooms plus additional futons and sofa beds – make them ideal for large families or groups of friends. The myriad restaurants and eateries of Susukino mean the kitchens here might go underused.
Just metres from Sapporo Botanic Garden, this cosy traditional Japanese-style inn tucked away in a modern building offers a more authentic and unlacquered experience of contemporary Japan. Expect tatami-covered floors, low-slung tables and chairs, futon bedding and, food-wise, few if any concessions to Western palates. Shared onsen (hot spring) baths, which are also open to the public, help round off a more immersive experience, though guests with tattoos might be discouraged from bathing here.
Imagine sleeping in a library among books and behind shelves. Your “room” is an immaculate wood-panelled cocoon-like capsule with curtains not unlike the sleeping berth in a train. Welcome to Comicap, a peculiarly Japanese kind of hideaway where, in its hotel-speak, you “forget about time and read comics.” It’s wonderfully quirky, and although the 30,000-plus comics may be unintelligible to most foreign guests, nothing stops you bringing your own to empathise with the distinct pressures of urban Japan and its unique routes of escape.
In the forested hills southwest of the city, this modern upscale resort taps the locality’s abundant hot springs and spiritual-inflected respect for nature with traditional Japanese sensibility. Indoor and outdoor onsen, hot stone saunas and several holistic “calming spaces” to connect with the forest’s perceived healing powers are intrinsic to the atmosphere. Western- and Japanese-style accommodation includes cottages with private onsen while the kaiseki – a traditional haute cuisine dinner of seasonal, artfully arranged and presented dishes – rounds off the day.
Sleeping up to 13 guests, this four-bedroom apartment with a tiny garden south of the city centre is ideal for families or groups of friends seeking an authentic living-in-Japan experience. The workaday neighbourhood has plenty of small shops and eateries, and although the small block is functional rather than beautiful, the well-equipped accommodation is immaculate. The enthusiastic owners are used to hosting and helping foreign guests perhaps unfamiliar with the city and Japanese etiquette.
A “dormitory-hostel” might not sound so compelling but, this being Japan, the concept embraces fastidious design. The centrally located property doubles as a co-working space: by day, the breakfast lounge becomes an office and café, while at dusk it morphs back into a social hub, occasionally with impromptu “beer parties”. Fully screened bunkbed capsules with reading lamps, plug and USB sockets form the dormitory. Premium beds have hatch-like openings (into what would otherwise be the upper capsule) allowing guests to stand up while changing. Yes, really.