1.5 HOURS BY PLANE
The capital of Hokkaido, where England will take on Tonga, is a different Japanese city experience. That’s partly down to climate – Sapporo gets around six metres of snowfall annually – and partly to history. The indigenous Ainu had lived in Hokkaido for centuries, and it was settled by the Japanese only in the latter half of the 1800s, just as the policy of self-isolation was coming to an end. Interest in all things Western led to the city being designed on a grid system and is evident in some contemporaneous buildings, such as the redbrick former Hokkaido Government Office, which looks like it has been teleported from a Victorian university in Britain.
Odori Koen, a belt of immaculate city-centre park sandwiched by roads, is a good place to get your bearings. In early February, it is one of the main sites for the Sapporo Snow Festival, where teams create giant ice sculptures. At other times it is taken over by beer, music and flower festivals. South of Sapporo, Tadao Ando’s breathtaking landscaping at Makomanai Takino Cemetery, with its vast statue of Buddha in a lavender-covered hill, shouldn’t be missed.
For a night out, head to the Susukino district to slurp up the warming regional flavours – the mulligatawny-like soup curry, a mutton barbecue called jingisukan (after Genghis Khan), and Sapporo ramen, which uses miso in the broth for a rich, thick consistency.