Outside "let's" Sapporo

Drinking Districts in Japan VI: Sapporo, and a Gruesome Start

I checked in to a decent hotel on the south side of the city and went out for a recce, walking north through the love hotel district, then “Soapland” – which I’ll leave to your sordid imaginations – and on to “Suskino”, the drinking and restaurant area. Nothing out of the ordinary on the way, I saw a couple of people looking like employees leaving a love hotel “Let’s” but on the way back a large number of media crews outside the same hotel.

Watching the news that evening it turned out a naked headless corpse was discovered by an employee that day, about the time I was walking past, although the murder took place the previous evening it seems. Coincidentally on the same day but completely unrelated, the partially decomposed body of a fisherman was found in the river. There have been many bear attacks recently. And more … three people had been murdered in a nearby town – but fear not, Japan is a very safe country.

Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, is the 5th largest city in Japan with a metropolitan area population well over 2.5 million. Susukino, rather like the Tokyo district Yurakucho, has bars and izakaya (restaurants) scattered around the area mingling with hotels, businesses, shops and homes and merging with offices and sophisticated shops to the north and Soapland to the south.

I had brought my Pentax LX loaded with FP4, 50mm and 120mm lenses, and because my iiig was off sick a recently overhauled Leica M3 loaded with Portra 400, and the 50mm f3.5 Elmar. My first target was the ‘Tanuki koji’ arcade. The arcade runs east-west and used to have many restaurants and bars scattered along its length but now is much more geared to tourist shoppers with hotels and many tacky souvenir shops.

Tanuki Koji, Sapporo
Tanuki Koji arcade
Small restaurants with tables in the covered walkway
Small restaurants with tables in the covered walkway
Crab restaurant
Crab restaurant

The extreme ends are more interesting and a short walk continuing west revealed (for me at least) a very attractive line of ramshackle homes and izakaya nestled between the concrete office blocks.

Tiny izakaya and homes

Having got to frame 38 the film suspiciously kept winding on – ‘Oh ****!’, the leader must have come off the spindle. Retakes tomorrow! This visit wasn’t turning out quite as expected. That evening partially made up for some of the film disaster with exceptionally good food and Chianti Riserva at a prizewinning Italian restaurant, Orizzonte, just outside the arcade. Tomorrow would be a better day.

Returning the next day but this time heading east led to a covered fish market and restaurants – the best place to eat fish, freshly caught and simply prepared.

Fish market
Fish market

After lunch in Ramen Yokocho, the birthplace of miso ramen (highly recommended), having finished the retakes and some new colour images, I headed south wandering around the mixed area of small individually owned izakaya and bars, love hotels and red light premises. For me many of the restaurants look more interesting and inviting than the well established formulaic izakaya found in the more sophisticated area of Suskino.

Steak or coffee
Steak or coffee and cigarettes
The sophisticated exterior hides less sophisticated goings-on inside. The sign means a drop of water. Premises further along the street are less coy about the services they offer.

That evening we met friends at an excellent very small izakaya “tereya”, typical for owner/chef restaurants in terms of physical size and a set or limited menu. Beer to cool down after the hot day, sashimi and cold dry rice wine, then mixed vegetables and meat (which I don’t eat – but I tried bear meat for the first and last time, tasteless and chewy). The owner had a shaved head and when he bent over I could see a large cut on his head where he was attacked by a crow – they live and nest in the city but are very aggressive when they have chicks and people come close to the nest.


The visit ended on the third day with some more images and shopping – a somewhat frantic morning. On the way back to the hotel from the department store we walked along the underground shopping walkway called “Pole Town” (recommended in summer heat or winter when there’s ice on the pavements) with another element of Japanese culture, the coffee shop. Although the coffee habit seems to be dying with fewer traditional coffee shops, some of the survivors have branched out providing breakfast, lunch, and alcohol in the evening.

Pole Town
Pole Town, early morning
Coffee shop in Pole Town
Coffee shop in Pole Town where I had breakfast
Bauhaus coffee
Bauhaus coffee

Then lying on the ground was a motionless body of a young lady with a policeman standing nearby and two ambulancemen running down the walkway towards her. But no sign of blood or detached body parts, so probably alive. We returned to the hotel after a far too eventful stay and headed back home. Sadly the saga had not finished. Back home I discovered the recently refurbished M3 was not firing consistently on slow speeds. Not the first problem I’ve had with the same UK Leica repair company. Fortunately the daytime images were fine but the tereya image above was probably shot at 1/125 rather then the 1/30 set at the time.

Former night club opposite a karaoke bar in the shape of a mosque - both fine examples of exquisite refined Japanese good taste.
Former night club opposite a karaoke bar in the shape of a mosque – both fine examples of exquisite refined Japanese good taste …
… there are some Halal restaurants nearby so I was wondering …
Noah's Ark (izakaya)
… and another, Noah’s Ark (izakaya)

Thanks for reading

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