The Susukino entertainment district is one of Sapporo’s main attractions. It includes more than 4,000 different shops and since 1871 has been the largest entertainment district in Japan north of Tokyo. It covers an area of several blocks from the intersection at Tsukisamu Dori (Route 36) and Ekimae Dori in front of the Lafiler department store and the Nikka Whiskey sign, south to Nakajima Park, and east and west on both sides for several blocks. It’s actual borders are ill-defined.

It’s primarily a nighttime entertainment district with the focus on dining, drinking, cabarets and nightclubs. There are thousands of Snacks and hostess bars, where women in evening dress and various other uniforms serve drinks and make conversation with salarymen tired after a long day’s work. It has a reputation as a red light district, but these days the area is trying to clean up its image and make it a more family friendly atmosphere. There are still establishments where women provide services beyond pouring drinks, but these are now located on the upper floors of a few buildings primarily in a small area on the east side and are guarded by security staff at street level, so it’s unlikely that a tourist would wander in by mistake. In fact, these establishments are only available to native Japanese, or near-native Japanese speakers who can convince the staff that they’ll abide by the strict rules. It’s quite common to see families with small children out and about in the area at night, and the most danger one is likely to face is from people who’ve drunk too much slipping on the ice and falling into you. That said, like any area of the world where people go to drink just a little too much and talk a little too loud, the wise visitor would do well to mind their manners and keep their wits about them.

Access to the area is by foot along Sapporo’s main street of Ekimae Dori, about a 5 minute walk from Odori Park and the Odori Subway Station, 10 minutes from Sapporo Station, or 5 minutes from Nakajima Koen Subway Station at the south end of Ekimae Dori. The Susukino intersection at Tsukisamu Dori and Ekimae Dori which features the Susukino Clock marks the southern end of the Sapporo Underground Walkway, entrances to which can be found at all 4 corners of the intersection and from Lafiler at the southeast. Thus it’s possible to walk to the edge of Susukino all the way underground from Sapporo Station. There are also dozens of taxis lined up in front of Lafiler at all times of day and night, and there are several airport and hotel shuttle buses that pass through the area.

One of the most famous attractions in the area is the Ramen Yokocho, a narrow alley lined with ramen noodle shops said to be the birthplace of miso ramen. The area was originally known as the Kouraku Ramen Meitengai, and was established in 1951, but was demolished in preparation for the 1972 Winter Olympics. Later the Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho was established in its place. Although ramen is especially suited to Sapporo’s cold winter nights, it’s just as delicious in the summer and Ramen Yokocho is popular with tourists year round. There are many other ramen shops throughout the Susukino area, as well as an abundance of izakayas that serve Japanese pub-style food. Many shops also offer nomihodai or all-you-can-drink plans for as low as ¥1,000 yen. For those used to limiting their alcohol consumption to how much cash they bring with them for a night out on the town this can have a disturbing effect, as one could easily consume ten or more delicious Sapporo Draft Beers, Asahi Super Dry or Kirin Ichiban Shibori within the 90 – 120 minute time limit!

There are also several festivals that are held in Susukino throughout the year, the largest of these being the Susukino Ice Festival, which takes place at the same time and as part of the Sapporo Snow Festival. The Susukino Summer Festival is also a sight to see, with the streets closed to car traffic and opened up to street vendors selling beer and food, a parade with authentic geisha, appearances by celebrities, and musical and dance performances.

Susukino is a definite must-see while in Sapporo if you enjoy nightlife, and is also a good option for dinner after a day of sightseeing. It doesn’t really come alive until the sun sets though, and it certainly shows its best face once the neon lights come on, so the Odori, Tanuki Koji or Sapporo Station areas are a better option for breakfast and lunch. For real night owls most shops are open till about 01:00, and many don’t close until the sun comes up!

This post is also available in: Japanese