Looking more like a visiting Martian space craft than a sports stadium, the Sapporo Dome, in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, is home territory of baseball team, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and the association football club, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
It has seen plenty of nail-biting action over the years, particularly during the 2002 FIFA World Cup when it played host to three games: Germany v Saudi Arabia, Italy v Ecuador and most famously, Argentina v England, when David Beckham laid to rest his France ’98 Argentina demons by slamming home the winning penalty in a 1-0 victory for the Three Lions.
The Dome has everything you’d expect from Japanese technology, with the ability to switch between two entirely different surfaces; baseball is played on underlying artificial turf, while for football a grass pitch slides into and out of the stadium.
Conversion from baseball to football begins with the storage of the baseball field’s artificial turf. Once finished, a set of lower bowl bleachers rotate from the angled position for baseball, to a parallel one for football. A set of main bowl seats on one end of the dome then retracts, and the football pitch slides into the stadium. The lower bowl is then rotated 90 degrees. Conversion from football to baseball occurs in reverse. Due to the retraction of seats, the stadium has a capacity of 40,476 for baseball games. All in all it’s really rather neat!
The Rugby World Cup in Hokkaido kicks off with the hotly anticipated Australia v Fiji match followed the very next day by England’s starting campaign against Tonga on the 22nd of September. Fans are guaranteed to come out in their droves. Not only to cheer their teams, but to experience this stunning lesser-visited part of Japan.
Sapporo Odori Park: image © City of Sapporo
Without a doubt, Sapporo is one of the most appealing host cities of the tournament.
Renowned for its snow festival and summer beer gardens, its relaxed atmosphere, green parks, and tree-lined boulevards, Sapporo is a modern Japanese city quite unlike any other.
The capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, Sapporo started life as a frontier town some 130 years ago. Now, despite a population that has grown to some 1.8 million people, it still manages to operate at a level of bustle well below that of Tokyo or Osaka. Add excellent local cuisine, great nightlife and easy access to nearby national parks and mountains and you have the perfect place to begin your exploration of Hokkaido.
Prior to the establishment of the city, the area occupied by Sapporo (known as the Ishikari Plain) was a quiet hunting and fishing ground home to a number of indigenous Ainu settlements. In 1866, at the end of the Edo Period, construction began on a canal through the area, encouraging a number of early settlers to establish the village, which officially became a city in 1868. Sapporo was carefully developed in an expanding grid-like construction much like the American system, and with a consistent flow of migration from mainland Honshu the population expanded.
Thanks to this grid layout, Sapporo is relatively easy to navigate. Bang in the centre of town is the TV Tower, and from here the belt-like, green oasis of Odori Park runs all along the length of the main street. In summer, the park becomes a vast beer garden – while in winter it is the stage for what is perhaps Japan’s most impressive festival: the Yuki Matsuri (snow festival). Every year in February, the city is overrun with gargantuan snow and ice sculptures, intricately carved and often towering over 20 metres above the ground. This is the most popular time of year to visit Sapporo, so make sure you plan well in advance if you want to catch the spectacle – you’ll be glad you did!
Just to the north of Odori Park are Hokkaido University’s botanical gardens, which retain some of the virgin forest that stood in the area before Hokkaido was built. There is also a museum here dedicated to the Ainu, Hokkaido’s indigenous population, which provides a fascinating but poignant insight into a beleaguered people who have only recently begun to reclaim their culture and celebrate their heritage.
To the east of the city centre is Maruyama Park, and the eponymous Mount Maruyama. Fantastic views of the city can be enjoyed from the peak (after a climb of around 40 minutes), and the park itself makes a great place to stop for a picnic.
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