Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Sapporo Clock Tower: A Remnant of Old Hokkaido

Sapporo Clock Tower: A Remnant of Old Hokkaido

Steven Askew

The Clock Tower in Sapporo was built in 1878 and is the oldest building in Sapporo. It is a very popular site for tourists to visit and is the symbol for Sapporo and for Hokkaido.

The star on its tower can be seen on many Hokkaido products. If you have been here you cannot have missed it, especially if you’ve been drinking these:


In fact, this is the original star.


I have been in the tower numerous times and I go by it regularly. The main comment you hear when people see the building for the first time is, “Is that it? I thought it would be bigger” I think there are three reasons for this reaction.

Firstly, the building’s reputation is built up by guidebooks and through being on so many products. You think it is going to be massive, and it isn’t. The tower is probably the height of a four story building.

The second reason is the name. Sapporo Clock TOWER. You hear tower and you think massive structure. The other tower in Sapporo, the TV tower, is 147m high and tourists can be forgiven for thinking this tower would be similar.

The third reason is that the Clock Tower is surrounded by actual towering buildings. Take a look at these pictures.



People forget, though, that the building is nearly 140 years old. In Sapporo, 140 years ago, there were not many buildings. Sapporo officially started in 1868 and was generally a farming community. The Sapporo Clock Tower was the tallest building around and literally towered over everything else. When you see the building you have to remember it originally looked like this:


The Clock Tower was built in 1878 as a military drill hall for the Sapporo Agricultural College – which is now Hokkaido University. The college was founded by Dr. William Clark, who came to Japan from the Massachusetts Agricultural College. He is an extremely important figure in Hokkaido’s history and you can see him everywhere. However, he did not have anything to do with the Clock Tower, which was commissioned by William Wheeler, the second head of the college. The Clock Tower was used by the college until 1903 when it moved its premises to the current site of Hokkaido University. In 1906 ownership of the Tower was transferred to the city.

The clock in the tower was built by E. Howard & Co. from Boston and it is a weight driven clock. That means a large weight, 50kg in this case, is suspended from the clock and descends under the force of gravity at a calculated rate. When the weight reaches the bottom, after about 7 days, it is wound back up by a crank handle. These pictures are a replica of the clock, the workings and the actual weight.




It costs ¥200 to get into the building and it is well worth it. The building is a wooden structure, built along the lines of 19th century American buildings. It was originally grey but was painted white in the 1950s. When you go through the doors you can smell the aged wood. It has that amazing mustiness only really old buildings have. The first floor is a museum, with numerous displays.


The stairs to the second floor are at the back and there is an elevator for people less capable of stairs (presumably not an original feature). The second floor is a large hall that was used for drills, opening ceremonies and graduation ceremonies.




Back downstairs there is one of the smallest souvenir shops I have ever seen.


And, if you are there at the right time of year, the small gardens are very picturesque.


If you are in the city in winter and want to get out of the cold, or just want somewhere quiet to sit and read your guidebook, I can heartily recommend the Clock Tower. It is one of the main tourist destinations in the city, but most people don’t seem to go inside, leaving it fairly quiet. Whatever your reasons for going, the Clock Tower isn’t the most impressive of buildings if you compare it to what’s around it, but remember that this is basically where the city started. It deserves respect.