If you are coming to Sapporo, you should not miss the opportunity to take a ride on the streetcar. Even if you are only going a few stops, or completing the entire loop, it is an unimaginable experience.
The streetcar was first opened in 1909 and gradually extended throughout the city over the years. Once the subway was built the number of streetcars were reduced until just a horse shoe shaped track remained. Then, early in 2015, the loop was completed and you can now travel around the center of the city, a distance of almost 9 km in a street car.
If you are at a loose end in Sapporo, or you want to see more of the city than an average tourist does, why not take a loop of the city? The entire streetcar circuit will take about an hour and only costs 170 yen. You can see parts of the city most tourists miss. You can also watch people going about their daily lives through the windows of the the streetcar while you enjoy your ride.
The streetcar costs 170 yen for adults and 90 yen for children, no matter how far you go. It also accepts the Sapica cards that you can buy from ticket machines in the subway station and charge whenever you need. The streetcars are very regular; running at about five minute intervals. If you missed the last one you can usually see the next one arriving soon.
There are two directions: inner loop (内回り) and outer loop (外回り). The inner loop goes anti-clockwise and the outer loop goes clockwise. The streetcar stops are before the stop lights at intersections.
Streetcars stop about two thirds of the way down a stop. If you are first in line, then wait just past the electronic announcement board. Courtesy dictates that people who come from the other direction have to wait until everybody in line has boarded.
Climb aboard and as there is the same fare for all distances, there is no need for purchasing a ticket. Peak time of the days are crowded but it tends to thin out once you get four or five stops after the city center stops, Susukino (すすきの) or 4 Chome (4丁目). When you want to get off, press the bell and move to the front. Next to the driver is the ticket machine. If you are paying by cash drop the exact coins into the funnel above the conveyor belt. If you need change there is a change machine for coins or notes in front of the ticket machine. Try to change your money while the streetcar is moving to avoid holding people up. If you have a Sapica card, just touch it to the blue Sapica plate.
Aside from the regular streetcar there are two other types you should look out for. The first is the “new” streetcar. The A1200 was introduced in 2013 and has three compartments connected by an articulated section. This can be a little crowded as the novelty still hasn’t worn off and many people wait for it.
The second type is the “party” streetcar. You can rent a streetcar for 15,740 yen a lap. It is an hour a lap and most people rent them for two hours. You bring your own food and drink and “party” through the city. Quite often you will see groups of office workers riding around drinking beer and eating. Don’t worry about boarding this streetcar by mistake as it is easily visible, thanks to its illumination. It looks like a lot of fun but I have always wondered what they do when they need to use the “facilities”.
The streetcar is a convenient way of travelling a few stops and is also an often overlooked medium of sight-seeing around the city. If you get a chance to visit Sapporo, I hope you can find the time to have an enjoyable ride. You won’t regret it.