Photo:Mugu-shisai on Wikimedia

Tanukikoji: Sapporo’s Oldest Shopping Arcade

Sapporo is rife with shopping opportunities–it’s a congested congregation of department stores, littered with entire floors dedicated to boutique designer shopping, impeccably-stocked food markets and a near-overwhelming barrage of eateries. Between Sapporo Station, Odori and Susukino, you’re never in short supply of places to frivolously chuck your money at things–in fact, you could dedicate almost an entire holiday to shopping in Sapporo, and then another one afterwards to help rid yourself of the self-loathing that comes with your frivolity. It’s a veritable shopper’s paradise, making it a great place for tourists to buy goods to bring home. If your stay is limited in Sapporo, and you’d rather shop at second-hand shops than Gucci stores, or eat at innumerable archaic bars as opposed to up-market restaurants, then Tanukikoji may well be your preferred shopping experience in the City of Ramen.

Tanukikoji–Sapporo’s oldest shopping arcade–is a roofed souvenir paradise that boasts a kilometre-long stretch with two hundred shops and seven streets worth of tourist-friendly shopping. There you’ll find an excess of affordable and varied places to eat and stay, a number of second hand-stores and vintage clothing shops (like 2nd Street second hand store), and for the younger generation more intent on using their money to win and not to buy: the bright lights and blaring music of Japanese arcades. It’s all squeezed between Odori and Susukino on the Namboku Subway line, meaning Tanukikoji is easily accessible by both train and tram. But if you’ve already been dragged to Sapporo Station and fancy some reprieve, it’s an enjoyable 15 minute walk with views of Odori Park and a more intimate look at the city.

As you’d expect, the usual Japanese fare can be found in Tanukikoji, with drug stores and conbinis in attendance, but they’re mostly there for, well, convenience. Are you working up a thirst or hunger wandering around the wealth of shops here? Around 3-Chome (Chome is the Japanese word for city district), get a drink or rice ball from the 7-Eleven. Are your feet hurting for the very same reason? Or head to Matsumoto Kiyoshi, Japan’s best-known drugstore for some in-soles or a vitamin boost. Of course, the ideal remedy for either of those problems would be to find a restaurant that catches your eye (of which there will be many), and sit down with some top-notch grub and hopefully equally good company.

If you’d prefer to treat your thirst and foot-ache with something a little stronger, then head to 7-Chome where there are nostalgia-themed bars in abundance, with a purposely anachronistic vibe that feels far removed from Tanukikoji’s other six streets. Take a step back into a bygone version of Japan and a relic of Tanukikoji’s past, then head for an izakaya and enjoy a pint of Sapporo (or a melon soda if you’re under 20!). If you don’t quite fancy the often-too-lively feel of Susukino, Tanukikoji is an ideal place to bear witness to Japan after dark. It’s almost entirely different when the sun sets; drinks start flowing, people let loose, and the almost unanimously reserved nature of the Japanese is thrown out the window. It’s as if the city changes with the neon lights–a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation provoked by the onslaught of incandescence throughout the vibrant city streets.

Nearly buried amongst the assault of izakayas in 7-Chome is arguably my favourite of all of Tanukikoji’s shops: Fresh Air, a used record store with an apparent Rick Wakeman obsession–or if they’re all second hand, does that indicate the opposite? Either way, they have a varied collection of records on sale, spanning almost all genres (including prog) and countries with a considerable international presence. Some of them are in excellent condition, some not so much, but I’m sure any lover of music will find a few gems to add to their vinyl collection. If you don’t already have a collection, this might be a good place to begin your (almost certainly) new obsession. Spend more time than you have flicking through boxes upon boxes of Yes records, annoy your traveling companion with your indecision about which record to buy, or just spend all the money you saved by not buying those over-priced shoes in Daimaru on the music that you love listening to.

Tanukikoji also houses its very own microcosm, (the wonderful emporium of everything) Don Quijote. There’s good reason for Don Quijote’s ubiquity throughout Japan–its unbridled surplus of household goods, reasonably priced tech, tax-free groceries and almost everything else you could wish to purchase (or stare at in befuddled confoundment) means that you’re treated to a shopping experience like no other. In how many shops can you find dog food next to women’s underwear? Not many, and whilst there may be a good reason for that, it helps you enjoy Don Quijote for what it is: a multi-storied enigma crammed full of everything and anything. It’s the essence of Tanukikoji boiled down into a single shop.

Some may choose to steer clear of Tanukikoji’s apparent tourist pandering, with its abundance of shops selling Hokkaido-based tat and occasionally over-priced confectionary (I’m looking at you, Kit Kat!), but to do so would mean missing out on a shopping experience that’s steeped in history. The arcade itself dates back to the frontier period, having been developed almost 150 years ago, with some of the shops that stand there today having seen a considerable chunk of those years. It’s the typical Japanese allegory of old and new coexisting, and it makes for an eclectic and lively atmosphere with surprises in droves. No aspect of shopping is off-limits in Tanukikoji, and with each wander down its oft-busy streets you’ll find something new to be perplexed or perhaps thoroughly allured by.

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