When you the see forklifts carrying boxes of fresh produce or seafood waiting at stoplights along with the cars, you'll know you've made it to the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. The market itself, a huge complex where food from all over Hokkaido is prepared for auction before being sold to consumers, is closed to the general public (tours are available with a reservation).
Instead, find your way to the outdoor market nearby, officially called the Sapporo Central Wholesale Jogai Market. Here, fresh produce, seafood and other items are readily available for sampling or purchase. The primary culinary offering is crab — in many varieties. Shop clerks make their pitch on the sidewalk, striking up a conversation with anyone who looks like they might be interested in buying.
On our Friday afternoon visit, the morning crowds had faded, and some shops were nearly empty. After selecting a crab that was roughly the size of a soccer ball to be sent to my wife's family back in Mie, we posed for a photo with an even larger creature at another shop. While the clerk may have been sad to see us go without making a purchase, the crab in our photo was probably relieved.
Other shops offer a variety of souvenirs, from the famous Shiroi Koibito chocolates to locally-made beer. Many have a small space for sitting down to try whatever you've bought.
After we had checked out all of the shops, we sat down for a light meal of crab and salmon sushi at a restaurant on the edge of the market. We sat at the counter, giving us a front-row view of the chef's work and the close look at the freshly-caught stock.
Our entire market experience lasted less than an hour, probably thanks to our timing. An early-morning visit might offer a more lively atmosphere, and after breakfast (try the crab) you'll have the entire day ahead of you.
Depending on the time of year or the weather, the market could make a nice stop on a leisurely bicycle ride around the city. It takes roughly 15 minutes to ride to the market area from near Sapporo station. Otherwise, the market is a quick walk from either JR Soen Station or Nijuyonken Station on the Tozai subway line. While some times may differ, shops are generally open from 5 am to 5 pm.
Whether you're looking to buy a whole crab, taste a bite-sized sample, or simply soak up the atmosphere, this outdoor market makes a great stop for any visitor or resident in Sapporo.