Nakajima Park, a lush green park, is located right next to Susukino, the busiest downtown area in Sapporo. In a corner of the park, there is a beautiful building called "Hoheikan" with white exterior walls framed in bright blue.
Hoheikan is a Western-style hotel built by the Hokkaido Development Commissioner in 1880 as an accommodation facility for tourists, and is the oldest hotel in Hokkaido as well as the oldest existing wooden hotel in Japan. In 1881, when the entire facility was completed, it was designated as a place for Emperor Meiji's visit to Hokkaido, where he was welcomed as the first guest of the Emperor. The "Ume-no-Ma" is the room where Emperor Meiji stayed, and now exhibits furniture and other furnishings reproduced based on materials from that time. After its grand opening, the Hoheikan was used as a hotel and banquet hall, but it also began to be used for public purposes when the Hokkaido district government was established in 1899 and local self-government was inaugurated. In 1927, at the beginning of the Showa period, a new public hall was added to the north side of the building, and it became even more lively as a center for the cultural activities of the citizens. The building was confiscated by the Army and the Occupation Forces during and after the war, but was returned to Sapporo City in 1947, and renamed Sapporo Kouminkan in 1948 and Sapporo Shimin Kaikan in 1949, and once again became a stage for citizens' activities, supported by the promotion of social education after the war.
Today, the Hoheikan is located on the grounds of Nakajima Park, but it was originally built in a different location. When it was decided that a new civic center would be built on the original construction site, the current building was moved and preserved in 1958 after a debate over whether to demolish or preserve it. It is a matter of course, but it is deeply moving to think that if the building had been demolished at that time, we would not have been able to enjoy this space. In 1964, it was designated as a National Important Cultural Property, and until 2011, it has watched over many important milestones of citizens as a place of historic ceremonies. Until around 1967, it was one of the most prominent wedding halls in the city, hosting more than 1,000 weddings a year. Since then, the building has undergone repairs for preservation, earthquake-resistant construction, and utilization maintenance. The museum showed a video of the actual earthquake resistance repair work, all of which is truly a series of meticulous work. I was filled with respect and gratitude because I have rarely had the opportunity to see such a video showing the repair of a cultural asset building.
The building, which is a crystallization of various technologies, is filled with many highlights, but I was personally most fascinated by the stucco decoration. First of all, there is a circular central ceiling ornament at the base of the chandelier, which is introduced on the official website as one of the highlights of the building. It was made by a technique called "kote-e," in which plaster is heaped on the ceiling to create a three-dimensional shape. Surprisingly, such delicate designs are created by climbing up on what is probably a stepladder and looking up. The different motifs in each room are very impressive. What was also interesting was the decorative part known as the mantelpiece of the fireplace. At first glance, the entire piece appears to be made of marble, but in fact, marble was used only for the top panel. The rest of the piece is made of wood with plaster applied as a base, and then gray plaster called rat plaster was used to give it a marble-like texture. I was able to see up close the materials that had been removed during repairs, and it was very strange to see that the core of the building was solid wood, even though it had a smooth and shiny appearance.
Hoheikan is full of many other attractions. If you need a break during the tour, you can take a breather in the luxurious atmosphere of the "Harunire Coffee Shop" in the same building. A special ticket that includes the admission fee and a drink is also recommended. The city of Sapporo is very lively even in the white snow, with the Snow Festival starting today. If you are coming to Sapporo, why not visit the Hoheikan as well?