A ten-minute walk southwest of Sapporo Station is the compact and pretty Botanical Gardens (植物園), Kita 3, Nishi 8. Immediately to the right as you enter is the small but interesting Ainu Museum, known as the “Batchelor Kinenkan” in memory of the Reverend John Batchelor, a British priest and author of The Ainu of Japan, considered to be the definitive work on Hokkaidō’s indigenous people. The museum has a collection of around 2500 Ainu artefacts (though only a fraction is displayed at any time), ranging from clothes made of bird skins from the Kuril islands to a sacred altar for performing the ritual slaughter of a bear cub – there are English-language captions. Following the red-gravel pathway around to the right of the museum leads you to Miyabe Hall, with intriguing displays of letters and journals belonging to Professor Miyabe Kingo, the first director of Hokkaidō University, who established the gardens in 1886. Miyabe’s descriptions of his travels abroad, written in English and illustrated with photographs, make fascinating reading.
The gardens themselves are very attractive, with a long pond, a greenhouse, a rockery, shaded forest walks and neat flower gardens, including a collection which shows the plants and flowers used by the Ainu in their daily lives. In the centre of it all stands the Natural History Museum, housed in a pale green wooden building dating from 1882. Inside you’ll find a staggering collection of bizarre stuffed animals, such as snarling wolves and huge sea lions, as well as other curiosities including a dog sled from Sakhalin.