(Part II- the suburbs)
The most interesting attractions of Sapporo are located at the periphery of the city, either at its suburbs or the mountains inside its limits. There is public transportation to reach most of them, but one should seriously consider renting a car for his peace of mind and better time management.
In the map below I mark the location of all the attraction sites I visited during my stay in Hokkaido.
Shiroi Koibito Park
Shiroi Koibito Park is a chocolate entertainment park operated by Ishiya, a Japanese confectionery manufacturer. The park opened in 1995 named as "Ishiya Chocolate Factory". But, since the company's flagship product is the Shiroi Koibito cookie (*), the park, after 20 years of operation and continuous renovations and expansions, took its current name.
(*) The Shiroi Koibito cookie consists of two thin butter cookies (langue de chat) and a layer of white chocolate in between. The Shiroi Koibitos are sold only in Hokkaido and thus it is one of the most famous souvenirs from the island.
The park consists of: a) a free area with shops, a cafe and restaurant and b) a paid area with various chocolate-related exhibits and, most interestingly, a few large windows through which visitors can observe the cookie production process in the factory. It is also possible to create your own cookies in hands-on workshops. I only visited the free area.
During the last renovation of the park, cats became the character images of the place. Purimi and Ramuru are the two mascot cats of the park.
The place is made like a European fairytale castle-village with gardens and is addressed mainly to children, but I am sure adults can also enjoy it.
Note: The Park is located near the Sapporo-nishi Interchange of the E5A highway (just before entering the Sapporo-nishi Toll Gate) connecting Sapporo to Otaru. There is a free parking area on the spot, but as it gets full very soon, the park staff gives you directions to other nearby free parking lots.
Mount Moiwa (藻岩山, Moiwa-yama) is the most popular and interesting of the several small, forested mountains southwest of central Sapporo. The view from the 531-meter high Mt. Moiwa is stunning and exceptional, especially after sunset.
Every tourist guide or site about Sapporo will tell you that “The night view seen from the observation deck on the mountain’s summit is so exceptional that it was chosen as one of Hokkaido’s Top Three Night Views together with Mt. Hakodate in Hakodate and Mt. Tengu in Otaru". In 2015, the night view of Sapporo was chosen as one of “Japan’s New Top Three Night Views” along with Nagasaki and Kobe. As a result, the view from Mt. Moiwa has garnered even more attention.
I do not know what all these means, besides that Japanese like to justify everything, but pick a clear day, so you enjoy the views and also to get an idea of the city’s layout. Mount Moiwa must be one of your first attractions you visit in Sapporo, if not of anything else but for orientation purposes.
It is very easy to climb at the top of the mountain on foot: it has five climbing paths (minimum course 2.4 km, longest course 4.5 km). You can even drive up to the top of the mountain, but the easiest and most spectacular way is the use of the Ropeway. The Ropeway climbs from the base of the mountain (Sanroku Station) three quarters up the mountain to a transfer station, Chufuku Station. Here there is a big souvenir store and you can take pictures with two huge mascots of the mountain. Here, there is also a small collection of Ainu artifacts.
Note: Just opposite Sanroku Station there is a big car park, free of charge. This is one of the very few free parking lots in the city, so do not miss the opportunity to park here your rented car (sic).
From Chufuku Station a rather unique mini cable car (Morris Cable Car) travels the rest of the way to the upper station at the summit where there is an observation deck, a planetarium and a theater. Follow the guidance from the staff after exiting the ropeway, and head to the Morris Car platform.
A stunning and expansive landscape greets visitors at the observation deck. You can gaze out onto the city from all directions from the deck. You’ll also be able to see the city lights of Sapporo, home to approximately two million people, and the mountains that extend across the opposite way.
The Bell of Happiness on the summit’s observation deck is a popular photo spot. It is said that couples who ring the bell while gazing out at the view will become happy. Be sure to ring the bell together if you’ll be visiting with your significant other!
If you look closely at the handrails surrounding the Bell of Happiness, you’ll find several padlocks secured onto them. These are called Love Padlocks. It is supposed that when a couple writes their names on the padlock and secures it onto the handrails, that couple will stay together forever. Padlocks are not only popular with couples, but also with families and friends. You can purchase a padlock at the souvenir shop at Chufuku Station. Personally, I believe this is a stupid idea that has taken by storm handrails all over the world, especially bridges! Some times the city authorities have to take down all padlocks becuase their weight puts the structure into risk. Cologne (Germany) bridge over Rhine River is such an example.
Just off the summit station there is a small Buddhist Temple, where a monk will be more than happy to chat with you and stamp a souvenir paper with the temple’s unique seal. Japanese are crazy when it comes to stamping papers with special seals at every place and attraction they visit…oh well!
The summit observation deck is open all year round, but it will heavily snow during the winter in Sapporo. When visiting during the winter, be sure to dress as warmly as you can. The ropeway may also suspend its services during bad weather. Both cable car and the ropeway run every 15min. The roundtrip for ropeway and mini cable car cost 1700 yen for adults and 850 yen for children.
Next to Sanroku Station there is a path that leads to Sapporo Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist stupa; a monument to inspire peace, designed to provide a focus for people of all races and creeds, and to help unite them in their search for world peace. The Sapporo Peace Pagoda was built by Nipponzan-Myōhōji monks in 1959. It was built to commemorate peace after World War II and can be seen from almost anywhere in Sapporo. It contains some of the ashes of the Buddha that were presented to the Emperor of Japan by Prime Minister Nehru in 1954. Later, another part of these were presented to Mikhail Gorbachev by the famous Nipponzan-Myōhōji monk, Junsei Terasawa.
If you are craving for a soft cream then visit the store selling fishing equipment located in an historic building at the foothills of the mountain, some meters west of Sanroku Station. This building was designed by architect Yoshiya Tagami as the home of Professor Mamoru Okuma of Hokkaido Imperial University (now Hokkaido University). It was relocated to its current location in 1998.
You can also enjoy one of the best coffees in the city, some meters further down the road that passes in front of the parking lot, at Miyakoshiya “THE CAFÉ”. It is Miyakoshiya’s most central coffeehouse and the most beautiful of the chain. It is housed in a two-storey modern building, from the windows of which you see only the green foliage of a park. On the upper floor there is a collection of musical instruments. It is the perfect place to relax and have great coffee after your trip up to Mount Moiwa on the ropeway.
The Ōkurayama Ski Jump Stadium
The Ōkurayama Ski Jump Stadium, also known as the Ōkurayama-Schanze is a ski jumping venue located on the eastern slope of Mt. Okura, a small mountain just north of Mount Moiwa. The stadium has hosted a few winter sports events including 1972 Winter Olympics. The complex consists of the Winter Sports Museum, the Ōkurayama Crystal House (souvenir shop and restaurant) and the Mt. Okura Observation Platform, as well as the ski jump.
This is one of those attractions that have no real interest for the tourist, unless you are a winter games buff. There are good views from the Observation Platform, but if you have been on the observation platform of Mount Moiwa, there is no reason to come up here.
There is a free parking lot just below the complex. Leave the car there and take the escalators to the top. The entrance to the museum is free, but the exhibitions are of little interest.
Moerenuma Park is a park that is intended to be the base of the “Circular Greenbelt Concept” that combines the green spaces of the city of Sapporo within a loop. The name "Moerenuma" (Moere marsh) is derived from the word "Moyre pet" in Ainu language, which means "a slowly flowing river". Τhe park used to be a waste treatment plant.
Construction commenced in 1982, and the park had its grand opening in 2005. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi created the basic design based on the concept of “the whole being a single sculpture.” The fountain and hills form many geometric shapes in the expansive grounds, facilities for play and so forth are arranged in an orderly manner, and the landscape can be enjoyed as a fusion of nature and art.
The park has attractions for all seasons. Cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, and the fountain and wading pool facilities are open to make for a refreshing Sapporo summer. Fall brings colorful foliage, and you may enjoy cross-country skiing and sledding across the snow-covered landscape during winter.
The biggest symbol of the park is a glass pyramid near the eastern entrance. The pyramid has the nickname "Hidamari", which means "sunny spot" in Japanese. The pyramid has a natural air conditioning system to cool down inside in summer, using snow stored in a neighboring storage building during winter! From the top deck there is a wonderful view of the park and the surrounding area. The views are equally marvelous from the top of the two hills of the park (Mount Moere & Play Mountain).
Visitors can enter the park and use the parking lot for free.
If you exit the park from the East Parking Lot (P1), after turning to the right on the main road towards central Sapporo do not miss to stop by the wonderful “Cafe Moeru” ran by a beautiful elderly couple. Give them my regards and tell them that I made a special reference of their place into my blog.
The Historical Village of Hokkaido
At the edge of suburban Nopporo Forest park, northeast of the city, there is one of the most interesting and comprehensive open-air museums: The Historical Village of Hokkaido (Hokkaidō Kaitaku no Mura). It opened in 1983 and includes fifty-two historical structures from the "frontier days" of the Meiji period to the Showa period (1868 to 1920s) that have been relocated and reconstructed or recreated.
The buildings are divided into four zones:
❤ town (with thirty-one buildings),
❤ fishing village (four buildings),
❤ farming village (fourteen buildings), and
❤ mountain village (three buildings).
Each building contains displays that illustrate lifestyles, cultures and industries of the people in early Sapporo days.
Parking is free of charge. Entrance costs 800yen, but it is free for senior visitors.
Mori no Charenga is a very pleasant and modern museum introducing the nature, history and culture of Hokkaido.
The museum investigates and researches the relationship between the natural environment and people, the culture of the Ainu people and their way of living, and the lives of immigrants from Honshu island. It also collects and preserves materials that represent a precious treasure of the people of Hokkaido, and conducts exhibitions, educational activities and events.
The museum is located inside the Nopporo Forest Park and it is not a joke that sometimes real Hokkaido bears stroll around in the area, as a notice at the entrance of the museum warned us during our visit!
Hokkaido Centennial Memorial Tower
Half kilometer north of Hokkaido museum, also in Nopporo Forest park, stands the Hokkaido Centennial Memorial Tower. Centennial Memorial Tower was built in 1970 as one part of Hokkaido’s Centennial Project, as an expression of gratitude for the hard work of the people who built the Hokkaido of today and as a symbol of limitless future development.
The tower is 100 meters tall to represent 100 years, and a view room that overlooks the city of Sapporo and Ishikari Plain was built on its 8th floor (23.5 meters up). Quadratic curves that stretch toward the sky and cross at a point at an infinite height symbolize future development. Moreover, on a planar level it is modeled on a hexagon, which expresses a snow crystal.
Unfortunately, for safety reasons, the Hokkaido Centennial Memorial Tower and its environs are currently off-limits…whatever that means!
Sapporo Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill
To the southeastern edge of the city, a statue of Dr. William Smith Clark, famous for the phrase, “Boys be ambitious!” stands atop Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill. The sight is recognized for its panoramic views of downtown Sapporo and pastoral views of grazing sheep.
The Observation Hill was originally a national research center, where sheep were kept. Before the war, it operated as the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce Tsukisappu Sheep Farm and after the war as Hokkaido Agricultural Experiment Station. After the war, however, the number of tourists increased so dramatically that it interfered with research. As a result, the Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill was built in one corner of the research center in 1959. Interestingly, the statue of Dr. Clark has a similar history. There used to be a bust of Dr. Clark on the Hokkaido University campus (and it still stands there), but it too attracted too many tourists, and the current statue at Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill was built as a replacement (a relief from the crowds) in 1976, which marked the centennial of Dr. Clark’s arrival in Hokkaido.
The Observation Hill offers commanding views of downtown Sapporo and on sunny days the view extends as far as Mt. Shokanbetsu in the distance beyond the Ishikari plain. Here, you will also find the Hitsujigaoka Rest House, which serves jingisukan featuring different types of meat, Sapporo Snow Festival Museum, where you can check out mock-ups of ice sculptures, Hitsujigaoka Footbath, where you can enjoy a bit of the onsen experience, Austria House, which sells souvenirs and original soft serve ice cream flavors and a tacky white "church" for wedding ceremonies.
Admission for adults costs ¥530, but parking is free.
Makomanai Takino Cemetery
South of Sapporo, on the way to Lake Shokotsu (leave route 453 on your left into route 341) lies Makomanai Takino Cemetery. Makomanai Takino Cemetery was established in 1982. It is a huge space that serves as a cemetery but is also an interesting sightseeing destination which is well worth a look. It is open all year round. One of the cemetery's charms is how well it achieves harmony with the natural landscape.
There’s a free shuttle service from Makomanai Station, and admission is free. You can also drive on your car around the cemetery.
The intricate gates (the main gates on the west end) of the cemetery open to about 40 Moai (Easter Island) heads. These giant heads are a great photo opportunity and run along the side of the road into the park. Further on down the road is a complete full size of replica of Stonehenge! If you continue down this road, there is the actual cemetery broken up into different areas, which has no interest for the tourist.
To the right of the Easter Island heads is a road that will lead you to a flower area, and the entrance to a strange, but beautiful construction, which houses a giant Buddha statue. This Buddha statue is known as the symbol of Makomanai Takino Cemetery. The recently created (end of 2015) Hill of the Buddha, with the Atama Daibutsu (the Buddha's Head) at the center for worship, was created by world-famous architect Tadao Ando.
"How does a statue become a more solemn, Attractive Figure?"Ando asked himself. His bold answer was to cover the existing statue with a hill of lavender. Surprisingly, today from far one only sees the upper part of the Head of the statue surrounded by the landscape of the hill. The place is filled with verdure in spring, purple lavenders in summer and pure white snow in winter.
The approach to the statue is not straightforward: after walking the first gate, the visitor encounters the Water Garden. This is a sacred boundary. By detouring around the water garden instead of making a straight approach, one purifies the soul, and one's mindset switches from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
After the Water Garden, the visitor enters the Tunnel. The ceiling of the tunnel is done in folds of arched concrete. The dim space is womb-like. Only after passing through the 40m tunnel can one look up to see the 13.5-metre-tall buddha statue. The statue sits under a huge dome, that has an opening at the top. The sunlight coming from the opening creates a blessed moment.
By the south end of the Water Garden there is a café (Rotunda Café & Shop), where one can enjoy simple dishes or refreshments. Nearby there is also a flower shop.
While in the area, follow route 341 for about 1km to the south after exiting the main Gate of the cemetery, to reach a very old grocery (convenience) store. This two-storey wooden building has remained the same for decades and it worth a stop.
Shari-Zan Butsuanji/The Great Nirvana Temple
At the southern suburbs of Sapporo, on the way to Lake Shokotsu (route 453), lies the Shari-Zan Butsuanji or the 'Great Nirvana Temple'. The highlight of the temple is the golden statue of Buddha, which because of its lying position is called the Statue of the Great Nirvana: it represents the position when Buddha died after transmitting his enlightenment entirely to his disciples. In Buddhism, there are two types of Great Nirvana Statues, one is with his eyes' open and the other is with his eyes closed. With the former, it is said that he was delivering his final sermon and with the latter, it is said that he already died. This one has his eyes closed.
The 45m long impressive Nirvana statue is resting in peace on the roof of the Great Nirvana Temple Hall having the background forest look like a soft warm blanket. This huge statue can be admired from a beautiful garden, which is a “pure Land” style of garden. The Pure Land is the world where people with accumulated virtues go after death. Check to see the reflection of the golden statue on the glass façade of the building standing just oppose it. This is the biggest statue of Nirvana in Japan.