Hokkaido Part II: Climbing Mt. Asahidake and Exploring Parks in Sapporo

Sometime ago I posted about my part 1 of traveling in Hokkaido story. I am going to continue with the second part now. Without further ado I will start with day four.

I woke up early and checked out after a hearty breakfast at the business hotel to catch the earliest bus to Mt. Asahidake. The bus can be found in the bus terminal right in front of Asahikawa train station.While waiting for the bus to arrive at the terminal I spent my time exploring the park behind the station. It was pretty broad and seems like the perfect place to stroll about in late afternoon just to kick back and relax.

Now the place I was going to, within Daisetsuzan national park border, is the last stop of the bus and there lies a ropeway station that would take visitors to the climbing base. The ropeway ticket is quite costly, but it is the only way to reach Mt. Asahidake. Now I have been in many hikes with friends before but as this was the first time for me hiking solo I was a bit jittery and pumped up at the same time. The staff at the ropeway station told me that it would take around 2,5 hours to reach the very peak of Asahidake. That was not a big deal, I thought, as I had climbed other mountains that took more hours to climb.

It was a bit cloudy as I forayed into the wild, pristine base of Asahidake. The place is chock full with sightseeing spots. I noticed a lot of circular trails that take you into observation decks where you could see ponds, calderas and even sulfur-spitting vents. It is said that through the seasons you will see different views. I skipped all those to see later after the climbing except Sugatami Pond which you would stumble anyways if you plan to climb.

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Sugatami Pond. Look at the sulfur vents at the background.

The ascent was rough in the beginning due to the abundance of slippery small rocks. They are literally everywhere. I saw some hikers lost their balance when stepping on them, so I kept wary stance at all time. One hour into the hike the path became smoother as the small rocks are replaced by big craggy stones jutting out from the ground. Near the top the trail turned less steep and I could slow down and enjoy the sights, yet the sweeping clouds made everything impossible to see.

After 1,5 hours of climbing I reached the peak, beating the standard time required to climb. Out of breath yet satisfied, lunch was the only thing on my mind. Minding my own business I sat down on a big rock and munched my sandwich almost immediately. I was halfway through eating when suddenly out of nowhere a swarm of dragonflies gathered at the peak area. Everyone was in astonishment seeing dragonflies in such altitude. It was awesome. They flew gracefully yet perched flimsily upon any surface they could find.

I spent like 30 minutes resting at the top while watching the dragonflies before deciding to descend, which was considerably faster as I tried to challenge myself by running non-stop to the bottom. There were few times when I slipped and almost fell down but in the end I managed to get to Sugatami Pond in under 1 hour. Big accomplishment!

This time I had buffer time to kill before going down via ropeway so I explored all the sights at the base that I missed before. There are numerous ponds with interesting names like ‘husband and wife ponds’. I was intrigued to capture them in their majestic sight, but sadly the cloudy weather did not allow me to get the best shot.

I caught the last ropeway down to the terminal near Asahidake Onsen, then took the bus back to Asahikawa. From there, ignoring my fatigue I rode the train to Sapporo. It was already nightfall in Sapporo by the time I reached the city. I promptly got a decent meal for dinner then heading straight to my guest house nearby Hosuisusukino subway station. One of the guy at the guest house (not sure if he was the owner or just a friend of the owner) was very nice to me and he recommended to me a park which I should visit the next day. My leg muscles were tense due to the hike so an early bed was all I wanted.

Day five began with me waking at 7AM to get the free breakfast, then heading to Sapporo station where supposedly I could rent a bicycle there. The rent was slightly cheaper compared to other rental places I have visited, though the bicycle was not exactly the best. Fair enough, I said to myself, I  would just use the bicycle for a leisure stroll this time anyway.

That was where I got wrong. The park I was told to go, Makomanai Park (真駒内公園), is located miles away from the city center. It was quite a trying journey, but the sight I saw along the way was more than worth the pain. It turned out the bicycle path towards the park goes along a river at the south-east part of Sapporo. It was beautiful. I love how the path is built for runners and bicyclers alike, as it is wide and filled with shades, resting stops and even some simple exercising spots.

I discovered the park itself was not impressive. Makomanai Park is just a normal park, albeit nice and peaceful. It was the trip took to go there that counted as a good experience to me.

Nearing noon I went back to the city center for a quick lunch, then I darted out again to go to Botanical Garden located in front of former Hokkaido Government Office. On the way I stopped by Odori Park, arguably the most famous park in Sapporo where various events are held throughout the year there, just to complete my sightseeing in the city. The popular Sapporo Snow Festival is held there as well — I might come again to visit just for that!

The Botanical Garden itself belongs to Hokkaido University and overall was quite a good place to visit if you have spare time during your stay. Even though it is located in downtown, it felt very spacious due to hundreds of trees towering high, making you forget you are actually in a city. The garden also has a small museum dedicated to the Ainu people.

After the Botanical Garden, the next place to visit was another park — Moerenuma Park. Now you see why the title is ‘Exploring Parks in Sapporo’. I really devoted my time staying there just to go far and wide for the parks. In particular, I was interested with Moerenuma Park because of its uniqueness. Apart from being huge, this park was designed by Isamu Noguchi, a world-renowned landscape architect just shortly before his death in 1988. That alone is enough to attract me. I even met a girl who said she came to Sapporo just to visit Moerenuma.

To reach the park, you would have to take a bus. From Kanjodori-higashi subway station there is a bus terminal where you can ride the bus to Moerenuma Park. After 30 minutes I arrived in the park. Seeing the park map from the internet when I was doing my research was already intriguing, but when I actually saw the park with my own eyes, I was amazed. The park has plenty dramatic features to keep you entertained and huge tract of lands with greenery everywhere. It was such one-of-a-kind public space. I had to admit I could not possibly visit all the interesting spots in the park.

In the end I decided to climb Play Mountain, the highest point at the park where I could gaze into the night view of Hokkaido over yonder. Of course, the night view from the summit of Mt. Moiwa is supposed to be the deal-sealer for all romantic people, a reason to visit Sapporo. However in my opinion being alone at the top of the artificial ‘mountain’ was something you do not get very often. The solitude, the howling wind, the chill you get when you look afar; the only thing that stopped me from staying there for too long were the vicious mosquitoes.

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Sapporo as viewed from the top of Mt. Moere.

Getting off at the terminal on the way home, I returned my bicycle to the rental and proceeded to grab some grub for dinner. If you like night life then Susukino would be just the right place for you. It is the biggest entertainment district north of Tokyo where you could find bars, karaoke lounges, restaurants and clubs. It also houses various shops serving the notable Sapporo ramen, which I regrettably missed to taste.

The last day of my trip began with the visit to the last parks in my list: Hitsujigaoka Observation HIll. This is where the statue of Dr. William Smith Clark, celebrated for his illustrious words ‘boys be ambitious’, lies at the top of the hill. To visit the park you can take a bus from Fukuzumi subway station. Nearby the station you will find Sapporo Dome, a side attraction worth a visit.

In Hitsujigaoka I treated myself to various of Hokkaido indulgences, such as Shiroi-koibito soft ice cream and Jingisukan aka ‘Genghis Khan’, a Japanese grill mutton dish. It was the last day and I had plenty of time to kill before I needed to make my move towards Tomakomai for ferry, so I just walked around and warmed my feet at local ashiyu (foot onsen).

Before 5PM I found myself riding the train to Tomakomai, from which the ferry to Sendai departs. Initially I wanted to go around Tomakomai, but as I was hard-pressed to board the ferry as soon as possible, I scrapped the idea of doing so. Plus, the city is not exactly a tourist place. A quick Google search shows the sightseeing spots are in the vicinity of the city, not inside the city itself.

I arrived at the ferry terminal 30 minutes before departure. Originally I had booked the cheapest bed possible (share cabin) to save the budget, but after some consideration I upgraded to bunk-bed berth for privacy and safety reasons. If you are traveling in group share cabin is a good choice to scrimp as you have each other to watch over your belongings, but if you are traveling alone you have to take precaution above all else.

With the departure of the ferry at 7PM, I said my goodbye to Hokkaido. It had been a hell of a ride as I got to see Hokkaido in its glorious beauty in summer. From Hakodate to Sapporo, I could not pick which city to be my favorite. Each has its own distinct flavor and sights to behold.

Before the ferry’s arrival to Sendai at 10 in the morning the next day, I explored the ship and found the ship is not lacking of entertainment. From hot bath, karaoke, cinema, game parlor to a small classical music performance, the ferry has it all. The food is served in buffet style, although you would have to pay quite handsome price of ¥2000 for dinner and slightly less for breakfast, which I would have tried were I not traveling in tight budget.

When I reached Sendai the next day, I was super exhausted as all the ‘adventures’ that I did in Hokkaido started to take its toll. Even so I was craving for more. I did not have the chance to visit the remote part of Hokkaido such as Wakkanai or Abashiri. For now to me those parts of Hokkaido are still shrouded with mysteries. But who knows, maybe one day I get to unveil those mysteries.


More useful information:

Hakodate official travel guide (English)

Asahikawa tourism website (English)

Sapporo official website (English)

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