If you have visited Sapporo for any length of time you will certainly have seen Mt. Moiwa, and you may even have taken the cable car to its top. It is a beautiful destination where couples enjoy the sunset or groups of tourists take a thousand photos of the view. But that is not how you “do” a mountain. You climb it. Properly. With good shoes. And with sweat in your eyes. It’s the journey, not the destination.
Mt. Moiwa is 531m high. The trail is 2.9km and will take you anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on how many toddlers you are carrying.
If you are driving there is a smallish parking lot at the trail head. If you are not, then take the streetcar to South 14 West 15, two stops before the Ropeway station (2 stops after if you are going the other way.) Cross over and head up the main road between the 7-11 and Sapporo Drug Store. You have three choices for places to stock up on essential onigiri (rice balls) and Aquarius for the climb. You have the 7-11 just after the streetcar stop, a Max Value supermarket a little further along the streetcar road and a Seicomart a little before the trail head. Follow the road past a park. Turn left at the lights and walk up. It will get steep. Keep going. Cross over at the top, head past the temple and when there’s no more tarmac then you’ve reached the trail head.
At the foot of the trail you are already away from the noises of the city but, once you take that first step under the trees, you are in a different world. And that is one of the things I love about Sapporo. Twenty minutes in one direction and you’re at the heart of the metropolis. Twenty minutes in the other and you could be in a different land.
The path starts out very gently and there are no really tough sections. You will pass, and be passed by, countless elderly people with walking canes and people like me carrying toddlers. You will find that absolutely everybody is friendly. Be ready with a “konnichiwa”.
You will also find some people running up and down. The route can be an excellent addition to any training program but today we’re going to take it easy.
Getting to the top is not as important as getting to the top. Stop and look at that tree, knocked down by the heavy snow in a winter long passed. Or look at the beetles wandering across the track. Stare down into the valley for a while. Listen to the birds. The insects. Try to hear the far distant city sounds. Just take it all in and be one with the mountain. Because that’s why we climb any mountain. It’s not to be at the top looking down, but to be at the start looking up.
Every hundred meters or so you will find a group of Buddhist statues. These are called ogizo san They are marked with a number to tell you how far up the mountain you have left to go. Don’t worry about that, though. Take a moment at each one and think of one thing in your life that you are grateful for.
Approximately a third of the way up you’ll come to the ruins of an old ski lift. The cables have long since gone but the base is still there. And a good a place as any for that first snack stop. I hope you spoiled yourself and loaded up on goodies. At the back of the clearing, if you strain a little, you can get a first glimpse of the city you’re leaving behind: sprawling, as it does.
At slightly over 1.5 kms, you will come to a junction. There are two benches and here’s pit stop number two. Make sure you take the path to the left, as you are looking up, and not to the right. From here on the path is a little steeper, but nothing unmanageable.
This part of the trail is going to get a little rocky. I hope you didn’t ignore my advice about good shoes. You’ll be fine in most weather but, if it’s rained in the last few days, things may be a little slippery. The path switchbacks a lot here. You’ll find yourself going one way, then the other, then back again. And you’ll also get a peek at the top of the mountain from here. Not long to go now.
Push up the path, say farewell to the last cluster of statues, and break out of the trees into the parking lot.
Head into the building and climb three flights of stairs to the top. (There is an elevator – but who climbs a mountain to use an elevator for the last 10m?). Then sit in the sun, eating a 7-11 donut and feeling…yes, feeling a little superior to all the people that haven’t walked. And you should. You’ve earned it. And when they call that the cable car’s leaving, throw on your rucksack and head back for the path.