Hiking Mt. Moiwa (藻岩山) in Sapporo

Wow, Japan. There’s a pretty long list of things I like about Japan, but if I had to sum it up, I’d say the combination of detail-oriented structuredness and creative outlandishness makes it one of the most unique and fascinating places in the world.

Similar to Hawaii, Japan consists of a string of islands (much bigger ones). Just last week I was in Sapporo, which is the capital of the northern most island, Hokkaido. Hokkaido is well known for many things, including it’s ramen, dairy products (i.e. cheesecake), and hot springs. Hokkaido is also quite mountainous. Now, I’ve recently established a growing association that Mountains = Hiking + Climbing, so naturally the question emerged: Where and How?

Streetview of Mt. Moiwa (Japanese: Moiwa-yama)

The answer was Mt. Moiwa and By a Short Tram Ride and a 20-minute Walk to the Trailhead. I’m going to try and include some of the details and logistics in this post, because as scientists we know that the ability to successfully replicate is pretty darn important.

To replicate this hike, I’m assuming that you might be staying somewhere in the Sapporo city center area. There’s a tram that gets you relatively close to the trailhead (not super close, as it’s still a 20 minute walk to trailhead). Here’s the GPS coordinate for the trailhead: 43.036617, 141.322055. You can type (or copy) these coordinates into Google Maps to get directions via public transit, etc.

Tram ride to the trailhead

Tip For the Savvy:
If you have an iPhone (or equivalent), you can get directions on Google Maps when you have internet (like at the hotel). Then when you’re on the streets you can see where you are on the map through GPS even if you don’t have internet (this works because the map area that you pulled up earlier will still be in the cache). This is helpful as it lets you know if you’re on-course or took a wrong turn, etc.

At any rate, that’s how I got the directions to the trailhead. The tram started in town at “Nishi 4 Chome” and I got off at “Nishisen 14 Jo”. To my un-Japanized ears these names could totally pass for anime space stations. You’re welcome to let your imagination take flight (little know fact: if you look up “Japan” in the thesaurus one of the synonyms is “Hottie-City”), just don’t forget to get off at the right stop.

Prominent statue at the temple by the trailhead

The trailhead is located towards the back of a Japanese temple with a small garden and statues. There will be a parking area. The trailhead has a nice map, and there’s also restrooms, a washing station and a drinking fountain. This trail is very well maintained, like pretty much everything else in Japan. As you can see from the trail map, it’s possible to hike to the summit and then to keep going down the front side of the mountain, which will lead you to finish on the other side of the mountain (south, but on the map its the left side). I chose to go up and down via the same route to keep things simple since I had a timeline to keep. If I do this again, I’d opt to come down via the southern route as this should make the sights more interesting and also entail more views of the city skyline I think.

Children God with Red Bibs

The view from the route I took was beautiful nonetheless. Lush green and with many almost indian-like statues, which my Japanese friend informed me are “Children Gods” with red “bibs” (see picture above). I’ve never seen Gods with Bibs before, but this is an excellent touch in my opinion (experience will tell that I actually acquired several stains from ramen myself). Never miss a detail eh, Japan?

Map at the trailhead. The trail I took was on the right (north)

In the world of hiking metaphors, I would say Mt. Moiwa is kind of a mixture of Manoa Falls and Kokohead Stairs. It’s definitely got more cardiovascularity than Manoa Falls, with the summit section climbing pretty consistently. It basically took me an hour to get up and an hour to come down, but I didn’t take any breaks and was also operating in Fast mode, so two hours each way might be a more reasonable estimate. The one way distance is 2 miles, and elevation gain is 1,570 feet.

Definitely save your breath though, because hiking in Japan is an excellent way to practice your “Konnichiwa”. All the hikers I passed were very polite and greeted me such, so I followed suite. It made me feel 3.6% more Japanese.

The summit arrives in good time and is replenish with many vending machines. Theres’s a picnic area with a view towards the mountainside and a building structure with two stories. On the roof is a slightly posh 360° lookout area. There’s also a cafe serving food and drinks in the building. The entrance to the “ropeway” is inside the building. The “ropeway” is basically a cable car that goes up and down the townside face of Mt. Moiwa. Thus, you could actually hike one way and then take the ropeway the other way (a good option to consider at age 83, or if you’re Laredo age 110). I’ll leave the summit music as a surprise for you to discover. My musical taste says it’s the perfect soundtrack to a Japonais summit experience.

Picnic area with mountain view


For all you lovers, if the relationship wasn’t super tight pre-hike, you’ll be glad to know that there’s an option to really lock it down on the summit. Apparently there’s some metal poles where you can write your names on a lock and then ceremoniously lock it to the pole for the world and the hiking gods (Chase Norton?) to witness. Now it’s worth noting that many of the locks appear to be gold, so my guess is that the age-tested correlation of metallurgical rareness to romantic success appears to hold. Thus to ensure success, you’ll want to pickup a lock that’s at least 24k gold or platinum. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sweeping view of Sapporo from summit (more crowded and hazy than I realized)

Anyways, I gotta get back to studying for my comps exam. but hopefully this hike is replicable for you (feel free to leave any questions below). Sapporo is a terrific city and although further away from the more central attractions of Tokyo and Kyoto, can be quite a bit cooler in the summertime (expect snow in the winter). Definitely hit the hot springs (the one near Naebo Station is right in town), slurp that ramen, chase the cheesecake, and cool your thirst with hiking-god-approved Calpis (say it with a British accent, yes it tastes like the real thing) or even the Suntori Highball (7%) in a (high) can. I would suggest allotting a whole day to Mt. Moiwa. Save the ropeway for granny and do your self a favor: take a hike.

First junction. Take a left here for summit.

Second junction. Go straight for summit.

Very well maintained trail with steps throughout

Summit beverage choices

Tram ride back home. The guy in the picture looked like he was on the verge. I hope he’s ok.


God’s view of The Route

About Ahnate

I grew up in Thailand and climbed water towers for fun. My right leg is slightly shorter than the left. I'm an activist (sometimes inactivist) and enjoy discussing participatory visions for a future society. While hiking!


  1. Holy cow imagine if they had those vending machines at the top of Koko Crater! LOL. Great first post, Ahnate! I can’t wait to visit Japan one of these days.

  2. Loved hiking in Japan!
    Although I’ve never been to Sapporo, I do remember how they put vending machines at the top and tram rides for those who didn’t want to hike up. Brings back some memories (like Mount Takao and Nokogiriyama).
    Thanks for sharing this. It made me nostalgic. (:

    • Great blog there, Punynari (http://punynari.wordpress.com). My first choice was actually Mt. Yoteizan, with an elevation of 6,227ft and a volcanic crater at the summit. It’s a 3hr ride from Sapporo and logistics didn’t allow. Mt. Fuji is a popular choice too, hope to try it one day. Hiking abroad is fun, it’s double the adventure!

  3. Thanks for the very detailed and precise information on the Mt. Moiwa hike. I did it today (June 8, 2016) exactly as you described. The Buddha at the start is an excellent reference point! It took me an hour to go up (sweaty!) and a bit less to go down (in the rain). The view was not so spectacular (hazy and rainy) but the hike was still worthwile: very nice and quiet forest, with lots of shrines along the way.

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