A hike, a shrine, and the red-light district

On the Alltrails hiking website, I found a few hikes around Sapporo. Since I’d started late, I chose one of the shorter ones that would give me views of the city and whose start could easily be reached. A reviewer of the walk commented that they wished they’d done the walk in reverse because there were some things at the beginning that interested them. I followed their advice.

The walk to the top of Maruyama was less than an hour and was steeper than I imagined. I was rewarded with clear panoramic views of Sapporo.

There was a bit of added danger on the walk: bears. Hikers were warned that bears had been spotted in the area. It’s a general hazard on the island. You’re urged to make noise as you walk (e.g., talking to someone). I saw a pair of seasoned hikers with small bells attached to their rucksacks, which rang as they walked. I didn’t have a bell. When no one was around, I played a podcast aloud on my phone.

If you escaped the bears, you had to watch out for crows. There was a sign warning you to look out for crows “attacking your head”!

I had noticed the previous day when I walked along Odori Park how large and noisy the crows were. It explained why one of the two seasoned hikers was throwing small stones at a crow that was watching them rather too keenly.

On finishing, I saw why the reviewer on Alltrails advised reversing the direction of the walk. At the bottom is the Hokkaido Jingu Shinto Shrine, established in 1869. It is the home of the guardian deities of Hokkaido. These consist of Emperor Meiji (responsible for the protection and well-being of the people of Hokkaido) and the three divine spirits responsible for: the land of Hokkaido, the development of the land, and medicine.

In the early days, when Japan colonised Hokkaido, the roads were in a bad state. Despite this, Yoshitake Shima, who helped found Sapporo and the shrine, allocated land then persevered in transporting the necessary objects of Shinto worship to Sapporo. There is a statue commemorating him.

Nearby, in the park at the end of the walk, there’s a small cafe and a bakery. I had a freshly made hot hangan sama cake (“smashed sweet bean paste wrapped by a soft rice cake with buckwheat flour”). This was a rare instance of a Japanese dessert/cake/sweet not tasting bland to me. I had only one but was tempted to get another.

Outside the bakery is a small hut-like structure for the toilets. I was pleasantly surprised that it had a modern Japanese toilet. Japanese toilets are famous for having heated seats and an accompanying electronic panel to control the toilet’s various functions. For example, you can press various buttons to shoot warm water at the right places to ensure you emerge squeaky clean. Some of the buttons have self-explanatory icons on them but for the others you need to read Japanese (or use Google Translate).

On the way back to the hostel, I went to Susukino. My Sapporo Guide Map said, “if you’ve come to Sapporo, you can’t miss this! Check out the entertainment district”. What it didn’t mention was that some of the entertainment was “men’s bars” and the red-light district. It was, however, not seedy; and there were shops and restaurants that co-existed with the entertainment.

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