Spotlight Look: Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan

Moerenuma Park may be the best park in Sapporo -- and it's free! Perfect for a romantic date, family outings, architectural analysis, or even a relaxing solo walk, Moerenuma Park has something for everyone. You're not going to stumble across Moerenuma Park, but it's worth the quick trip northeast to visit for a few hours. Find everything you need to know below in our Spotlight Look on Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan.

Note: information is accurate as of June 2018.

In this post:

  1. Intro

  2. Need to Know

  3. History

  4. Facilities highlights

1. Intro

Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest and capital city, has many beautiful parks and green spaces. Odori Park is in the center of the city and is probably its most famous, but the green areas along the Toyohira River are also abundant and directly accessible from downtown. You can venture into the mountains, check out the University botanical gardens, or as we recommend, head northeast to Moerenuma Park.

Moerenuma Park is large, so you can spend hours here if you want to walk around. There is ample parking and paths for walking or biking, plus tennis courts, a track and baseball area, plus a small beach and fountains for kids to play in the water. Mostly, it's a beautiful architectural feat designed by Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Its grounds are well-maintained and you can find bathrooms and drinks all over the place.

2. Need to know

  • Moerenuma Park fee is FREE, as is parking. There are ample free bathrooms.
  • Park is open 7 days a week from 7am-10pm (last entry at 9pm)
  • The fountain show is open late April-mid October and happens 2-3 times a day (see additional info below).
  • The glass pyramid which is lovely and houses the small museum may be closed on Mondays -- check the hours on the Moerenuma Park English website.
  • You can spend money on bicycle rental, storage lockers, vending machine drinks, and restaurant or café food.
Ok, so we visited in the summer which is not when most people visit Sapporo! The park is guaranteed to be a different experience in the snow. I imagine it's equally stunning, and their website indicates that it's fun year-round.

3. History 

Moerenuma Park was initially envisioned as a dumpster-pile-turned-green space. It's an incredible concept and something that everyone should do -- the Japanese are way ahead of everyone, having come up with the concept for this park in the late 1970s. Basically, take non-combustible waste (think non-recyclable plastics, metals, glass, and other items that aren't going to degrade and explode) and build a normal landfill... except with the expectation that you will cover it and convert it into a giant park. Genius.

Isamu Noguchi, the prolific Japanese American sculptor, was brought in to design the park in 1988. He designed the master plan for the park just one month before he died, making Moerenuma Park his final project. He designed the park to be a complete work of art, a fusion of park and sculpture, and the Japanese government saw to it to complete the park to his specifications. Work began immediately, and after 16 years of construction, Moerenuma Park had its grand opening in 2005.

Theater area doubles as a bathroom

Noguchi himself created some incredible works globally, drawing inspiration from different cultures and media. His knowledge of Japanese landscape design and Zen concepts are evident in Moerenuma Park, possibly due to the fact that he was designing it for the Japanese audience. I'm no art historian nor am I an architect, but the clean lines, delicate sloping hills, use of varying grasses, and soothing water features seem incredibly Zen-inspired to me.

I will definitely be hitting up the Noguchi Museum next time I'm in New York, the UNESCO Japanese garden in Paris, and other notable works around the world.

4. Facility Highlights

The massive Sea Fountain is a pretty big highlight, and is open half the year (when it's warm). There are shows 2/3 times a day that include music, and on a sunny day, lots of angles for rainbows!

Check the park website for fountain show hours. As of June 2018:

Personally, I found the Aqua Plaza canal to be much more fascinating. It's incredibly hard to photograph, but the fountain is fairly relaxed (in opposition to the massive geyser explosion of the Sea Fountain). The stunning part is the water flowing into the canal, with its sloping stones that create beautiful patterns and waves in the shallow water. I could stare at it all day, watching the gentle ripples and turns as the water flows through the 150m canal.

If it's warm and you're into more aquatic fun, head to Moere Beach and splash around. When we visited, we watched a golden eagle walking around in the water, cooling off.

The entire park can be well viewed from Mount Moere, down which you can apparently ski or sled in the winter time. Its the largest hill in this part of Sapporo, and provides a lovely view of the city to the South with mountains behind it. It's also a great place to start in the park, since you can see all of the attractions and make a game plan for where to go next.

If you're with kids (or dogs) you can also climb up Play Mountain, which is a giant pyramid with big stone steps on one side. It's pretty cool, but I think it's more interesting to view it than it is to climb it.

The Glass Pyramid is a must-visit. It's architecturally interesting, plus it's a relaxing place to sit and take in the park while indoors. It's also literally air-conditioned using snow that's stored from winter. Remarkable! It contains a café and restaurant, vending machines, toilets, lockers, plus the museum. The museum is small but will teach you about the history of the park, and show off a couple of Noguchi's sculptures. Be warned that it's closed some Mondays - check the website for more details.

Even the many playgrounds are architecturally interesting. They're dotted around the North part of the park.

I'm not touching on many other important aspects of this park, like the recreational facilities, the sculptures, and the landscape design. Wherever you are, the views are intentional, like a Frank Lloyd Wright home. A few massive sculptures impact the views, plus subtle details in plant variation create striking lines. You really need to see it to believe it!

Isamu Noguchi's design for Moerenuma Park is beautiful, and the ideas to reuse a landfill, air condition with snow, and somehow make a playground seem artistic are all respectable and intriguing choices. The blending of typical family park with sophisticated architecture, landscape design, and sculpture is something to behold. I highly recommend a trip to Moerenuma Park if you visit Sapporo, Japan.


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