Moerenuma Park in Sapporo is possibly the most incredible and breathtaking park in Japan.
Designed by artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi, the vast park has a circumference of 3.7km (2.3mi), and can be found in northeastern outskirts of Hokkaido's capital city, transforming what was once a waste treatment area into the most striking pseudo-natural landscape I've ever seen.
Moerenuma Park: Sapporo's Incredible Sculptural Playground
by Rob Dyer
Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904, and died in New York City in 1988, aged 84, and Moerenuma Park was the final project he worked on. Construction on Moerenuma Park began the year he died, the park opened in 2005. The park is surrounded on three sides my the Moere River.
In this photographic guide to the park, I'll walk you through the park's main features, from the dramatic glass pyramid, the surreal Tetra Mound, Play Mountain to Noguchi's modern art playground sculptures.
You can walk all the way around it, or you can hire bikes and cycle around it. During the winter you can hire boots, skis and sleds.
Arrival at Moerenuma Park bus stop
Moerenuma Park lies 12km outside the centre of Sapporo city.
Getting here by car or bus takes around 20-30 minutes. We caught a Chuo Bus from the city centre. Chuo Bus numbers 61, 69, 71 and 79 all pass by the park. On the 69 and 79 buses you need to get off at “Moerenuma koen higashiguchi (east entrance)”.
Chuo buses 61 and 71 stop at “Moerenuma koen Nishiguchi (west entrance)”. Just be aware that the west entrance is closed during snowfall. The entrance to the park is a short walk (approximately 10mins) from both stops.
I recommend renting bikes to get around the park. The service is available between 29th April and 3rd November for a small rental fee. Options include adult and child bikes as well as ones with a baby seat.
Use them to cover the big expanses between the major features. Then park up and explore each of the attractions on foot.
Sapporo City's Porocle electric bikes can also be ridden inside the park, but there are no Porocle bays here so you can't leave them, you'll need to take them with you.
View of the main park events space building
Built onto once side of the park's iconic Hidamari glass pyramid structure is a multi-purpose events building and includes a gallery highlighting Isamu Noguchi work and career. It also functions as a community center with spaces to serve local cultural activities, restaurants, and shops (including a gift shop).
The glass pyramid 'Hidamari'
Perhaps the park's best-known feature, Hidamari, the glass pyramid, is the symbol of Moerenuma Park and it is located in the centre of the park.
Opening times and the avaiability of facilities inside the pyramid and neighbouring building vary throughout the year. So it's advisable to always plan your visit in advance and check what will be open and available when you come.
Entering the glass pyramid
Entrance to the park is free, as is use of the parking bays. The glass pyramid opens at 9am each day and closes between 5pm (November through to April) and 8pm during June and August. It is closed on the first Monday of each month.
Inside the glass pyramid - looking up
Inside the glass and metal Hidamari structure is a multi-storey atrium that offers extensive views over the park landscape. There's also a gallery that introduces Isamu Noguchi with a selection of images and books abouyt his work and career.
On the roof of the glass pyramid
Steps and an elevator take you to the top of the building where you can go out onto the roof for uninterrupted and expansive views across the impressive park. It's good to start at the pyramid and go onto the roof. It gives you a good feel for the scale and layout of the park.
View from the roof of the glass pyramid
We visited Moerenuma Park on a Tuesday in October. We virtually had the entire park to ourselves. We did see a handful of other visitors while we were here, but we could have comfortably counted them all on two hands. It isn't always this quiet. We were lucky.
Inside the glass pyramid - looking down
If you're an architecture buff like me, a photographer, or just like dramatic views, the interior of the glass pyramid on a sunny day is hard to beat anywhere in this region.
Inside the glass pyramid - looking outside
This space is large, filled with natural light, and the views to the park beyond invite exploration.
Exploring the park by bike
I recommend cycling around the park. You can use your bikes as much or as little as you like. We used them just save time covering the bigger distances between the major sculptures, parked up and then continued on foot.
Bikes can be rented from the Moerenuma Park information centre near the Hidamari glass pyramid.
View of the glass pyramid and Moere Mountain
The park's huge geometric shapes dominate the otherwise flat landscape. Their appearance chaging depending on whether you are at ground level or viewing them from one of the high vantage points scattered across the 189 hectre (467 acre) park. Isamu Noguchi overarching concept for Moerenuma Park was "the whole park being a single sculpture".
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Forest of cherry trees
On the eastern edge of the park is the forest of cherry trees , which produce a wonderful sakura display every year around the end of April.
Hidden inside the forest are 7 sculptural playgrounds, each connected with a path, each featuring interactive sculptures designed by Noguchi.
Playground area - 1
Each of the playgrounds features a different set of facilities. Slides of all shapes, sizes and designs are a recurring feature.
Playground area - 2
Thankfully, for big kids like me, there's no age limit on playing on the sculptures. Childrens and adults alike are welcome to jump, craw, climb and slide.
Playground area - 3
Playground area - 4
A number of the playground facilities echo the park's main features. Including the Hidamari glass pyramid (above) and Play Mountain (below).
Playground area - 5
View over park from side of Play Mountain
Although there are restaurants inside the main building, the park is the perfect place for a picnic. Pickniking is allowed, even encouraged, just be sure to take all your waste away with you. Bring a bento and take in those magnificent views!
View over park from the granite slope of Play Mountain
At the foot of the granite slope side of Play Mountain is a performance space called the Music Shell. The concrete 'shells', approximately 15 meters in diameter, act as concave sounds reflectors at the back of the stage. Facitilies for the performers can be found inside the shells. Check the official Moerenuma Park website for details on the annual events programme.
View of the Tetra Mound from Play Mountain
The 13m high Tetra Mound is one of the most striking features. In the background, on the other side of the Moere River, the outer fringes of the greater Sapporo City area are visible in the distance.
View of Mt. Moere from Play Mountain
Walking down from Play Mountain
We spent several hours leisurely wandering around on foot and cycling between the main sights.
If you were so inclined, the park would make for a superb area in which to train. There is a track and field stadium in the western side of the park, as well as a baseball stadium and tennis courts.
Tetra Mound - 1
The full scale of the alien-like Tetra Mound (13 meters high) is discernible from the two figures seen below the point of the triangular pyramid. These were two teenagers skateboarding around the sculpture. Not strictly permitted, but I can't say I blame them. As skate park locations go this has to be among the most visually striking out there.
Tetra Mound - 2
Tetra Mound - 3
Anyone who remembers the 1984 Lucasfilm video game Ballblazer, which featured a futuristic sports playing field of huge chequerboards, will probably react like I did when walking around the Terta Mound.
It's like being inside the video game on the field of play! A very surreal experience.
Tetra Mound - 4 - with skateboarders
A the top of Mt. Moere
The 62-meter high Mt. Moere is the point to head for to take in remarkable 360° views of the entire park.
Five paths lead to the top of the mountain, each taking no more than 10 minutes. In winter, when the park is covered in a blanket of snow, visitors are allowed to ski and sled down the mountainside. (No need to bring any gear: skis and sleds can be hired at the park).
View of the glass pyramid from the top of Mt. Moere
The park was built on a former waste disposal and treatment plant. Construction took 16 years. In the wintertime, the air-conditioning system that cools the glass pyramid uses stored snow to naturally power the system.
Can of hot Kirin Fire coffee jelly
Although sunny when we visited, after several hours of exploring Moerenuma Park on foot and by bicycle, it was getting chilly in the late October afternoon. A quick vending machine purchase of hot, coffee-flavoured jelly in a can was just the warming pick me up I needed before we left.
Departing the park looking back at the glass pyramid
We returned our bikes to the rental shop and turned to head back to our hotel in Sapporo. If you're taking one of the bus services, be sure to check the return bus times in advance to make sure you don't have to wait long for the next bus.
I first came to Moerenuma Park in 2010.
To this day, the images in my mind (and my photos) of the incredible, other-worldly landscape, of exploring the park on foot and by bike, playing on some of Isamu Noguchi's signature sculptures, all of these remain some of the most vivid and unforgettable memories I have in all my travels in Japan.
I strongly recommend discovering Moereuma Park for yourself.
What do you think about visiting Moerenuma Park? Have any questions? Leave a comment below. I reply to every comment.
How To Get To Moerenuma Park
By Bus & Subway from Sapporo City Centre
The Chuo Bus company runs services that pick up outside Toho Line subway station Kanjo Dori Hidashi and stop outside the park. The journey takes about 30 minutes.
Bus numbers 69 (to Ainosato kyoikudai eki) and 79 (to Nakanuma Shogakko dori) both stop at Moerenuma koen higashiguchi (east entrance).
Bus 61 (to Nakanuma Shogakko dori) stops at Moerenuma koen Nishiguchi (west entrance).
If you're using the Namboku Line subway then get off at Kita sanjuyo jo station (Shindo higashi station on the Toho Line) and look for the bus stop for Bus 76 (to Nakanuma Shogakko dori), which stops at Moerenuma koen Nishiguchi (west entrance).
During the summer, there's also a dedicated seasonal bus service to Moerenuma Park that runs to all major parts of the city, including the Bus Center and Chikatetsu Asabu eki (Bus Terminal).
By car it takes around 25 minutes from the city, closer to 55 minutes if travelling directly from New Chitose Airport.
From Sapporo City centre, use this Google Map to see three route choices.
From New Chitose Airport, use this Google Map to see the fastest route.
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Sapporo & Hokkaido Travel Planning Services
Have some questions about exploring Sapporo or Hokkaido? Want help planning a Hokkaido itinerary? The Real Japan offers some services that you might like to take a look at.
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Moerenuma Park address
1-1 Moerenumakōen, Higashi-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaidō 007-0011, Japan (Google Map)