If you’ve ever been to Japan, even once, you’d know that it’s a land of shrines. I’ve had some opportunities to visit a handful of them over the past few years, but so far, I have been most impressed by the shrines in Sapporo and Fukuoka. In Fukuoka there is a magical place called the Dazaifu Tenman-gu, while in Sapporo, I quite enjoy visiting the Hokkaido Shrine. (I haven’t properly explored Kyoto yet so I can’t include it on the list.)
The common denominator between Dazaifu Tenman-gu and Hokkaido Shrine, at least for me, is the inexplicable sense of peace I get when I visit. I know this because it was a very different feeling from when I visited Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, for example. I’m not referring to a physical peace brought on by the absence of people. It’s more like a spiritual peace, brought on by being in a place that stills your heart.
When I’m in these places, for that brief moment in time I feel like I can just… be. I can enjoy the breeze without thinking about anything other than how cool the wind feels against my cheek. I can watch the tiny leaves fall from the trees and just appreciate the way the sun makes their colors shift as they flutter down. When you live a life of constant movement and thought, these kinds of places and moments become so precious.
How to get to Hokkaido Shrine
The Hokkaido Shrine is located deep in the gorgeous Maruyama Park. Since we planned to stroll in the park anyway, we rode the train from Odori Station, taking the Tozai Line to Maruyama Koen Station. The shrine is at least a 10-minute walk through the park, with some slopes and stairs, so keep that in mind if you come with an elder or someone who has a hard time walking some distance.
If you don’t want to walk through the park and want to go straight to the shrine, you can take the JR Hokkaido Bus (Nishi 14/15) to Jingumae Teiryujo bus stop. This brings you right to the shrine itself. I do highly recommend a stroll in the park though!
The biggest contributor to my love for Hokkaido Shrine is actually the 68.7-hectare Maruyama Park that surrounds it. My first meeting with Maruyama Park was during winter of 2017, when I came here for the Sapporo Snow Festival. It looked like a little white village back then, with thick snow covering its slopes and stairs. It was slightly scary to wander around because of how slippery the snow on the slopes could be. But the place felt incredibly magical nonetheless. (Granted, all of Sapporo feels magical during winter.)
I vividly remember looking up at the looming, tall trees back then and being riveted by the sight. Birds were pecking on the thick snow gathered upon the branches, making them fall to the ground in silvery bits. This time, we replace all that white with green in different shades. How gorgeous Sapporo is during the summer too. I can’t pick a favorite season when it comes to Sapporo! I mean, not even orange cones could ruin the loveliness, as you can observe from the photo below. Part of the stairs was cordoned off due to damage from the big Hokkaido Earthquake of 2018 when we visited.
Located at the foot of a mountain, this park was originally a testing ground for the planting of trees and flowers during the Meiji period. Eventually, it had enough plants and trees to get converted into a park by the end of the Meiji era. As a result, the grounds at Maruyama Park is now home to 330 plant varieties that grow naturally from its soil. Further developments added a zoo to its grounds, plus a number of sports facilities such as a public field and baseball stadium. It’s common to see people practicing football/soccer or even Tai chi here. It’s also common to see squirrels and wild birds.
The highlight of this place for me is for sure the Maruyama Forest, with its mix of cone-bearing trees (ie. pine) and broadleaf trees to enjoy. This park reminds me so much of Muir Woods in California, which I totally love as well. I have a thing for places that feel like the woodlands. Though most famous for its picture-perfect foliage during the spring and autumn, its charm is not lost during the other two seasons. The Maruyama Park also has a gigantic hundred-year old katsura tree that I could not fit into a snapshot!
Probably the biggest advantage of coming here during the summer is the perfect weather. It’s neither too hot nor too cold. The other reason is that you can find your way around the park more easily, and I say this because I got totally lost walking around those years ago during winter. All the paths looked the same lol. I will make sure to explore the park a little more thoroughly the next time I come back. I wasn’t able to visit the pond and take photos of squirrels.
Hokkaido Shrine is probably the most famous shrine in Sapporo, and it receives a particularly large amount of footfall on New Year’s Day and during certain festivals hosted by the shrine. As with many of the major shrines around Japan, Hokkaido Shrine has a rich history and a large significance to the people of Hokkaido. Four deities are enshrined here, including three protective deities and the Meiji Emperor.
In the mid-1800’s, this area had been selected as the grounds for a new shrine by one of Sapporo’s founding fathers, Yoshitake Shima. Shima was given the task by the Meiji Emperor to turn Sapporo, back then a wilderness, into a city worthy of being called “The Gateway to Hokkaido”. He had based his plans and designs on his own hometown of Saga, as well as that of Kyoto, to create a city that both represented nature and modern life. His plans included the building of this shrine to give the people of Sapporo a place to gather and find spiritual support. He had purposefully selected the area of Maruyama because it was surrounded by mountains on three sides, and a plain on one side. You can find Yoshitake Shima’s statue by the gates to the shrine.
The shrine was erected in 1869, and it was decided by the Meiji Emperor that three pioneering and protective gods be enshrined here to help uplift the morale of the pioneers of Sapporo. Of course, the shrine became a special place for the people too. The deities became an integral part of the success of Sapporo’s development as a city, as well as the general happiness of its people. When the Showa era arrived, the Emperor then decreed that the former Meiji Emperor also be enshrined in this place.
Together with the adjacent Maruyama Park, the Hokkaido Shrine has also become a favorite spot for nature lovers, especially during spring when cherry blossoms and plum blossoms bloom at the same time. It is also the picture-perfect place to hold weddings. On regular days, Hokkaido Shrine is flocked by tourists, many of them walking through the center path on their way to the shrine. If there’s one thing I learned from all my days visiting shrines like this, it’s to avoid that center path because it is the path believed to be walked by the gods on their way to the shrine. Though I do not practise Shintoism, I like to respect this small enough thing. It’s why my photos of shrines are always off-center. Also, I like to cleanse my hands before entering any shrine as well.
For me, there’s nothing wrong with leaving a prayer and a whisper of thanks in a shrine like this, even if you don’t practise the same religion. If you are game to draw fortunes and ask wishes, it seems only natural to also be game to give thanks to the Shinto gods who preside over these shrines. I always do the latter whenever I visit shrines, but I am not particularly fond of having my fortune drawn or read. I just want to minimize any possibility of being swayed by such things when I make decisions in my everyday life. I’d rather not know and prefer to try to actively mold my path, I suppose. I guess there’s some fear that I might draw a bad fortune and dwell on it lol. That’s just me though. I don’t judge people who like to do these things. Just remember that if you draw a bad fortune, leave it tied in the shrine so you don’t carry the bad luck with you. (And try not to fret about it after!)
Normally, this shrine would be crowded with more people than in these photos, but it was just a few days after the earthquake and I suppose most people still aren’t in the mood to venture out. The advantage of that is my cousins and I were free to snap pics we normally wouldn’t have managed with a lot of people milling about. It made the entire visit even better. 😉
Visit Hokkaido Shrine & Maruyama Park!
Other posts from my Summer in Sapporo 2018 Series:
- Sapporo 2018 Earthquake Diary
- Food-hopping in Sapporo, Summer 2018 Edition
- Sumio Goto Museum, Blue Pond, & Shikisai No Oka Tour with Chuo Bus
- 10 Fun Things To Do on a Day Trip to Otaru
- Sapporo Summer 2018 Snack Haul