In Hokkaido you can come across a rather unique city: a peninsula with breathtaking views, a somewhat melancholic center, what remains of a once flourishing metalworking town, and an amazing nocturnal view from one of the hills on which the city is spread: we are talking about Muroran!
What kind of place is Muroran?
Located on a peninsula in the south of the island of Hokkaido, Muroran is about two hours away from Sapporo, and easily reached by various means. Once a flourishing industrial port (which still is, but the relocation of the steel plants to other developing countries has decreased the working population of the town), with about 170 thousand inhabitants in the ’70s, today its economy has shrunk a little, making it a sleepy town but still retaining unique and special elements.
Chikyu Misaki (Earth Cape)
The symbol of Muroran is Cape Chikyu (literally Earth Cape), a promontory lying on the Pacific Ocean where you have a 270 degree view of a huge expanse of blue water! Here is the same-named lighthouse, made famous by several extras in disparate drama (soap opera) both Japanese and Southeast Asia (in particular, Taiwanese). Many Asian tourists and couples come here to spend some romantic time, and to take pictures from the panoramic terrace. Here, as in many romantic places of this kind, there is a bell, to be played to hope for happiness and love. Also, this spot is usually crowded on January 1st, when many people come here, despite the freezing climate, to admire the first sunrise of the year!
In fact, when weather is clear enough, it is even possible to spot the coasts of the Hakodate peninsula (Mount Komagatake and E-san), the southernmost point of the island we are on, and even Shimokita Peninsula, the northernmost tip of Honshu.
Muroran is a very large city (topographically speaking), it spreads over several kilometers and boasts a large coastal extension. Especially in the outer part, exposed to the Ocean, you can find several inlets, gorges and bays, and one of our favorite is Tokkarisho (from the language ainu トカル · イショ, tokar isho, meaning “seals and stones”, as once colonies of seals used to rest in the bay).
You go down for about fifty meters from the road, and you reach a large sandy beach set among high cliffs covered with greenery. In good weather, the contrast between the lush green of the prairies and the blue of the ocean and sky is almost dazzling. Although bathing is forbidden here, probably due to strong currents, it is a very pleasant place to spend time on the beach, walk along the water’s edge or have a picnic. Muroran is very exposed to winds and ocean currents, so even in summer the temperature can keep cool.
The port zone
Near Muroran Station, the end of the railway line, there is a small shopping area, with half the shops now in disuse, but with a certain retro charm. We have chosen to stay overnight in this area. Just here there is the former railway station, which today is used as a tourist information office and a small museum (here you can get the one day bus ticket we are going to talk about in the access link).
Entering the main streets, you can find the central market, which despite the name remains rather small and not too lively. But inside you can find some of the many elderly residents, chatting each others while waiting for customers, owning their clothes shops, household items and, of course, food. In places like these you can make good deals, for example, find cheap and delicious raw fish, whereas you would pay quite a lot in cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Also, be prepared to feel quite observed, western tourists here are particularly occasional!
Muroran by night
This city has boasts of the most popular nighttime views in Japan, and tries to be noticed despite the popularity of the nearby Hakodate. The center of the peninsula is connected to the north, through a long and elegant suspension bridge, the Great Hakuchō Bridge (白鳥 大橋, Hakuchō Ōhashi, the great swan bridge), which at night is prettily lighten-up. Going up the hill of Shukuzu Park you can enjoy an almost 360-degree view of the city. In addition to the sparkling suspension bridge, also the chimneys of the petrochemical plants located on the opposite bank of the bay, enlightened on purpose, contribute to the famous night view of the bay. Curiously, in Japan there are many industrial areas made “touristic” by the possibilities offered to photographers who immortalize them with long exposure shots and other artistic techniques!
How to reach Muroran
For more information about how to reach this city, click here!
After several tours in Hokkaido, we still did not feel satisfied. There was something missing from our list. Yes, it was just Muroran, with its somewhat metallic sound, which had been remaining impressed in our minds. And so, planning a three-day trip to Hokkaido in the summer of 2016, we decided to include it in the itinerary, also thanks to the proximity to Sapporo airport, providing a good access!
After landing in the early morning, we took a Limited Express bound to Hakodate, and we went down to Higashi-Muroran, the city’s main station. From here, with a change on the local line we reached the central station. Along the railroad, almost devoured by the surrounding vegetation, there are two small wooden station buildingd, such as Bokoi, located near the entrance to Chikyu Cape, and the recently rebuilt Muroran station, term of the railway.
Muroran welcomed us with a wonderful blue summer sky and its 23 degrees, perfect to enjoy two days in this city. At short of pre-planning about the city’s tourist attractions, we first of all headed to Cape Chikyu, sure about it. At the tourist information center you can buy a city bus daily ticket. With this, in about a quarter of an hour, you get to the Chikyu Misaki Iriguchi stop, from which you have to walk a bit, uphill, up to the entrance of the promontory.
After walking from the bus stop for a few hundred meters, we finally reached the promontory. The lighthouse is in a lowered position, and is not accessible to the public, but from the vantage point you can clearly see it, and you have a breathtaking view all around. We were lucky with weather conditions, and we could see the shores of the Hakodate peninsula in the distance.
After visiting the cape, we decided to proceed, on foot, to Tokkarisho, along with the Cape Chikyu, one of the eight views of Muroran. As soon as we arrived, we were struck by the incredible contrast between the green of the lush vegetation and the blue of the sea and the sky. Although we are facing on the Northern Pacific Cocean, it looked almost tropical. So we ventured into the steep staircase that separates the 80 meters above sea level of the road to the sea. Once we reached the sea level, the landscape around was desolate, with some abandoned buildings and boats flipped on the beach, however, thanks to the good weather, the atmosphere was really appeasing, with the sound of the waves and the singing of the seagulls. If we were told we were somewhere in Northern Europe, or somewhere in Canada, we could believe it!
Not only pretty views, let’s talk about Muroran’s culinary specialties. If Hokkaido is famous both for ramen and soup-kare (a kind of liquid curry soup with vegetables), in Muroran the specialty is curry ramen! The place we stayed is one of the most famous in the city center (Aji no Daiō), and despite the lack of general vitality of Muroran, when we entered it we found it quite animated, and almost full (we had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated)!
Muroran was a little surprise in Hokkaido. It is not a destination to be reached on purpose coming from the rest of Japan, but you can step by if you include in your itinerary Noboribetsu, with its spas, the lakes Shikotsu and Toya or, why not, a day trip from Sapporo!