Let's go mountain climbing by train! Shioya Station on Hakodate Main Line
One summer day, a friend of mine said to me “I want to go somewhere”.
“Why don't you go mountain climbing?”, I recommended.
“Eh, mountain climbing? Isn't it hard? I don't have the physical strength or equipment for it. I can't do it!”, said my friend as he shook his head with eyes wide open.
“Shioya-Maruyama would be perfect for you! Even beginners can easily climb it, and the view from the summit is amazing. Plus, it's easy to get there since you can go near the mountain trailhead by train.”
“Shioya-Maruyama? Where is that?”
“It's near Shioya Station, the stop after Otaru.”
I have conversations like the above all the time.
Location of Shioya on the map. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Whenever I want to go somewhere for recreation, I often invite my friends to climb Shioya-Maruyama (塩谷丸山, altitude: 629m). In Hokkaido, a region that is rich in nature, there are many mountains with accessible trails, from those with altitudes of 2,000m and above to low-elevation ones, and you can enjoy all kinds of mountain climbing and hiking experiences. To me, a mountain that is in my top five is Shioya-Maruyama.
Mountains with trailheads that are accessible by train are rare in Hokkaido. Shioya-Maruyama is a big exception, so someone who doesn't own a car such as myself can go to Shioya-Maruyama at any time. The nearest station to Shioya-Maruyama's trailhead is JR Shioya Station (JR塩谷駅 Shioya-eki), which is the stop after JR Otaru Station (JR小樽駅 Otaru-eki). Plus, it's only a 15-minute walk from the station to the trailhead, so access is a breeze.
The train on the Hakodate Main Line. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Trains run frequently from Sapporo to Otaru, but only a few run from Otaru to Shioya towards Kutchan (倶知安). So, if you want to climb the mountain, it's highly recommended for you to take the 7:14am train from JR Sapporo Station (JR札幌駅 Sapporo-eki) and arrive at JR Otaru Station at 8:01am. Then, make a transfer there and take the 8:06am train bound for Kutchan, and arrive at JR Shioya Station at 8:17am (timings correct as of August 2021).
Shioya Station. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Shioya is a quiet unmanned station that is surrounded by beautiful greenery. The retro station building features a triangular roof that I find so adorable. Naturally, my friends and I decided on our poses and took a group photo with it.
Shioya Station’s cute triangular roof. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
A word of advice, however: if you need a restroom break or any last respite before going up the mountain, it's better to leave Sapporo earlier—e.g., 7:05am Sapporo → 7:51am Otaru, 6:52am Sapporo → 7:38am Otaru—and have your break at JR Otaru Station (although there is a restroom at JR Shioya Station and near the trailhead too).
By the way, one interesting fact about the station: although the name 'Shioya' is based on its location, it is said that the name derives from the Ainu word 'su-ya' or 'so-ya', which means rock/stone.
Signboards pointing towards Shioya-Maruyama’s trailhead. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
From JR Shioya Station, we began our journey by crossing over the station's railway tracks and heading towards the trailhead. There are small signboards that provide directions to the trailhead, so you can simply follow the arrows and characters "丸山" (Maruyama).
Recording our details at Shioya-Maruyama’s trailhead. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Once we arrived at the trailhead, we had to fill in a list with information such as our names and climbing start time. In Japan, there are record books for mountain climbers to write their names and climbing start times so that if they get lost or injured during the climb, a search party will be dispatched to rescue them. So be sure to write yours before climbing up a mountain in Japan for your own safety.
Shioya-Maruyama is a mountain that is suitable for beginners, so many people climb it together with their families and friends with young children. If you pass a fellow hiker on the mountain trail, don't forget to say hello. First, we walked through the gentle forest which was the easy part because the trees provided good shade from the sun.
Shioya-Maruyama's mountain trail. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Then, the rocky trail gradually turned into a steep slope, and slowly we began climbing up in a zig-zag manner. As we climbed up the steep slopes, there were fewer trees and the surroundings became quieter.
By then, it was starting to get warm because of the sunlight, and there wasn’t any shelter from the trees to shield us from it. However, our field of vision began to open up and I could see the summit of Shioya-Maruyama, so I hyped myself up and gave it my all for the last stretch. Finally, we climbed the final steep slope covered with big rocks, where the summit was just around the corner.
The summit of Shioya-Maruyama. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
About climbing for 1 hour 30 minutes from the trailhead, we finally reached the top. The summit of Shioya-Maruyama is wide open, so you can see the scenery of the beautiful surroundings. The area at the summit isn't big, but you can rest and take your time to enjoy the scenery if you go walk for another 60m.
Reaching the summit at last. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Below you can see the mountains covered in greenery, the shining blue Sea of Japan (日本海 Nihon-kai), and the cityscape of Yoichi (余市町), a town located next to Otaru. If the weather is ideal, you can see Mount Yotei (羊蹄山 Yōtei-san) in the distance. It's a really superb view. This wonderful landscape is the reason why I visit it many times, and I feel so refreshed no matter how many times I look at it.
An anchor at the summit of the mountain. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Also, you will find something like a stick on the summit, which is actually an anchor. It is said that the Sea of Japan seen from here was once popular for fishing for herring (ニシン nishin), and anchors were devoted to pray for the safety of the fishermen out at sea, and for bountiful harvests.
Enjoying the view from the summit. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
After enjoying the view of the sea, it's time for us to go back the way we came from, and we made our descent from the mountain.
Descending from Shioya-Maruyama. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
On the way back, we took the train departing from Shioya Station at 12:46pm and arrived back at Otaru Station at 12:55pm (timings correct as of August 2021). If you're hungry, we highly recommend Naruto Main Store (なると本店 Naruto-honten), which was founded in 1965 and is only an 8-minute walk from the station.
Naruto Main Store. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
This restaurant is famous for its fried young half-chicken. What better way to end the day after climbing a mountain, than by replenishing energy with amazing food. The most popular is the young chicken set meal (若鶏定食 Wakadori teishoku). The proportions are perfect, the chicken skin is crispy, and the meat is incredibly juicy with the right amount of saltiness. This shop also has reasonably priced sushi, so it's recommended for those who believe in the saying "When in Otaru, eat sushi!".
Naruto’s young chicken set meal (left) and sushi (right). (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Try exploring Shioya-Maruyama, a mountain that anyone can climb with ease!
Points to take note
Although Shioya-Maruyama is easy to climb, we recommend that you wear comfortable clothes and sneakers. The weather can change instantly, so it's a good idea to have equipment for wet weather too. Stocking some snacks from convenience stores before getting on the train to Shioya is also a good idea, and we encourage everyone to have at least one litre of water for the climb. Plus, there may still be snow near the summit even in early May, so if you want to know the best time to climb Shioya-Maruyama, it's between June and October.
Shioya-Maruyama’s scenery in May. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
One important thing to note: bears roam the mountains in Hokkaido every year so when climbing one, be sure to bring along a bear bell and do not litter in the mountain areas.
Climbing Shioya-Maruyama from JR Shioya Station. (Video credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Header image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company