The hike

Although you’ll find it listed as ‘Maru-yama’ (丸山) on maps, a more popular local name for this hill is Shioya Mt. Maru-yama (塩谷丸山, Shioya-Maru-yama). The idea here is that there are a good number of Mt. Maru-yama across the whole country, and this one is in the Shioya neighborhood of Otaru.

The mountain stands to the south of Shioya Station (塩谷駅, Shioya-eki) train station in Otaru (小樽), and, standing as it does in the backyards of Otaru’s townspeople, it’s a particularly popular mountain for taking the family out on a weekend. It not a particularly tall mountain, but from the rocky summit the views out over the bay of Yoichi Bay (余市湾, Yoichi-wan) are lovely. In the winter the mountain gets a lot of snow and is an exciting destination for skiers. From the summit the trail continues to Mt. Endo-yama (遠藤山, Endo-yama) and Mt. Tengu-yama (天狗山, Tengu-yama).

‘Shioya’ is an old, old name for the area, coming from the Ainu name for the area: either sho-ya, meaning ‘cliff shore’; or from shu-ya, meaning ‘pot cliff’--it’s uncertain which of these it is.

To get to the trailhead, cross the train tracks just west of Shioya Station and you’ll find yourself at the foot of the mountain. Here and there in the neighborhood you’ll see signs pointing you towards the trailhead (they’ll be labelled 登山口, tozan-guchi). The parking lot is near the residential area, but as it can get quite full on the weekends make sure to leave your car in a place where it won’t be in anyone’s way.

From the trailhead you’ll pass a serious-looking sign warning of the Ezo bear (ヒグマ, higuma) and head up along a forest road. In the springtime you’ll see some young and vivacious-looking pseudoaltaic anemone, Corydalis ambigua, and Japanese fawn-lily blooming alongside the road.

After crossing under some power lines, you’ll enter a forest of Japanese white birch, painted maple, and Japanese larch. Soon the slope will start to climb quite steeply; when you reach the plateau at 450 meters (450m台地) you’ll find yourself in a sea of sasa bamboo, with great views forward to the summit.

Past the field of sasa, you’ll come to a slope where, up until about May, there will still remain a good deal of snow; during the climb here the huge coastline of the Yoichi Bay will spread out behind you. You’ll pass an outcrop with a carving of the Buddhist deity Acala (不動尊) on it, and then very shortly thereafter come to the summit of Shioya Mt. Maru-yama. The views from the summit give give the impression that you’re much higher than you probably thought you’d be, looking up from the trailhead.

Of course you’ll see the huge forest sprawled below your eyes; looking west, past the town of Yoichi (余市) you can see the mountains of Shakotan (積丹); on a clear day you can also spot the peak of Yotei-zan (羊蹄山) and the mountains around Niseko (ニセコ) to the south. It’s a real wonder that such a quiet spot can be found so close to the suburbs of sprawling Otaru. Incidentally, the cliffs just below the summit are popular with rock climbers, so while you’re at the summit be sure not to accidentally knock any rocks off the edge, in case you hit someone below.

From the summit you can make the traverse to Mt. Endo-yama, Mt. Okobachi-yama (於古発山), or Mt. Tengu-yama; but in this guide you’ll turn your eyes to the sea and descend the way you came up.

Although this is a summer climbing guide, this mountain is a great climb for any season.

Hiking advice

  • From Shioya (Train) Station to the trailhead is about 1 km.
  • There is nowhere to fill up on water along the trail, so pack accordingly.
  • To get to Mt. Okobachi-yama (於古発山), there are small walking trails from Mt. Tengu-yama (天狗山) and from Otaru Nature Village (小樽自然の村, Otaru Shizen-no-mura).
  • From the gate at the upper part of the Katsunai-gawa River (勝納川, Katsunai-gawa) in Otaru’s Okusawa (奥沢) district, it’s about 6 km to a small waterfall at the head of the Katsunai-gawa River, called Ana Falls (穴滝, Ana-taki). Just before you reach Ana Falls there’s also a trailhead leading up to Mt. Endo-yama.
  • Just to the west of Shioya Station you’ll find the Oshoro stone circles (忍路環状列石, Oshoro kanjou-resseki) and Bukoppe Cave (ブコッペ洞窟, Bukoppe-doukutsu)—both remnants of Stone Age cultures, and both very interesting attractions.
  • 2.5 km west of Ranshima Swimming Beach (蘭島海水浴場, Ranshima kaisui-yokujou) you’ll find Hamanasu Onsen (はまなす温泉) hot springs; within Otaru proper you can also bathe at Otaru Onsen (小樽温泉). Other than these two you’ll find a good number of sento, or public baths, that you can use.

Seasonal info

Because the mountain quite low, the trail is open from early spring through the end of late fall. It’s also a great mountain for an introduction to winter climbing. In late May, the Corydalis ambigua and other spring ephemerals will start to bloom riotously. The leaves change at the end of October.