“I never considered Muroran high on my list of places to live,” Haidee mused a few weeks back. She had just landed a job at Muroran Institute of Technology (MIT) as associate professor, and we were in the process of sorting out a place for her to live there. And I couldn’t help but agree; I’d only ever considered the south-eastern coast of Hokkaido to be windswept, bleak, and rather non-descript. Muroran City itself hadn’t stood out to me as much better. The eastern part of the city involves large swathes of reclaimed land now home to heaving steel foundries, and the place seems to constantly bear the brunt of chilly ocean winds.
Interestingly, however, many of Haidee’s new colleagues did nothing but rave about the place. “This place is paradise,” said one chap from Canada who surfs all year round. The same chap also extolled the great network of mountain biking trails in the hills north of the city. From all indications satisfaction with life seems to be at an all time high with those who live here.
So on my weekend visit this week, I decided to bring my bike on the train so that Haidee and I could explore a little around where she lives near the university (I still live in Sapporo, 1.5 hours by train from Muroran). And long story short, our little excursion today gave us a fresh new perspective on this fascinating city.
We had initially decided on a whim (at around 10am) that we would spend the day climbing Mt. Muroran. This 911m high mountain stands directly to the north of the city; you can’t really go up a hill for very long in Muroran City without eventually getting funneled into a valley that heads up towards the summit.
After an hour of cycling up to the beginning of the walking track (at 450m), however, we were starting to get content with our vertical gain efforts, and decided to head back down. The walking track starts at the Muroran Dan Para Ski Field, so we ate the sandwiches we had on hand in the shelter of the ski field buildings.
It was in one of these buildings that I noticed an old hand-written map that indicated it might be possible to connect the ski field with an old forestry road that weaves its way up the valley where Haidee’s apartment is. Essentially the ski field is at the upper confluence of two valleys; Haidee’s valley and the next valley to the west. If we were able to get to the forestry road from the ski field, we’d have a gravel road downhill straight back to Haidee’s place.
We decided to take the challenge on, and this culminated in ‘discovering’ a very nice and varied “MIT – Dan Para Loop”.
From the ski field buildings it was a short 15 minute bike/hike up the Mt. Muroran hiking trail, past the hakuchou hut (白鳥ヒュッテ) to where the koudai tozan-ro (工大登山路) walking trail starts on the right of the trail (at the top of the ski field chairlift).
From here it was all downhill on single-track. Some perfectly rideable…but most in the realm of “get-off-the-bike-and-ease-it-down”…knobbly tires probably would have helped to no end, of course.
The foot track did eventually link up with the mizumoto forestry road, however, and we were very soon wending our way through autumn leaves straight back down to Haidee’s place.
The bike ride left us feeling that Muroran City is a bit of a dark horse: less than 10 minutes on the bike from Haidee’s place we can be deep in the hills. A two-hour bike ride takes us across a couple of ridges and affords expansive views over the city and harbor.
We’re very much looking forward to winter here; snowshoeing tour from door to door, taking in some of the best pacific views in Hokkaido, anyone?