Sculptures making aerial art
New Chitose Airport is the gateway to Hokkaido, and Moerenuma Park offers visitors a unique welcome. Located around 41km north-northwest of New Chitose, to the northeast of Sapporo, the 188.8ha area features two gigantic manmade mountains, a pond and fountain with an organic look, an indoor facility called the Glass Pyramid and a variety of colorful play equipment. Strolling through the park and admiring the sparkling green ridges and the sky and light around them is an experience like no other. The most unique thing about the park is its structures made in simple geometric shapes. Each is beautiful and distinctive in its own right, but the structures are also designed so that the overall effect is like one big sculpture.
Like a modern-day version of the Geoglyphs of Nasca, Moerenuma Park is designed to be a work of aerial art. While it is not easy to view them from above for yourself, the sculptures take you on “a flight of the imagination” – as you walk among the gigantic sculptures, you can imagine seeing them from the sky.
Art that helps people
The basic design of Moerenuma Park is the work of sculptor Isamu Noguchi (1904-88). Born to an Irish-American mother and a Japanese father, Noguchi spent his childhood in Japan before moving to New York to launch his global art career. Noguchi specialized in stone sculptures, with a range of works including stage art, furniture and lighting design. His greatest passion, however, was his landscaping of gardens and parks based on the idea of the “connection between sculptures and the land.” At the heart of this idea was Noguchi’s firm belief that art can help people.
In 1988, the last year of his life, Noguchi visited Sapporo and created a series of plans for Moerenuma Park as part of an initiative by the Sapporo City government to create a park to regenerate an area that was previously used as a garbage treatment plant. As someone who had traveled to ancient ruins around the world and liked to discover for himself what those sculptures meant to people in the past and what the future would bring for them, Noguchi designed the biggest, most unique works for the project. Sadly, while Noguchi finished the basic design for the park, he passed away on December 30, 1988 and did not live to see its completion. His creations were brought to life over a period of 17 years and were finally completed in 2005. Moerenuma Park is now a relaxation spot for locals and tourists alike, fulfilling Noguchi’s aim of creating art that helps people.
Understanding through touch
Noguchi’s desire to create sculptures that help people also led to the creation of Black Slide Mantra in Odori Park in central Sapporo. Standing 3.6m high and weighing 80t, the black granite sculpture has a slide with elegant curves, bringing joy to children and adults alike. This sculpture was born from Noguchi’s desire to provide a visual and tactile experience for children.
Black Slide Mantra is closely linked to Kan Yasuda (1945-), who was also involved in the construction of Moerenuma Park. The work was inspired by Slide Mantra, a work Noguchi saw when he represented the USA at the Biennale di Venezia contemporary art festival in 1986. Made by Yasuda and fellow stone sculptor Giorgio Angeli, Slide Mantra was a white marble slide sculpture with a dignified but relaxed form. Yasuda’s studio is located in Pietrasanta, an area famous for its marble that is said to have been used by Michelangelo himself. Noguchi joined the countless stone sculptors based there, creating many works from Pietrasanta marble. Noguchi and Yasuda even worked in the same studio during the last year of Noguchi’s life.
In Bibai, where Yasuda was born and raised, is home to Arte Piazza Bibai. Around 40 marble sculptures trace a path through the gentle hills between the mountains and the sight of the lovingly polished sculptures glittering in the sun between the green foliage is a treat for the eyes. The soft grass provides a different backdrop from the cityscapes of Sapporo Station and midtown Tokyo where other works of Yasuda’s stand. The sculptures encourage you to reach out and touch them, to feel their presence for yourself, and to play with nature. Yasuda’s works aren’t a playground like Noguchi’s; they simply blend seamlessly into people’s daily lives, providing a comforting presence that captures the hearts of the local community. The natural harmony between Yasuda’s works and the surrounding landscape is the hallmark of great public sculptures.
A Buddha statue on a flower-covered hill
Yasuda’s works aren’t the only groundbreaking Hokkaido landscape that Noguchi was closely connected to. Another is Hill of the Buddha, a stone Buddha statue to the south of Sapporo. Hill of the Buddha was built in Takino Cemetery, which has roughly the same area (180ha) as Moerenuma Park. The space around the 13.5m-high, 1,500t statue was designed by architect Tadao Ando(1941-).
Takino Cemetery was previously known as almost a theme park of stone statues, with works ranging from moai to a miniature Stonehenge. Ando’s design for the area around Hill of the Buddha transformed the cemetery even more than the original statue did in when it was built in 2000.
The Buddha statue’s head rises nobly above 15,000 lavender flowers covering the rolling hills. At the end of the 135m path into the hills lies the Water Garden, which resembles the River of Three Crossings between our world and the afterlife. Continue past the Water Garden and through a low-ceilinged tunnel and you’ll reach the feet of the Buddha statue, where you can look up into the Buddha’s eyes. The blue sky around the Buddha’s head resembles a halo, giving the statue an even more sublime appearance. Underground is a hidden room of light, where visitors can meditate and build a connection with Buddha.
The three landscapes
Isamu Noguchi transformed a former garbage treatment area into a place for people to relax. Kan Yasuda created an open-air art gallery around a disused school in the mountains. Tadao Ando redesigned the area around a Buddha statue to create an artistic place of pilgrimage. Moerenuma Park, Arte Piazza Bibai and Hill of the Buddha all create artistic value with a free style made possible by the open air and vast natural landscapes of Hokkaido.
In a cold place like Hokkaido, the invigorating summer and snowy winter are two different and equally beautiful worlds. All three of the spots in this article are open all year round, and bring a new beauty with each season. Snow in particular adds a dimension that makes Hokkaido’s landscape art unique. With so many different faces depending on the time of year, you’ll want to visit these masterpieces of nature and art again and again. No matter the season, these incredible art experiences will show you a whole new side of Japan.
Born in Hokkaido in 1978, lives in Sapporo city.
Graduated from the Department of Fine Art of Kanazawa College of Art in 2001, majoring in Aesthetics and Art History. Has been actively pursuing artistic activities using parks and open spaces since 2003.
An art park designed as a single work by sculptor Isamu Noguchi.
Take the Toho Subway Line from JR Sapporo Station to Kanjō-dōri-higashi Station, then take a Chuo Bus to Moerenuma Kōen Higashi-guchi or Moerenuma Kōen Nishi-guchi. Direct buses run from Sapporo Beer Museum on weekends and public holidays from April to November.
Arte Piazza Bibai
An outdoor sculpture park and art museum where sculptor Kan Yasuda is continuing to produce works that express harmony between nature and sculpture. It was created by regenerating a disused elementary school building and 30km2 of the surrounding forest in the former coal-mining town of Bibai.
Take any limited express train on the Hakodate Main Line from JR Sapporo Station to Bibai Station, then take the Shimin Bus Higashi Line to Arte Piazza Bibai.
Hill of the Buddha by Tadao Ando
A modern place of worship created by Tadao Ando within Makomanai Takino Cemetery. The Buddha statue is surrounded by a hill that is covered with lavender in summer and in snow winter.
Take the Namboku Subway Line from JR Sapporo Station to Makomanai Station, then take Sapporo Chuo Bus No. 108 to Takino Reien.
An oasis among the hustle and bustle of downtown Sapporo, made up of around 4,700 trees including lilac and Japanese elm. The park hosts Sapporo’s iconic snow festival in February but various events are also held throughout the year. Black Slide Mantra by Isamu Noguchi can be found in the park at Nishi 8 chome.