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UpdateFebruary 21, 2018
ReleaseFebruary 21, 2018

Hakodate, a hub of southern Hokkaido, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the port opening to foreign countries this year. Hakodate Port prospered as one of the five trade ports that first opened to foreign countries in 1859. Hakodate is the third most populous city in Hokkaido after Sapporo and Asahikawa. The city itself spreads out in fan-like form when viewed from Mount Hakodate, a hill that juts out into the Tsugaru Straits. It is not a large city but has its full share of history, culture, onsen hot springs, nature, night views and culinary delights. All of these combine to make Hakodate a rather special Japanese port town, capable of stimulating all five senses of those who visit.
Asaichi (Morning Market)
Sightseeing in Hakodate starts at Hakodate Station. There is a tourist information center in the station where you can get information on Hakodate. Asaichi, the morning market in Hakodate, is located within a one-minute walk from the station. About 300 vendor stalls sell fresh seafood brought ashore that very morning, vegetables and fruits. The market starts to get busy in early morning and is also home to many seafood restaurants like “Donburi Yokocho,” featuring squid, which is a specialty of Hakodate, crabs, sea urchins, and salmon caviar.
Hakodate Tram
After having breakfast, start sightseeing in the town. Hakodate has an abundance of places worth seeing and using a tram is very convenient. There are two lines: one is from Yunokawa to Yachigashira, and the other is from Yunokawa to Hakodate Dock. They run every five or ten minutes. A one-day ticket (600 yen) enables you to get on and off at any time and any place for a whole day. There are also a two-day ticket and a combined ticket for tram and bus, so you have a choice depending on your schedule. “Hakodate Haikara-go,” a retro-style tram, is operated from April 15th through October 31st. “Hakodate Special Ticket” (2,000 yen) is a good way to save money. This includes a one-day City Tram Ticket or a set of a one-day LCSA Motomachi Bus Ticket and Goryokaku Shuttle Bus Round-Trip Ticket (\700), and 13 tickets which can be used at selected facilities (museums, etc.) and restaurants and pubs.
To go to Motomachi, the historical district, let’s get on a tram at Hakodate Station and get off at Suehiro-cho Station. One of Hakodate’s charms is attractive hills and slopes. When you go up Motoi-zaka Slope, passing the Old British Consulate of Hakodate on the left side, you soon reach Motomachi Park. This is a park built on the place where the Hakodate magistrate’s office and Hokkaido Development Commissioner office from the Meiji to early Showa era (the 19th to early 20th century) were located. The park is home to the former Branch Office of the Hokkaido Government, which is now used as Motomachi Tourist Center of Hakodate City on the first floor and Hakodate City Museum of Photographic History on the second floor.
The Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, located next to Motomachi Park, is a representative wooden Western-style building built in 1910 and is now designated as a National Important Cultural Property. The reception room embellished with marble and gorgeous furnishings is well worth seeing. You can get a sweeping view of the sea from Hachiman-zaka Slope and many films, dramas and TV commercials have been shot there. The top of the slope is the best place for a bird’s-eye of Hakodate Port.
Motomachi is home to the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the oldest Greek Orthodox Church in Japan, Motomachi Roman Catholic Church, which is a Gothic Roman Catholic church, Hakodate Episcopal Church, which is an Episcopal church famous for its cross-emulating architecture located on the middle part of the Chacha Slope, and several other churches. Several cafes command a fine view, and restaurants and souvenir shops based in buildings built between the late 19th century and the early 20th century also add flavor to the area. As you walk down on Nijukken-zaka Slope, enjoying views of the port, you will reach Hakodate Bay Area.
Hakodate Bay Area
There are some old red brick warehouses in the Hakodate Bay Area. These warehouses are the Kanamori Soko Warehouses built in the early 20th century and have been known as the landmark of the bay area of Hakodate. Now they house a number of restaurants and shops, and visitors enjoy shopping and eating. With various facility complexes such as Hakodate Nishi Hatoba (western dock), Hakodate Meiji-kan, Bay Hakodate, and Hakodate Kaisen Ichiba (seafood market), and interesting restaurants around the dock, it is a good spot for seeing the night views. At Hakodate Port, at the Sei-kan Ferry Memorial the ferryboat “Mashu-maru” is moored and displayed at the Old Sei-kan Ferry Pier. The Mashu-maru’s last voyage in 1988 ended the Sei-kan Ferry operation between Aomori and Hakodate.
Mount Hakodate
After dining, get on the tram and go to Juji-gai Station. A 10-minute walk takes you to Sanroku (foot of the mountain) Station of Mount Hakodate Ropeway. For a panoramic view of the town surrounded on three sides by the sea, head to the top of Mount Hakodate ? 334 meters above sea level. Taking just three minutes to reach the summit by cablecar (an amazing 125 people can fit in each car), the views of the fan-shaped city are beautiful and especially so at night. This nighttime view is said to be one of the Three Famous Nighttime Views in the world, along with those of Naples in Italy and Hong Kong, and is considered a highlight of Hakodate sightseeing. For those wanting to take in the nightview, take the cablecar up between 30 minutes and two hours after sunset. After 10 pm, the illuminated displays in the town below are turned off and the town darkens.
Goryokaku Park
Taking the tram to Goryokaku Koen-mae Station and an eight-minute walk from the station, you will find Goryokaku Park and Goryokaku Tower, the landmark of the park. This 107-meter tower is a new tower built in 2006. A star-shaped structure can be seen from the tower and this is Goryokaku Fortress, the first Western-style fortress in Japan. It was constructed over seven years from 1857 and the “Battle of Hakodate” (1868-1869), the last domestic confrontation between the new Meiji government forces and their Tokugawa government counterparts (The Boshin War), took place there. (There was in fact no blood spilled.) The Goryokaku Branch of Hakodate City Museum, Hakodate Museum of Art, Hokkaido, Hakodate City Hokuyo Shiryokan (Northern Pacific Museum), venerable department store Marui-Imai? are adjacent, which creates a different atmosphere from that of Motomachi and Bay Area. In spring, blossoms of 1,600 cherry trees and Japanese wisteria bloom in the park, in summer the trees are full and green, and in winter the park is illuminated at night, so people can enjoy coming here throughout the year. ?
Yunokawa Onsen
If you ride a tram bound for Yunokawa and get off at Yunokawa Onsen Station, the next to last station, you will find Yunokawa Onsen, one of the largest hot springs in Hokkaido. Being close to the center of Hakodate and Hakodate Airport, it is convenient to take a day trip and soak in a bath. Also, you can stay at a hotel or ryokan, enjoying the onsen atmosphere in a more leisurely manner. This spa was opened in 1653. Its water is rich in chloride salt, and is good for rheumatism and neuralgia. During the peak season of squid-fishing from summer to autumn, night fishing fires on fishing boats can be seen bobbing on the ocean. Leisurely soaking in a big bath, gazing at the fires out on the ocean, is sure to be a memorable experience.
Trappistine Convent
You can take a bus bound for the Trappistine Convent at Yukura-Jinja-mae stop near Yunokawa Station. Get off at Trappistine-iriguchi stop and walk ten minutes, and you will arrive at the Trappistine Convent. The Trappistine Convent was originally a nunnery constructed as the home of eight nuns dispatched from the famed Trappistine Monastery in France in 1898. Admission to the building is forbidden, but the forecourt in front of the convent’s red brick shrine can be viewed. In the garden, statues of the Virgin Mary and Saint Michael stand in a solemn atmosphere. Butter candies and coffee candies made in the convent are famous local confectioneries. Original madeleines are only available at the convent’s shop.
Onuma Park
Onuma Quasi-national Park is an hour’s drive from Hakodate. This park is at the foot of Mount Komagatake and includes Onuma, Konuma, Junsainuma and other lakes. Onuma is the largest lake and is 24 km in circumference with a depth of 13.6 meters. A volcanic mudflow from Mount Komagatake once caused a natural dam that blocked a stream and thus led to the formation of Onuma. There are 126 islets in the lake and 18 bridges connecting a select few so travelers and locals alike can enjoy walking on the trails, cycling using rented bicycles, pleasure cruising, boating and canoeing. Mount Komagatake stands close to Onuma and is the main symbol of the park. It is an independent mountain with three peaks and three craters. One of the ‘tops’ was blown away during a past eruption and is now rather steep. Mount Komagatake woke up in terms of volcanic activity in 1998 so mountain climbing is now prohibited.
“Steam Locomotive Hakodate Onuma” is operated on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from July 18th through August 2nd and also everyday from August 8th through 16th. A steam locomotive trip with backdrops of Onuma Park and Mount Komagatake is a pleasant memory many take away with them from their visits to Hakodate and Lake Onuma.
Food of Hakodate is drawing a lot attention. Sushi and dishes using fresh ingredients such as squid and seafood are popular, and so are Hakodate salt ramen noodles, a typical ramen of Hokkaido. “Lucky Pierrot” hamburger shops are favored by local people for fresh, hot and hearty burgers and you can choose from a variety of types. Folksy foods are available at Daimon Yokocho near Hakodate Station. The World Cuisine Academic Meeting in Hakodate 2009 was held in Hakodate in April 2009. As Hakodate was opened as an international trade port in the 19th century, Western food culture took root earlier here than in other parts of Japan. Using abundant local ingredients, professional cooks in Hakodate experiment and try to make an innovative cuisine, regardless of national or other classifications. Also this April, the 11th “Bar-gai in the Western Part of Hakodate” festival was held. This year the western part of Hakodate, which is the old part of the town, was decked out to resemble a Spanish town full of bars.
The usual access from Tokyo to Hakodate is by airplane or train. It takes about 90 minutes from Haneda Airport to Hakodate Airport by plane. As the airport is close to the town, you can get to Hakodate in about two hours. If you use trains, go to Hachinohe by Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) and then on to Hakodate by limited express. It takes about 6.5 hours. Express train with sleeping berths from Ueno is another choice. In 2010, the Tohoku Shinkansen line is to be extended to Shin-Aomori, which will shorten the time by about 50 minutes. In addition, if the Hokkaido Shinkansen starts operating as planned in 2015, you will be able to get to Shin-Hakodate surprisingly in just three hours and 12 minutes at the fastest speed. Some people go to Hakodate via Shin-Chitose Airport in Sapporo, since it has more flights. You can go to Hakodate by JR trains from JR Shin-Chitose Kuko (airport) Station located on the basement floor under the airport. You have to change trains at Minami-Chitose Station, next to Shin-Chitose Kuko Station. It takes about three hours by limited express including time to change trains.
150th Anniversary Hakodate Port
This year Hakodate is full of events related to the 150th anniversary of the port opening, and the biggest event, featuring the themes of food, music, and sports, is to be held at Dream Box 150, a special venue in Midori-no-Shima of Hakodate Port, from August 8th (Sat) to 16th (Sun). Come and enjoy Hakodate!