HAKODATE CHRISTMAS FANTASY
This winter, Hakodate will be a hot spot, so to speak The Tohoku Shinkansen Line is to be extended to Shin-Aomori and the entire line will open on December 4, 2010. Changing to the Tsugaru-Kaikyo Line at Shin-Aomori Station, you will be able to arrive at Hakodate, a hub of southern Hokkaido, much faster than now. Hakodate spreads out in a fan-like shape at the foot of Mount Hakodate-yama, and juts out into the Tsugaru Straits. It has a lot of slopes. It is not a large city but full of history and culture, onsen hot springs, nature, spectacular night views and culinary delights. Let’s go to Hakodate this winter!
Hakodate Christmas Fantasy
Hakodate, which celebrated the 150th anniversary of the port opening to foreign countries last year, also holds many attractive events this year as well. Among them, Hakodate Christmas Fantasy 2010 in particular is garnering much attention. The event started in 1998, but this year is special. A huge and imposing fir tree that is presented every year by Halifax in Canada, the twin city of Hakodate, is to be decorated with about 50,000 light bulbs and displayed in the bay area of Hakodate. This event takes place from December 1 (Wed) to 25 (Sun), and during the period of the event, the tree-lighting ceremony is held at 5:50 p.m. and fireworks are launched everyday. The Christmas illumination and fireworks will create a fantastic atmosphere.
Quite fantastic as it may be ? it is still winter. Especially in the evening, it is chilly. Famous restaurants in Hakodate will each open a soup bar at the event venue. A delicious original soup is sure to help keep you warm, And volunteer staff members who wear Santa Claus costumes will entertain you and a huge wall painting will be displayed.
Hakodate Christmas Fantasy Bus will run, and JR Hakodate will operate SL Hakodate Christmas Fantasy on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and the 23 (holiday) from December 4 to 25. (both are charged)
For sightseeing in the city, using a tram is very convenient. When getting off at Suehiro-cho Station and going 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’s Office from the Meiji to early Showa period (the late 19th to early 20th century) were located. The park is home to the Old Branch Office of the Hokkaido Government.
The Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, located next to Motomachi Park, is a wooden Western-style building built in 1910. 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 view of Hakodate Port.
Motomachi is also home to the Russian Orthodox Church, Motomachi Roman Catholic Church, Hakodate Episcopal Church, and several other churches. This area is full of exotic and historic atmosphere. Several cafes command a fine view, and restaurants and souvenir shops based in buildings built in the early 20th century also add flavor to the area.
One of the Best Night Views in Japan
The night view of the port from the bay area, which is the venue of Hakodate Christmas Fantasy, is recommended, but the night view from Mount Hakodate-yama (334m) is considered a highlight of Hakodate sightseeing. A 10-minute walk from tram Juji-gai Station takes you to Sanroku (foot of the mountain) Station of Mount Hakodate Ropeway. Taking just three minutes to reach the summit by cable car (an amazing 125 people can fit in each car), the views of the sparkling, fan-shaped city are beautiful. This nighttime view is traditionally said to be one of the Three Famous Nighttime Views in the world, along with those of Naples in Italy and Hong Kong. For those wanting to take in the night view, take the cable car up between 30 minutes and two hours after sunset. After 10 p.m., the illuminated displays in the town below are turned off and the town darkens.
Goryokaku Park/Yunokawa Onsen
Goryokaku (Five Corner) Fortress, the first Western-style fortress in Japan, constructed in the mid 19th century, is in Goryokaku Park and open to the public as an historic site. The Hakodate Magistrate’s Office of the Tokugawa Shogunate was reconstructed in June 2010 using the original construction techniques, and has been attracting many visitors. The 107-meter Goryokaku Tower, which was built in 2006, is a landmark. A star-shaped structure can be seen from the tower and this is the remaining foundation of Goryokaku Fortress. In spring, blossoms of 1,600 cherry trees and Japanese wisteria bloom in the park, and in winter the park is illuminated at night.
Yunokawa Onsen, a spa opened in 1653, is one of the largest hot springs in Hokkaido. Its water is rich in chloride salt, and is good for rheumatism and neuralgia. 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. At some hotels and ryokans, you can leisurely soak in a big bath, gazing at the night fishing fires on fishing boats out on the ocean. It is sure to be a memorable experience of Hakodate.
Speaking of food of Hakodate, you cannot miss the seafood. There are numerous restaurants serving fresh squid, which is a specialty of Hakodate, crabs, sea urchins, and salmon caviar. Asa-ichi, the morning market, is located within a one-minute walk from Hakodate Station. About 300 vendor stalls sell fresh seafood brought ashore that very morning, as well as fresh vegetables and fruits. The market starts to get busy in early morning and is also home to many seafood restaurants.
Sushi and dishes using fresh ingredients such as squid and other 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-from-the-grill, hot and hearty burgers and you can choose from a variety of types.
Hakodate Illumination Fantasy takes place from December 1 to February 28. The three slopes in the Motomachi district are lit up by illuminations which are attached to trees along the streets. The illuminated town that is covered with snow creates a very romantic atmosphere. The tops of the slopes command a fantastic view of Hakodate Port.
At Goryokaku Park, Goryo Hoshi no Yume event is held from December 1 to February 27. The 1.8km of moats are illuminated and the Goryo Fortress shines like a star on the snow.
Hakodate, not So Far
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 Shin-Aomori by Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train and then on to Hakodate by limited express. In the fastest case, you can arrive at Hakodate within six hours. In addition, if the Hokkaido Shinkansen starts operating as planned in 2015, you will be able to get to Shin-Hakodate surprisingly in just four hours and 10 minutes at the fastest speed.
Hakodate is full of things to see and do in winter. Come and enjoy Fantastic Hakodate!