At the entrance of Hokkaidō, surrounded by nature, there is a fascinating city with a western atmosphere: Hakodate is the third major city of the island after Sapporo and Asahikawa.
History of the city
Hakodate is a port-city located in Kameda Peninsula, which is part of Oshima Peninsula, in Southern Hokkaidō. The city we can see nowadays comes from a fishermen’s village founded in 1454 by the Usukeshi Ainu clan: it seems that the city originally developed around a palace built by Kōno Masamichi.
Hakodate became a port in the Meiji Period, reaching a considerable development: foreigners could stop here, in as well as in Yokohama and Nagasaki. The close Russian influence on Hakodate has been important, this can be simply understood by noticing the presence of Orthodox churches in town.
Hakodate, already a big city in the beginning of the Shōwa Period, became the major city in Hokkaidō in the early 30’s. However, the role of the prefectural capital city was given to Sapporo after the big fire that hit the city in 1934. Moreover, during the prosperity period of Japan and thanks to the establishment of an air transportation system, many inhabitants moved to Sapporo, or went to Tōkyō. Hakodate’s role as Hokkaidō’s entrance became weaker.
Anyway, with the construction of the Seikan Tunnel and the extension of the Hokkaidō Shinkansen in 2016, reaching Hakodate has become more convenient! Now it is possible to reach it with no change from Tōkyō in about 4 hours.
As written before, it is possible to find many tracks of the colonial times in Hakodate. The city’s atmosphere still reminds a port-city’s one. There are many western buildings, while the churches gently mingle with the rest of the city.
Another peculiarity of Hakodate is the territory where it takes place: the sea surrounds it at east, west and south. In Southern Hakodate there is a dormant volcano called Hakodate-yama. You can enjoy a gorgeous night-view on the peninsula from here. The night-landscapes too are a fascinating characteristic of Hakodate.
Click here to see how to get there!
Main spots of Hakodate
Hakodate can be split in three interest areas:
1) Hakodate peninsula and Mount Hakodate
2) Goryōkaku area
3) Yu-no-kawa area
Hakodate Peninsula area
Asaichi (morning fish market)
Just a few steps away from Hakodate Station, the famous Asaichi fresh fish market is located.
This area wakes up at 5:00 (6:00 in winter), the perfect spot where to taste delicious fresh sea products.
The main ones are sea urchins, fish eggs and crabs, but everything can be found in the sea of Hokkaidō.
The amount of sashimi you would get in Tōkyō for 3.000 yen can be enjoyed here as cheap as 1.500 yen, and the flavor is assured!
Not only fresh fish can be purchased here, you can also find the tasty Hokkaidō Yubari melon and, if you are courageous enough, you can try the “odori ika“, a squid still living that will keep moving its tentacles inside your mouth.
Access: exit the station and go right.
Time schedule: early morning-afternoon (please, note: if you don’t get here early enough everything could be sold-out).
Kanemori red brick storehouses
Walking toward Hakodate-yama from Asaichi you can see some red tiled storehouses along the sea.
These storehouses, witnesses of the old port-city days, are now restaurants, beer houses or souvenir shops.
Especially, we recommend you to visit this souvenirs and decorations shops, where you can find many fancy accessories and ornamental goods.
Among these brick buildings you can see the former Post Office, called Meiji-kan. The exterior part is covered by ivy.
This spot gets very nice thanks to the Christmas lights in the winter time.
Access: 15 minutes walking from the Asaichi area, 5 minutes walking from “Jūjigai” tramway stop
Time schedules: depending on single shops.
The area of Motomachi is the historical heart of Hakodate city.
This part of the town separates the Station area from Sakaemachi and, as you get off the tram, you enter a place where time has stopped: the shape of a church, Hakodate-yama on the background, the deep blue sea, make you fell like you are not in Japan any more.
Also, since this area has the shape of a fan, the more you go towards the sea the more it gets narrow.
Among the spots named “-zaka” (meaning “slope”), Hachiman-zaka is the most famous.
Walking further from the sea the altitude increases gently and you can have a view on the harbor from here.
In this place you feel immersed in the city, therefore many tourists take pictures standing in the middle of the road (pay attention while you’re taking pictures, sometimes cars may pass here).
Another uphill road is Chacha-nobori. “Chacha” means “grandfather” in the Ainu language (Ainu are the indigenous population of Hokkaidō), the name of this road seems to come from the bend-over position people assume while walking uphill.
The Orthodox church of Hakodate “Gangan-ji“, also called the Resurrection Cathedral, is an important national cultural site.
The building is built in Byzantine style and, as an orthodox church, hosts many golden icons.
The church is surrounded by a garden full of roses.
Just a few meters south the catholic church of Moto-machi. The weather van on the spire is a landmark.
Close to the orthodox church, westwards, there is another western stile building built in the Meiji period in a fancy colonial style, which was the Public Hall of Hakodate.
The contrast between the golden roof and the light blue walls is nice from each point of view.
If you pay for the entrance, you can visit also the inside of the building, and from the balcony on the second floor you can have a view on the harbor.
Aside this building the Motomachi Park takes place.
This is also a scenic area and it’s a perfect spot for a break during your visit. Here, many events and concerts are held during the year.
Among the buildings in the park, one hosts an exhibition about old cameras, while another one is the Hakodate’s tourism association building. Here you can ask for directions, maps or pamphlets.
Walking down the park stairs you reach the former English Consulate.
There is also a pavilion among the flowers which decorate the building.
This building hosts a museum about the opening of Hakodate to the foreigners merchants in the past.
There are other interesting spots in this area: Ice cream-dōri is a road which links some tourist locations in Motomachi.
You will surely encounter many girls publicizing their own ice cream shop, giving you discount coupons and claiming that their shop is the best in the city. There is also a small church along the road.
Access: 10 minutes walking from “Suehiro-chō” tramway station.
Going on, westwards, you come by the feet of Hakodate-yama, whose shape is circular, and it is immediately possible to see the sea. Here the foreigners graveyard takes place. From the opening of the harbor, many foreigners came to Hakodate. Those who couldn’t go back to their country now rest here. Not many tourists come all the way to this place, so you can enjoy the view on the sea and Mount Komagatake in a tranquil place. You can find also some little coffee houses, good for a break while looking the sea or for a light meal.
Next to the graveyard we find Kōryū-ji Buddhist temple, by its gate “San-mon” it is possible to see a decorative sculpture settled there.
Going along the way the number of the buildings gets lower and lower, until you finally reach Irifune-machi, where the road ends.
Access: 10 minuts walking from “dokku-mae” tramway stop (final stop).
The night view that one can admire from Hakodate-yama is just impressive and considered one of the three best night views of Japan, along with Kōbe and Nagasaki. Getting to the top by cable-car represents the quickest way: the return ticket costs 1.160 yen, and cable-cars leave every 5-10 minutes; it runs from 9:00 to 22:00 (21:00 in the winter).
The height of Hakodate-yama is 334 meters, you can enjoy a wide view on the city. In clear days it it possible to see a large portion of Aomori, looking southwards to Honshū. The perfect time is slightly before the sunset, when you can enjoy either the day view and the spectacular night view.
From the tramway last stop, “Yachigashira“, go towards the sea. Walking along the bank you come to a tranquil fishermen neighborhood, heading to Tachimachi-misaki. The road gets steeper. There is a graveyard on the left and, among the graves, you can see the historical Ishikawa Kuboku family’s one. The sea and the shape of Hakodate is visible from here.
Going on, you come by a car parking followed by a path. The buildings are few, you can see a side of the mountain: the steep cliff is splendid. If the weather is good you can see Aomori by looking towards Tsugaru Strait.
For the ones who want to explore Tachimachi-misaki there is also a hiking path. On the plain called Senjōjiki, where the ruins of a military post take place.
During the expansion of Hakodate’s port, also navy and military related facilities grew considerably. To protect the access to the peninsula from the north, Goryōkaku fort was established. However, instead of recalling a Japanese castle, the Goryōkaku fort was built following the western standards of late 18th century..
Since the Goryōkaku area is located far away from Hakodate Station, reaching it by foot requires time, we advise you to travel by public transportation, such as bus or tram.
At the tram stop in front of Hakodate Station square, step on the tram heading to Yunokawa and get off at “Goryōkaku Kōen-mae” stop.
From the tram stop you have to go back a few metres by foot, on the direction your tram came. You will immediately be at an intersection, and will see the Goryōkaku Tower.
The Goryōkaku Tower is 107 mt high, which makes it the highest point of Hakodate after Mount Hakodate itself.
From the tower’s observatory it is possible to admire the star-shaped Goryōkaku Park.
We recommend it especially during the cherries blooming season (from the end of May to June in this region), it is absolutely wonderful!
Official website: http://www.goryokaku-tower.co.jp/
This park hosting the Goryōkaku fort, the first western-style fort in Japan, was built during the Boshin War: it would have defended Hakodate from a possible invasion by a western country.
From a ground level view one can’t notice its shape, but from a high located spot, such the Hakodate Tower in the nearby area, a star immediately shows up. The park is surrounded by a canal, you can rent a boat to explore it.
In the park’s heart a rebuilt version of the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office takes place. This building seems to be built in a Japanese style, but the impression it gives differs from the other castles of Japan.
Every year, on Summer weekends, the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office becomes a theater stage. More than 500 volunteers take part of the event and interesting shows are held.
In the eastern part of Hakodate the Yunokawa area is located, reachable by getting off at the last stop of the tramway line.
After a long stroll through the city, how about relaxing at a traditionalonsen (hot spring)?
Of course there is plenty of one-day-stay onsens in this area.
Close to the Yunokawa-onsen stop there is a free footbath (ashiyu), while near the terminal stop, one of the must-see spots of this area takes place, the Yukura Shrine.
The Trappistine Monastery< is located east from the Yu no Kawa tram stop. This was the first women monastery of Japan, nowadays is a popular tourist spot. The Madleine cakes and cookies made here are among the most famous souvenirs from Hakodate.
The Kyū-Iwafune-shi Garden and the Miharashi Garden are located North from the Yu no Kawa stop.
Here you can see about 150 different kind of trees, especially Miharashi Garden is very popular during the Fall season, when the leaves’ colors are enlightened at night with different techniques.
Finally, let’s talk about Hakodate’s culinary delights! Beside the Asaichi fish products we introduced previously, there are many other delicious things to try in Hakodate. One of these is Hakodate Ramen, part of Hakodate’s tradition since 1884. There are many versions of it, but the most characteristic one is the chicken broth soup, you can distinguish it by its transparency.
Western dishes and sweets are also really delicious, especially dairy products and bread. The connection between Hakodate and the West is strong, there are many influences from Russian and French cuisine.
Hakodate is a wonderful city, it considerably exceeded our expectations, it deserves absolutely more than a day of visit.
It is not a big city such as Sapporo, but we think there is plenty of spots that are worth seeing.
In Hakodate, we could feel like being in a western country due to the atmosphere of the streets and the architecture of many buildings. The nature, the sea and the mountains of Hakodate are great and gorgeous, this city can conjugate a deep sense of freedom with intense historical features.
There are surely other spots to visit, such as Onuma Park, with the impressive silhouette of Mount Komagatake, or the little town of Matsumae, protecting the northernmost Japanese Castle.