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Travel Tuesdays: Hakodate!

hayleigh-byline-pic by Hayleigh Kanno, Education Programs Coordinator

Hakodate

Last month we took a ride on the brand-new Hokkaido Shinkansen and now that we’ve arrived in Hakodate I want to show you some of my favorite spots around the city. The following are just a few of the adventures Hakodate has to offer.

What a View!

One of the top must-sees in Hakodate is the view from the top of Mt. Hakodate. At a height of 1,096 feet you can see a breathtaking view of the southern coast of Hokkaido, and on a clear day the northern tip of Honshu. If you choose to take a hike to the top, the experience is even more rewarding. As we live in Florida, my husband, Yoshi, and I are not avid mountain hikers but the path on Mt. Hakodate is easy and doesn’t require anything more than a bit of stamina and about 90 minutes of your time. We went in the spring, and as the trees had not yet bloomed, we enjoyed varying views of the city below on our way up, each providing a new perspective. If you’re not up for walking, you can access the top by car, bus, or cable car.

The most popular time to be at the top of Mt. Hakodate is at night, and it’s evident by all the tour buses and sardine-packed cable cars as sundown approaches. Because we went in the spring, as the sun set the temperature dropped drastically, and so did our motivation to stay up there. Yoshi and I snapped a few twilight photos then jumped on the first bus heading back down. Sorry, but thirty degrees Fahrenheit with no gloves or jackets is a little rough. We’ve got a few blurry photos from the bus of the proper night view to show for our efforts though.

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Be-Hold the Fort!

Hakodate has an interesting history of foreign trade, religion, and architecture that has managed to coexist for nearly two centuries. I’d love to go into a history lesson but instead I’ll just mention one impressive example. Fort Goryokaku is a Western-style former military fort that is known for its striking star-shaped design. It’s a maze of high walls and moats at the ground and from above at the observatory you can see the whole fort in its full glory. You may recall from the Shinkansen blog that Japan Rail is very persuasive with their advertising. Alongside the pink-and-green posters for the Hokkaido Shinkansen were huge posters advertising Goryokaku in the springtime abounding with pink cherry blossoms. It looked beautiful and was part of my motivation to visit Hakodate again. I’d gone years earlier and in the winter… not the wisest choice. Yoshi had never been to Hokkaido and the poster hooked him so off to Hokkaido we went.

There were no cherry blossoms. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Hokkaido being so far north, the blossoms had yet to catch up with the budding spring around the rest of the country so all the trees were still bare. I learned after the fact that May is the time to go if you want to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Regardless of the season, it’s an interesting place to visit to just walk around or check out the historical Hakodate Magistrate’s Office on the grounds.

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Take Me to Church

As I mentioned earlier, Hakodate is home to a lot of foreign influences and some of that can best be seen on Motomachi, a sloping stretch of road dotted with Western-style homes and churches. One of the most beautiful aspects of these churches is how they fit into the backdrop of the Japanese landscape alongside Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The prominent churches in the area are the Russian Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church with the former being the most iconic. Yoshi and I got as far as the inner foyer of the Russian Orthodox Church but were too cheap to spend the 200 yen admission. Instead we just peeked through an ajar door and took a glimpse at the gilded iconography until a nun closed the door in our faces. Lesson learned.

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Clowning Around

During this spring trip to Hakodate, my breakfast consisted of a box of orange juice and salmon onigiri (rice ball) from 7-Eleven because I wanted to save room for lunch. Hakodate has all kinds of delicious food to offer but it is most famous for its crab and squid. With that said, Yoshi and I went to a burger joint called Lucky Pierrot. Where do I begin with this? The restaurant is a clown/cupid/angel/ice cream cone-themed monstrosity with pretty decent food. Its number one menu is the Chinese Chicken Burger, a sweet and tangy chicken sandwich with cabbage and mayonnaise. If you want the full experience you can order a side of their cheesy fries (a glob of white cheese on steak fries served in a mug). Even if tacky flea-market décor is not your thing, it’s worth a try because Lucky Pierrot is only in Hokkaido.

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Homegrown Grub

If you’re old enough to drink, it’s worth pulling up a bar stool at Hakodate Beer Hall, a huge restaurant/brewery where you can enjoy live music and local fare. From the bar you can see the huge beer vats and sample a flight of their fresh brew. Hands down, it was some of the best beer I’d ever had. My flight consisted of ale, weizen, altbier, and kolsch and they were all spectacular but the kolsch was my favorite. Their food was great too. Yoshi and I had a rice-stuffed squid (don’t let the look scare you) each and a flavorful lamb dish called Genghis Khan. Not to mention a side of dry corn… Anyway, we were not disappointed. The atmosphere of the space is really fun and friendly with a lot of character. The restaurant was built from a former warehouse and has a lot of charm and even stained glass windows reminiscent of the surrounding churches.

Another great place to eat local food is the Morning Market, a huge seafood market near the JR Hakodate train station. The seafood choices are overwhelming, all fresh and reasonably priced. There were even tourists buying fish in bulk with dry ice to carry back to their countries! It’s that good. There are also many options to sit down and eat. I had a crab dish here before and it was out-of-this-world amazing. Like so many other places to eat in Hakodate, part of the experience is the surroundings and the good food is an added bonus.

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Sayonara!

Hakodate is one of my favorite places in Japan and in addition to memories, I always bring back a little something—usually in the form of chocolate and food. Hokkaido is a great place for adventurers and Hakodate has a lot to offer for those making their first trip to the island. To learn more, please visit their travel website. See you next time!

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