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Hakodate

Hakodate is a city on the southern coast of Hokkaido, which used to be a 19th century trading port.  There remain foreign influences throughout the city, most visibly in the way of of colonial era buildings.   When Commodore Perry succeeded in opening up some trading ports in Japan, Hakodate was one of them.  It’s also a very scenic city, so the setting of old western-style buildings overlooking the harbour is a key city feature.

Hakodate Panorama

I had a weekend in Hakodate at the very end of February (last weekend, if you’re going by the date that I’ve posted this).  Although it had snowed a lot not long before my visit, I saw blue skies and sunshine, although it was a quite cold -4 degrees overnight.

I flew up from Tokyo and headed straight for Hakodate-san (Mt Hakodate), about 300 metres high, overlooking the city from the end of the peninsula on which Hakodate sits.  The view of the city was quite amazing, as was the view out in other directions.  Snowy mountains stretched across the horizon in one direction, and the northern tip of Honshu (Aomori Prefecture) was visible across the strait in the other.

Here’s the view coming down the ropeway:

I then spent some time wandering around (and sliding on icy footpaths) Motomachi district, where many historical buildings are located.  Hakodate has lots of elegant old 19th century buildings.  Some of the architecture is an interesting mix of western and Japanese style mixed together.  I visited a museum celebrating the arrival of photography in Japan, and liked walking around the Motomachi district where many of these buildings are located.

Old City Hall, Hakodate

Motomachi is built on the lower slopes of Mt Hakodate, with some steep hills.  This makes descending some icy streets rather slippery.  The old British and Russian consulates are now tourist attractions.  (The British themed souvenir shop inside the old British Consulate building felt very out-of-place in modern Japan…)  There are some foreign churches, and a foreigner’s cemetery, which has an amazing view over the harbour and is a fitting final resting place for foreign pioneers and old sailors who died here.  I’m interested in places like Hakodate in Japan – these pioneers no doubt trail-blazed for us current foreigners, making life now all the more easy.  I guess life in Japan as a foreigner would have been very different in the late 19th century.  (I’ll see a bit more of this history when visiting Nagasaki in a few weeks.)

The foreigner's cemetery, Hakodate, contains old pioneering foreigners and sailors who died on port calls.  It's got a nice view - a nice final resting place, but would have been a long way from home in those days.

Regardless of who is buried there, there seem to be lots of cemeteries around the base of Mt Hakodate.  They all have stunning views over the sea.  Whether this is a stunning final resting place, or wasted on those who can’t enjoy the views any more, is perhaps subjective.

In the centre of town is the Asa-ichi (morning market), where fresh seafood is on sale.  The guidebooks talk about Hakodate’s famous squid fishing fleet, but one of the vendors in the market told me that the supply of squid is dwindling.  “Can’t keep catching 10,000 every day,” he told me.  There are squid themed souvenirs everywhere – some just slightly more tacky than others – and squid snacks for the tourists to take home as omiyage for their colleagues.  The squid fishing fleet looked dormant when I walked past the docks.  My favourite squid inspired place was “Squid Plaza”, an area on the docks that was designated as a meeting place.  Nobody was there except me, so I guess the squids’ stocks are really down at the moment.

Squid fishing boats

However, king crabs are doing a great trade.  Some of the crabs on sale in the morning market are caught in Russian waters north of Hokkaido, and they’re huge.  They could have been caught on The Deadliest Catch.  I had some for lunch.

King crab - probably caught in the northern waters off eastern Siberia - weighing in at over 2.5kg

Hakodate has a small tram network to make Melburnians feel at home, and the daily tram pass is good value for getting around and visiting the sites.  At the other end of town from Motomachi is Goryokaku, the ruins of Japan’s first western style fort.  It was laid out in the pattern of a 5 pointed star.  Hokkaido was being settled by the Japanese at roughly the same time as the foreign influence started.  Japan’s last feudal battle was fought at Goryokaku.  Now it is home to cherry trees, and has a five-sided modern tourist observation tower overlooking it.

Remains of Goryokaku (Star-shaped fort)

Modern Japan ranks the view from Mt Hakodate as one of Japan’s finest, especially at sunset.  With hundreds of new friends, I took the ropeway to the top a second time to see sunset.  It was a nice night and the lights were spectacular, although the lines on the viewing platform were 2 or 3 people deep, despite the cold.  Imagine what it must be like in summer!

Sunset from Mt Hakodate

The famous night view from Mt Hakodate.  I braved -4 degrees pplus wind chill to bring you this photo (but so did the hundreds of others lined 3 deep on the viewing deck...)

I finished the weekend with a visit to Yachigashira Onsen, a hot spring on the slopes of Hakodate-san.  Its water is rusty in colour (a little like Arima Onsen where I went a few months ago).  Sitting in the 44 degree rotemburo (outdoor bath) when it was cold outside was just the ticket to finishing a weekend out of town.

Below is a Google map centred on Mt Hakodate.

mthakodate

2 Comments

  1. Jon Allen says:

    Hi Mechakucha.
    It looks like you had a great time in Hakodate. I was there last summer and really enjoyed it. The old colonial buildings are quite unusual.

    I found your blog after a recent email from expat-blog.com reminded me to visit their site.
    But if you are interested in a more Japan centered society you may be interested in japansoc.com. It’s a social bookmarking site, a bit like digg.com for Japan related stories and blogs. There’s also a google group Japansoc.org for lively discussion about blogs and blogging on japan. Come on over and add your blog to the growing list of Japan blogs!

  2. […] Nagasaki remained a trading port, and attracted foreign traders and visitors.  This is similar to Hakodate, which I visited about a month ago – although Hakodate is much colder and doesn’t have […]

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