Nov 30
2017

Exploring Hakodate, Japan

in Travel

Sponsored by the JNTO (Japan National Tourism Organization).

Welcome to Hakodate Sign

Hakodate, Japan

Like all of the places we visited on this trip, I kept wishing I had weeks more time in Hakodate because we only had time to scratch the surface on everything that there was to see and do (and eat!).  We caught a shinkansen (a bullet train) from Hachinohe to Hakodate, which is on the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan.  To get there by shinkansen you have to go through the Seikan Tunnel, which connects the Japanese mainland to the island of Hokkaido.  The turnnel is the world’s longest undersea tunnel—33.5 miles long, and descends to a depth of 787.5 feet.  I’ve taken the train through the undersea tunnel from France to England, but this was way more fun.  The ride on a bullet train in Japan is so smooth that you could forget you’re even moving half the time unless you looked out the window.  Plus, at bullet train speeds (maximum operating speeds of 200 mph and a speed limit of about 161 mph inside the tunnel) the trip is quick.

Hakodate is in the center of the Kameda Peninsula, which stretches out from the southwest end of the island of Hokkaido.  It’s a particularly interesting city to visit because of its unique history.  It was Japan’s first city whose port was opened to foreign trade in 1854.  Japan was closed to contact with most outside countries starting in the mid 1600s until July of 1853 when United States Navy Commodore Perry arrived with four warships, sent by President Millard Fillmore to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade.  In March of the following year the “Japan-US Treaty of Peace and Amity” was signed declaring mutual peace between the US and Japan, and among other things, opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate for trade.  The influence of the west is much more evident in Hakodate than other places I’ve been in Japan, which was fascinating!

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Mt. Hakodate Night View

Mt. Hakodate Night View

The city is overlooked by Mt. Hakodate.  You can reach the summit by hiking up, driving up, or by cable car.  The view from the top is breathtaking, but the night view of the city is especially spectacular and is ranked as one of the top 3 in Japan and as one of the top 3 in the world (along with Hong Kong and Naples).  The lights of the city below spread out like a mesmerizing network of twinkling stars.  Going to the top is free of charge, unless you take the cable car, which is very affordable.

Mt. Hakodate sign

 

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Hakodate Morning Market

Hakodate Morning Market (Hakodate Asaichi)

If you visit Hakodate, one of the “must do” activities is a visit to the Hakodate Asaichi, or Morning Market.  It’s a large market that covers 4 city blocks with more than 300 shops and sells everything from fresh Hakodate produce and freshly caught Hakodate seafood, to steamed buns filled with crab and rice bowls topped with seafood.

Shopping at the Hakodate Morning Market

The market is easy to get to—it’s only a few minutes walk from the train station and is close to local hotels.  It opens early in the morning and closes during the early afternoon, so it’s best to go early when the market is in full swing.  Go and eat breakfast or an early lunch, or just go to explore and see all the fun things on display!

Morning Market Hakodate Morning Market

When you do go, make sure to stop first at the Information Counter, which is located in the food court.  They speak English and Chinese, so are wonderful if you have any questions, and also provide maps in English of the market, which you will definitely want!  You can also ship your purchases home from this counter.  You can also get information here about the shops participating in their new Tax Free program.  You can also look for signs in store windows that designate them as tax free shops.  If you purchase anything at one of these shops, take your receipt back to the Information Counter and they will give you back the tax that you paid.

Hakodate Morning Market Information Counter & Tax Free Shopping

The amount of squid caught in this area is the largest in Japan, so the squid has become one of the symbols of Hakodate (you will see them everywhere).  It’s also one of the more popular items in the Morning Market and people from all over Japan come to the market to enjoy fresh squid sashimi.  One of the things you can do, if you are so inclined, is to go to one of the “squid pools” where you can catch your own squid, which a chef will then quickly turn into a plate of sashimi for you to sit and eat.

Squid fishing at the Hakodate morning market

If you don’t want to eat anything in the main market, you can wander over to Donburi Yokocho, one of the buildings in the market that is filled with restaurants that are open for breakfast and lunch.  A donburi is a Japanese rice bowl meal and is the dominent dish on the menus in this area.  You can wander down the hall looking at the different displays in the windows to decide what you want to eat!

Eat Donburi at one of the restaurants in Donburi Yokocho at the Hakodate Morning Market

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Old Public Hall in the Motomachi District

Motomachi District

The Motomachi District is an area filled with old historical buildings where you can really see the western influence.

Old Brick Building Old Brick Building

The Old Public Hall is one of those buildings and is a fascinating mixture of Japanese and Western architecture.  This is the public meeting hall where the citizens would gather together.  This particular building was built in 1910 after the previous building burned to the ground in 1907, along with 12,000 homes in a large fire.

Old Public Hall

The building sits on the side of a significant incline which provides a beautiful view of Hakodate Bay.

Hakodate view

Near the Old Public Hall is a fun statue of Commodore Perry with a plaque that describes his importance to the city.  We were talking about how everyone in Japan knows who he is, because he is a significant figure in Japanese history, and wondered how many people in the US are familiar with him.

Commodore Perry

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Mushi Nabe at Sara no Tsuki restaurant in Hakodate

Sara no Tsuki Restaurant

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Sara no Tsuki, located near the Hakodate Ropeway Station in the Motomachi District, which serves up seafood dishes using the famous Hakodate seafood.

Sara no Tsuki restaurant in Hakodate

Sara no Tsuki restaurant

One of the types of things they serve is nabemono (“nah-bay-moh-noh”), or nabe for short, which is a meal cooked in a donabe, a Japanese clay pot.  We had mushi nabe, which is steamed.  This meal was definitely one of my favorite of the trip.  The spread was amazing and everything was delicious.  They cooked up a feast for everyone, including a vegetarian one for me and another girl on the trip who is also vegan.  I would go back just to eat any one of the dishes we had!

Sara no Tsuki restaurant Mushi nabe (steamed hot pot)

Right next to the restaurant is the Hakodate Gokoku Shrine, which was originally constructed in 1869.  There is a graveyard at the shrine which houses the remains of the imperial dead following the Battle of Hakodate, as well as the remains of the Choshu rebels that died in the Satsuma Rebellion.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful spot which is definitely worth a visit if you’re already in the area.

Gokoku Shrine in Hakodate

The entrance to the path that leads up to the shrine is marked by a large red torii.  A torii marks the entrance to a sacrerd space, which is why the road leading to a Shinto shrine is almost always straddled by one or more torii.  This particular one is beautiful, and if you stand under it with your back to the shrine you will get another spectacular view of the city and bay below.

Torii marking entrance to Gokoku shrine Hakodate view from Gokoku Shrine

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Onuma Quasi National Park 13

Onuma Quasi National Park

About 12.5 miles north of Hakodate is Onuma Quasi National Park, a gorgeous 35-square mile park that includes several lakes as well as the dormant volcano, Mt. Komagatake.  The park can be reached by car or train and is worth making time to spend a day there.  It is covered in walking paths that make the park very accessible.

Onuma Quasi National Park

Beautiful bridges (each one seemed to be unique!) made it so that you could walk over and explore the little islands that dot the lakes.  You can go on a boat sightseeing tour, rent a bicycle, go canoeing, camping, and fishing, or play tennis or golf.  But you definitely want to pack a picnic lunch because this is the perfect place for it!

Onuma Quasi National Park Onuma Quasi National Park

Our day started out with rain, but by the time we got to the park it had cleared and we could see the peak of Mt. Komagatake.  We were told that the peak is often shrouded by clouds, so we were lucky to see it.  The call the peak “the spear head” and I can see why!

Mt. Komagatake

Near one of the parking lots are a couple of places where you can buy soft cream, which is Japanese soft serve ice cream . . . but way better than any soft serve you’ve had if you live in the US!  Especially if it’s from Hokkaido.  Hokkaido is the only area in Japan with enough open land to have a large scale dairy industry and the milk and dairy products that come from Hokkaido are famous for the taste and quality.  So if you are an ice cream lover and see a sign for soft cream, make sure you stop at least once (if not every time) to indulge!

Soft Cream Restaurant Onuma Quasi Park

If you want to see a bit more, check out this video!  (Also, make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel, which I will be posting videos to more frequently now!)

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*Disclosure: The Japan National Tourism Organization sponsored my trip and is also compensating me for my time in writing this blog post.  All experiences and opinions are my own!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }



Judy November 30, 2017 at 11:28 pm

That morning market looks amazing–fun shopping and amazing food all in one place! What a beautiful region of Japan.

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June December 1, 2017 at 5:57 am

Hi Rachel,

I have loved your posts and videos about your last trip to Japan. My husband and I are planning a trip for next May and we’ve been trying to decide exactly where to go and your info has helped decide we definitely want to go to those areas! We’re thinking Tokyo as well and maybe a couple days in Kyoto. Would you have any other suggestions?

Thank you,
June

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Ally Spence December 1, 2017 at 6:38 pm

I am sad to see these posts come to end. They have been really fun. Are you going to be doing more video?

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