Two Days in Hakodate

by Ichiro Katayanagi
Stripes Okinawa

Hakodate is Hokkaido Prefecture’s third most inhabited city. It is a popular spot among local and foreign tourists known for a variety of seafood delicacies like Yesso scallops, Ata mackerels, sea tangles or kombu, and squid. In fact, squid is the city’s symbol.

On a crisp fall morning, I hopped on a JR Hokkaido Shinkansen train with direct service from Tokyo Station to Hakodate-Hokuto Station. The ride up to the area was a quick four hours with lots of nice scenery.

Hakodate Morning Market

I arrived at Hakodate Station just in time for lunch and headed straight for the Hakodate Morning Market. This market features about 250 shops selling everything from fresh seafood to souvenirs. There are also many restaurants here to grab some of the local fare. I chose Mako and Yasube Restaurant, a recommendation from my handy guide book. My lunch here consisted of a salmon and salmon egg bowl, squid sashimi, fried salmon belly meat, miso soup with seaweed, and pickles for about 1,500 yen (or around $15). The food was fresh and delicious. By the time I finished my meal, there was a line of about 15 people waiting to get in.

Church area in Motomachi

I strolled the market for a bit then jumped on a bus in front of the station for an afternoon bus tour. The company I chose offers many different tours, so I chose an afternoon tour, a night one to Mt. Hakkodate and a morning tour for the next day. My first excursion was about three hours long and took me to three different stops.

First, I went to Motomachi, a former foreign settlement where today some of its former church and consulate buildings still stand. Next, my tour group visited the Motomachi Roman Catholic Church, a gothic church founded in 1877 and rebuilt in 1923, and Hakodate Russian Orthodox Church, which is designated as nationally-designated important cultural asset and is famous for its beautiful-sounding bells, selected as one of the 100 sounds of Japan.

Then, from one of the most famous spots in Hakodate, Hachiman-Zaka Hill, I got a photogenic view straight to Hakodate Bay and its anchored ships. There were many tourists, so trying to get a good photo was a challenge. Next on the tour, Perry Square, named in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Commodore Matthew Perry’s landing at Hakodate Port. This part of the tour offered nice views of the landscape and I enjoyed the Western-style historical buildings this area is known for.

Shortly after, the tour took me to Hakodate Foreign Cemetery, which stands on a high point commanding its own fine view of the bay. This cemetery was established with the burial of two sailors from Perry’s fleet who died on the voyage in 1854. It is broken down into four sections: Protestant, Catholic, Chinese, and Russian. Though the area was peaceful and the view amazing, I thought the deceased buried here must not be able to rest quietly due to the high number of tourists.

Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses

A short 10-minute bus ride brought us to Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses. The warehouse buildings, now a shopping mall, were built in 1909 to store goods and did so until 1987. One of the shops I visited here was Hakodate Orgel Do, a musical box shop. This store had many beautiful music boxes with a variety of styles. Some were funny, like the one with plastic sushi that went in a circle as the music played. And, if you have time, there is even a music box-making class. The tour only allowed for 50 minutes at the mall, so I decided I would return to peruse the rest of the shops at my leisure the following day.

Houran Ramen Restaurant

When the tour was over, I picked Houran Ramen Restaurant, which opened in 1950, for supper. Hakodate is known as the birthplace of ramen noodles, as its local paper holds the record for the oldest ramen advertisement dating back to 1884. The local favorite is salt-based broth ramen and I ordered a regular-sized portion of this since I was still full from my big lunch. It was a simple bowl, but the chicken and pork meat were lightly seasoned, and I enjoyed it through to the last drop. This meal was a perfect warm up for the chilly night view I would be getting from Mt. Hakodate.

Mt. Hakodate

It was about a 30-minute tour bus ride to the summit of the mountain from my hotel. The area was bustling tourists trying to get the best shot of the amazing city lights from the highest point in the observatory. When I visited in September, I was okay with a light jacket, but if you’re visiting in the winter or early spring, make sure to bundle up. The view was so beautiful that it was easy to see why it is considered on par with the night views of Hong Kong and Naples. The photos I managed to get would never do the justice to what this vantage point looks like in person. Our trip ended with a ride down via ropeway, which can accommodate 125 passengers at a time. It was only a few minutes and then I hopped back on the bus to head back for a good night’s rest at my hotel.

Fort Gryokaku and Gryokaku Tower

My second day in Hakodate started with a 3-hour bus tour of other points of interest in the area. First, the tour took met to Fort Gryokaku and Gryokaku Tower. Built in 1864, Fort Gryokaku is known for its unique pentagon shape, which was styled after the European citadel. This is a nice place to take in the interesting architecture. I then headed up to the observation floor of the tower. From the height of over 80 meters, I could see the fort and admired the surrounding mountains and townscape.

Trappistine Monastery

Next up was the Trappistine Monastery, established by eight French nuns in 1898. The monastery building was built in 1927 and boasts a mix of gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. In the souvenir shop, purchase additive-free confectionaries made by the nuns. The madeleines and cookies I bought from the shop were tasty. In this same building, I learned more about the nuns’ daily lives at an exhibit open to the public.

Hakodate Milk

The final stop on this tour was to a dairy farm to try the local milk. Visitors can view the manufacturing process for milk, feed cows and buy dairy products like soft-serve ice cream and yogurt drinks. I tried a plain yogurt drink, which had a mildly sour taste and thick consistency, but I enjoyed it. If you’re a milk lover, you’ll want to have the farm’s all-you-can-drink milk option for 200 yen. According to the tour guide, a lady on a tour a few years ago drank 19 270-ml-sized glasses of milk, a record to this day. Can you believe it!?

When the tour was over, I was dropped off at Hakodate Station and headed for lunch. I decided to try Asaichi-Shokudo-Nibankan Restaurant, which my guide book said they serve seven kinds of rice bowls for 500 yen each. The seafood bowl I chose came with seven types of seafood and a soy-flavored egg omelet on rice. This huge serving also came with miso soup and pickles on the side. It was a lot of food, but it was delicious and inexpensive.

Since I still had time before my bullet train back to Tokyo, I revisited the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses again for some last-minute shopping and strolling. From Hakodate-Eki-Mae Station, a few minutes’ walk from Hakodate Station, I hopped on a tram to Jyuji-Gai Station. From there, I walked about seven minutes to the brick warehouses.

Hakodate has many fascinating tourist spots within short distances from each other, so it is quite easy to navigate. As in many places in Japan, the public transportation here is reliable and will get you wherever you need to go quickly and efficiently. If, like me, you’d rather let someone else take charge of navigating, try a regular bus tour instead. Hakodate’s sights and food are excellent and many Instagrammable spots await you. Add this great city to your Japan to-do list, you won’t regret it!

Katayanagi.Ichiro@stripes.com

Useful travel websites for Hakodate

Hakodate Official Travel Site
URL: https://www.hakodate.travel/en/

Hokuto Kotsu Company
URL: https://hokto.co.jp/english-timetable.html
TEL: 0138-57-4000

Hakodate Morning Market
Location: 9-19 Wakamatsu-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: Jan-Apr 6 a.m. - 2 p.m. May-Dec 5 a.m. – 2 p.m. (differ from store to store)
URL: http://www.uu-hokkaido.com/corporate/hakodate-asaichi.shtml
TEL: 0120-858-313

Mako To Yasube Restaurant
Location: Hakodate Morning Market
Hours: 6 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Wednesday closed)
URL: http://www8.plala.or.jp/makotoyasube/
TEL: 0138-26-4404

Motomachi Roman Catholic Church
Location: 15-30 Motomachi, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
URL: Please see Hakodate Official Travel Site
TEL: 0138-22-6877

Hakodate Russian Orthodox Church
Location: 3-13 Motomachi, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Saturdays - 4 p.m., Sundays 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.)
URL: Please see Hakodate Official Travel Site
TEL: 0138-23-7387

Foreigners’ Cemetery
Location: 23 Funami-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
URL: Please see Hakodate Official Travel Site
TEL: 0138-27-3333

Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses
Location: 14-12 Suehiro-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: differ from store to store
URL: https://hakodate-kanemori.com/en
TEL: 0138-27-5530

Hakodate Orgel Do
Location: 11-5 Toyokawa-chou, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
URL: https://www.otaru-orgel.co.jp/english/e_index.html
TEL: 0318-21-1055

Houran Ramen Restaurant
Location: 5-13 Matsukaze-cho Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
URL: https://tabelog.com/en/hokkaido/A0105/A010501/1000260/
TEL: 0138-22-8086

Mt. Hakodate Ropeway
Location: 19-7, Motomachi, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: Please ask for business hours
URL: https://334.co.jp/eng/
TEL: 0138-23-3105

Goryokaku Tower
Location: 43-9 Goryokaku-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.
URL: http://www.goryokaku-tower.co.jp/en/
TEL: 0138-51-4785

Trappistine Monastery
Location: 346 Kamiyunokawa-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Nov-Apr - 4:30 p.m.)
URL: http://www.ocso-tenshien.jp/eng/
TEL: 0138-57-3331

Hakodate Milk
Location: 118 Nakano-cho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido
Hours: Please ask for business hours
URL: https://www.e-milk.co.jp/ice118/
TEL: 0138-58-4460

Asaichi-Shokudo-Nibankan Restaurant
Location: Hakodate Morning Market
Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
URL: https://hakodate-nibankan.gorp.jp/
TEL: 050-3467-8964

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