Spared from major wartime destruction, Hakodate features numerous architectural marvels from Japan’s Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods. For example, the popular shopping complex “Hakodate Meijikan” features numerous repurposed red-brick warehouses, which made up Hokkaido’s first post office opened in 1911. Today, you can buy souvenirs such as folk crafts and music boxes at the many stores housed within the complex. There is also the café “Sabo Kikuizumi”, a renovated one-story wooden house built in 1921 that was once the villa of a liquor wholesaler. For a more mobile example, you can literally take a ride in history on the streetcar “Hakodate Haikara-Gō”, which services the city between April and October. The streetcar was built in the Meiji Period and was originally in service throughout the Taisho Period. After being out of service for numerous decades, it was restored in 1992. As you can probably tell by now, Hakodate definitely has some retro flair and, in some spots, it can feel like you have traveled back in time to the turn of the 20th century.
In the bay area, you will find the shopping complex “Hakodate Meijikan”. The shops within feature a wide variety of local goods, including folk craft, glassware, and music boxes. Right at the entrance, you will find a bus service that provides access to both Hakodate Station and Hakodate Airport, making the mall perfect for some last-minute souvenir shopping. The shops aren’t necessarily the highlight though, as the buildings that make up this complex are beautifully kept red-brick warehouses, which were originally part of Hokkaido’s first post office built in 1911. The ivy that adorns the façade of these warehouses only adds to their beauty, especially when they turn crimson red from late October to early November.
11-17 Toyokawa-cho, Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido
“Sabo Kikuizumi” is a renovated one-story wooden house built in 1921 that was once the villa of a liquor wholesaler. In 1990, it was designated a historic building worth preserving by Hakodate City, and it was reborn as a café. When you enter, on the right side you will find a Japanese-style room with a sunken fireplace, while the study on your left has been converted to a Western-style room with a counter. Therefore, you can enjoy an interior that features a marriage of styles. Popular items on the menu include Parfait, Zenzai (sweet porridge), and Omurice (omelet draped over a bed of rice). It’s not every day that you can enjoy some coffee and snacks in a designated historic property, making it a unique setting to take a break from exploring the city.
14-5 Motomachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Hakodate’s Western District is a treasure trove of historical properties and the perfect place to get lost in. On the way, be sure to stop by “Hishii”, a renovated warehouse that was built in 1905 and today houses a café and an antique shop. Before heading inside, take a glance at the dark reddish-brown doors that augment the black exterior, giving the building an aura of old-school elegance. At the café, you can enjoy sandwiches together with your drink, while the antique shop features a collection of vintage accessories and Taisho-era Kimonos. A perfect representation of the entire neighborhood, Hishii simply oozes in old-school chic.
9-4 Horaicho, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Tea Shop Yuhi
The best spot to catch a beautiful sunset in Hakodate is the Anama Coast. Right next door and adjacent to the Foreign Cemetery, you will find “Tea Shop Yuhi”. Housed in a building that will be sure to catch your eye due to its quirky pink exterior, the site actually used to be the Hakodate Quarantine Station, which was built in 1885 to protect Hakodate’s citizens from infectious diseases following the opening of the port to international visitors. In 2014, the station was restored as a café specializing in Japanese tea. The interior is punctuated by the owner’s impressive collection of old gramophones and music boxes to create a nostalgic atmosphere. It is thus perfect for pondering the city’s history while enjoying some tea and the view of the sunset across the bay.
25-18 Funamicho, Hakodate, Hokkaido
The Haikara-Gō streetcar is a tribute to the transportation history of the city, styled after the city’s first electrified streetcars from 1913. The current Haikara-Gō is restored from a model that served to clear the streets of snow starting in 1937. Its iconic red and white exterior, as well as the nostalgic interior featuring wooden walls and rattan straps, gives you a first-hand experience of Japan’s Meiji Era. Even the streetcar operator wears a retro-styled outfit! One point to be aware of: the streetcar only runs in the warmer months, making 3 runs a day on Saturdays, Sundays, and national holidays between April and October. The fare is the same as Hakodate’s regular streetcars (which is calculated based on the distance covered), making this an affordable way to experience history.
1 Irifunecho, Hakodate, Hokkaido