The sea breeze that was touching right cheek at the starting point is gradually changing to an air with the aroma of forest. There is no doubt how nice to drive around Hokkaido to enjoy its culture and nature, but why don’t you have an adventure around Hakodate area this time? It is well known that Hokkaido has different routes and culture from mainland Japan, but Hakodate has particularly unique history among the cities in Hokkaido.
Located in the southernmost part of Hokkaido, Hakodate has been a central port of the region to trade sea foods for a long time. As Japan started to be modernized, Hakodate became one of the first international port in the nation, and it has become an important hub both domestically and internationally.
Hakodate was also the last stage of samurai history. In the end of 19th century, new government was fighting against Edo shogunate government to realize a modern style society in Japan. Having several battles in the mainland, new government army was driving off the shogunate army to north. Defeat of shogunate government in Hakodate battle brought a decisive change to the Japanese political system.
The nature around Hakodate is of course enjoyable as well. The bay faces both Japanese sea and Pacific Ocean, vast forests and mountains, and beautiful lakes. Now, all aboard for a trip around Hakodate!
As Hakodate has been one of the major ports of Japan, you can explore fish markets and enjoy fresh seafood. One-minute walk from JR Hakodate station, morning market (Asaichi) with about 250 shops will welcome you. There are restaurants, souvenir shops, local vegetables, and snacks as well as freshly caught fishes, shells, seaweeds, and so on. In the dining hall, there is a fish preserve where you can try catching squids. After having an exciting fishing, a chef can fillet the squid for you to eat. When you walk down to restaurant area, there are plenty of fishbowl shops. You can either pick up one fishbowl that looks nice or get a bowl that you can choose the toppings. Salmon roes and sea urchin are always nice to taste, scallops of Hokkaido are tender and creamy, and for sure, recommendations of the day are must-check! If you got enough belly pack for a while, it is time to look for souvenirs or snacks for your trip. Sakiika (dried squid strips) might be one of the best matches for it. Hakodate’s sakiika is completely different from ones from other part of Japan with its tenderness and rich flavor.
Before exploring around Hakodate with a car, how about going out to bay with a boat to see the city from another side? Cruising boat Bluemoon offers a pleasant tour to Hakodate Bay. The brisk air invites to a deck where you can enjoy a magnificent view. The view of Hakodate city from Hakodate Mountain is famous, but observing the mountain from bay is as beautiful. Looking at the ridge of mountain, the excitement of the trip builds up even further. It is also nice to give a thought about the history of Hakodate. How the local people inherited their traditions while merging with mainland Japanese people, how Hakodate acted important role in the international trading, and how samurais carried their will to this land. The 30-minutes cruise might feel too short because it is comfortable, but it’s surely satisfying.
Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse
If you want to have a short break at a café or look for a souvenir, Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse is the perfect place to go. This warehouse started at 1869 after the area became a burned field with Hakodate battle. The founder who originally thrived with shipping business started the warehouse and importing western goods, which led to another huge success. As time passes, the warehouse gradually renewed its sections to boutiques, cafés s and a theater to become the current style. There are over 40 shops in Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse including crafted items, interior goods, Japanese snacks and cafés with lovely cakes. Viewing the sea while giving a bite to sweets is a luxurious moment. If you are satisfied with shopping and snacking, it is refreshing to walk by the canal and look around the warehouses. Furthermore, in nighttime, the warehouses get lit up to make a nostalgic atmosphere.
10-minute drive to northeast from Hakodate station, there is the most famous and historically important spot in Hakodate appears: Goryokaku. This star-shaped vast land surrounded by water moats was made in the end of Edo period when Hakodate was opened internationally. The intention of this construction was to move governmental facilities from port area to inland and enhance the protection referencing European castles. Ironically, Goryokaku showed its best performance to protect Edo government not from foreign powers but from new government army. Goryokaku became the last battlefield of samurai, and the new rise of modern government.
Currently, Goryokaku became a park with a lot of visitors. In spring, 5000 cherry trees bloom and that makes Goryokaku as one of the best cherry blossoms viewing spots. You can observe Goryokaku at 100 meters above the ground from the tower standing by the park. The building of tower also has a gallery to learn more about Goryokaku, and restaurants to take a break.
Cycling in Onuma
Let us drive up north to another destination. Going through chilling forest for 30 to 40 minutes, lake Onuma appears, which is known as a wetland preserved with Ramsar convention. Onuma was made with the volcanic activity of the Komagatake mountain rises next by. There are several view spots of Komagatake around the shore of Onuma, where majestic mountain reflects on the lake, and they are breathtaking landscapes.
In order to maximize the experience in Onuma, you better park your car and rent a bicycle. Cycling enables you to feel nature very close as well as makes easier to stop by the view spots around the lake. The soft wind brings you all the aromas from forests and wetland such as bark of trees, wet soil, fallen or fresh leaves, and so on. You will also be aware of rich sound of forest and animals. Water birds may fly nearby if you are lucky enough. 1 to 2 hours of bicycle ride leaves you not a fatigue but rather a refreshment.
Having a good amount of exercise gives you a good reason to treat yourself. In Yamakawa Farm milk plant, few hundred meters away from cycling course, soft served ice-cream and other dairy products are available. If you wish to have a real meal, Country Kitchen WALD would be nice. Their western style dishes are pleasing to anyone, and the building is cozy and cute.
Night Drive in Hakodate
Having entire day traveling around Hakodate area, the sun starts to set and it’s time to go back to city. The air becomes salty and cooler as you get out of the deep forests. Last but not least, there is one more tour left before going back to your hotel: night drive in central Hakodate! In contrast of cheerful atmosphere in the daytime, the city has romantic and somewhat lonely mood. Starting with Hakodate beer warehouse, you can see a lot of brick building lit up with a warm color including Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse that we visited earlier. You will see the reflections of light on the bay followed by unique buildings along the train line. Passing by some churches, we are finally climbing up the hill. Here is the climax of today’s trip. From the observatory tower at the peak, the whole city will be waiting for you with thousands of illuminations. The icy air even makes the view shinier. This landscape is known as one of the bests in Japan. If you are fascinated enough, get yourself back into a warm place, and get ready to have a good sleep.
How was the adventure around Hakodate? We have seen the culture, food, history and nature of Hakodate. This city has experienced various interactions of people and society; being chosen as the first international port in modern age, and becoming the battle field of two different governments. Of course, the beautiful nature is a remarkable point of the city, too. Gorgeous seafood has been satisfied people’s bodies, and mountains and lakes have heeled their minds. Hakodate has a great potential to charm tourists more, so come visit, and have a wonderful drive around this area!