Photo Credit: Hokkaido Railway Company
A new type of H5 series Shinkansen on a test run in the snow
The newly opened route is from Shin Aomori to Shin Hakodate Hokuto Station. The route to the final destination, Sapporo, will be opened in the future.
Seikan undersea tunnel
Which do you like a leisurely trip or transportation convenience?
In March, 2016, the Tohoku Shinkansen line extends to Hakodate city in Hokkaido. Today, a central city in Hokkaido is Sapporo but Hakodate was more thriving from a long time ago. When plane ride was not common, it once took about 15 hours to get to the city from Tokyo by overnight train and ferry. The route is the subject matter of a very famous Japanese song.
Now, shinkansen super express trains pass through the world’s longest undersea tunnel, Seikan Tunnel at furious speed which shorten the time of the route. Just getting on a bullet train for 4 hours will soon take you to the city. Well, we do not have enough time to view north winter scenery as the song goes. However, easy access to Hakodate gives us many opportunities to enjoy the picturesque port town.
In the Old Days, the Port was the Gateway to Hokkaido.
Hakodate port in 1891
Photo Credit 函館市公式観光情報サイト「はこぶら」
Former red brick storehouses
Former British consulate in Hakodate
In the Edo period (1603-1868), Hakodate prospered as a trading hub of northern seafood such as herring, kelp and the like which were less commonly available in Edo (Tokyo) or Kyoto. After the end of the national isolation policy over the years, Hakodate was designated as an international trading port. (There were only 4 ports of the same sort in Japan at that time.)
From then on, the opening port accelerated the development of the town. Once upon a time, the local industry was just processing marine products. In that town, after that, huge shipbuilding yards were constructed and multilateral institutions such as consular offices and trading houses were built with rapidly. Like the Image 7, red brick storehouses which were usually not common in Japan stood side by side on the sea and Hakodate underwent a significant transformation. The port town was the busiest in Hokkaido as well as the gate to the northland.
The red brick buildings are now used as shops, restaurants or a beer hall attracting a lot of tourists. The inside has a high ceiling as expected of a former warehouse. Looking at a big stove has you realize that you come to a northern province. Well, Hokkaido is located in the subarctic zone, although the climate of the most Japanese territory is temperate. (The climate of Okinawa is subtropical.)
Star-Shaped Fort – Goryokaku
The fortress is a French style which is uncommon in Japan. Since the opening of the trading port, the Tokugawa shogunate government rushed it to completion for national security. The reason why French style was introduced was that France provided support for the Tokugawa government. To the contrary, Britain supplied weapons to the antigovernment force which later raised a revolution (The Meiji Restoration).
A civil war of the two sides lasted for over a year and shogunate survivors were driven to the fortress and forced to surrender. From this point Japan advanced along the road to a modern state, which put a period to the feudal society.
Today, Goryokaku is representative sightseeing spot in Hakodate and the tower about 100-meter high (Approx. 328-feet) stands to overlook the fortress. You can enjoy beautiful views for all four seasons such as cherry blossoms in springs, green leaves in summers, red and yellow ones in autumns and snow in winters. It is difficult to imagine that here is a historic battlefield.
Japanese Orthodox Church of Hakodate and
Catholic Trappists Monastery and Convent
Hakodate Japanese Orthodox Church
Nicholas of Japan
Hakodate in Hokkaido and Nagasaki in Kyusyu (See the site of Nagasaki) have a long history as port towns and a number of Christian churches. Consular officials and merchants settled down in the cities and those churches are built for their religious sites.
Hakodate Orthodox Church deserves special consideration though the population of Japanese Orthodox Church is very small in Japan. Hokkaido is located right by Russian Far East. In 1861, a priest Nicholas who was destined to be an archbishop came to Japan from Russia. He studied Japanese culture and was loved by people in Hakodate. Later, He moved to Tokyo and spent the rest of his life in Japan without returning to his homeland even if Japanese-Russo War (1904-1905) broke out.
There are also a monastery and convent of Trappists. Cookies and butter made by brothers and sisters are now sold as souvenirs special to Hakodate.
Yunokawa Onsen (Hot Springs)
Yunokawa Hot Spring
We get a view of Hakodate Airport at the bottom right of the Image 5. During the cold war era, it drew worldwide attention from the surprising news that MiG-25 flown by an air force officer of the Soviet Union made an emergency stop for seeking asylum. This story is now lost in history.
Five-minute drive from there takes you to hot spring resort named “Yunokawa Onsen”. The city boasts various sightseeing spots as well as onsen. This area forms hot spring districts with many hotels and inns. From Hakodate port, you can take a streetcar.
After soaking in a hot spring leisurely, I would like you to enjoy seafood served in those accommodations.
Local Foods for Gourmets
Speaking of Japanese seafood, sushi first comes to mind. In addition, I recommend seafood cuisine unique to Hakodate.
Kaisendon is a bowl of rice topped with seafood. Please see the Image 19. It is topped with salmon roe, sea urchin, crab, scallop, and shrimps on boiled rice which is completely covered. In eating, you sprinkle with soy sauce. Kaisendon can be called large-sized sushi.
The Image 20 is named “Ika Somen” or “Noodle-like raw squid”. The sea off the coast of Hakodate is squid fishery. Uncountable light for luring squids at night can be seen. The caught fresh squids are quickly landed and sold at a morning market right by the port. This noodle-like Ika Somen is can be eaten dipped in soy sauce. You can eat fresh and delicious squid cuisine as much as you can at reasonable prices, which is uniquely Hakodate.
My Personal Memories of Hakodate over 30 Years Ago
Night view of Hakodate
In the mid-1980s, I was 15-year old boy. I lived in a city located in Shikoku. In the first summer vacation when I entered high-school, I went out on a journey by myself to Hokkaido and paid for the trip spending New Year’s gift money and allowance I had long saved. In retrospect, it is amazing that my parents gave me permission. The distance in a straight line between Hakodate and my hometown is about 1,100 km (690 miles). Actually, I went through Tokyo and moved in the curved Japanese archipelago. It is about 1,400 km (Approx. 880) in real distance.
I first went to Hiroshima by ship, to Tokyo by shinkansen, to Aomori by night train and to Hakodate by railway ferry. It took over 24 hours and I finally got to the city.
Hakodate, my first solo travel destination at a sensitive age, held a lot of memories for me. I will remember a picturesque night view of Hakodate for the rest of my life.
Over 30 years have passed since then. The opening of the Seikan Tunnel brought ferry service to the end. In the now, Shinkansen takes you to Hakodate all too soon. How about having a good trip to Hakodate, the north traditional port town in Hokkaido.
My heartfelt thanks to the photos and illustrations offered specially by
in alphabetical order.