Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Hakodate, at the very Southern tip of Hokkaido is one of those great tourist cities where it's nice just to walk around. Maybe it's because there's a whole part of the town that looks like this:

Maybe it's the fresh sea air. I'm not sure, I don't have any kind of qualification in the psychology of tourism. Anyway, I've been meaning to go to Hakodate since about two months after I got here and Yuki and me finally drove (five and a half hours because you keep having to take huge detours to go around mountains) down there and had a look around.

We were lucky in lots of ways because it's not really tourist season, the weather was a little miserable but not too bad, and we weren't really fussed about getting up early to eat seafood at the market there. We just chilled out and ambled around, and it turns out that just ambling you can see most of Hakodate in two days.

Hakodate has a unique feel because it's such a mish-mash of Japanese and Western architecture. It's history (which you can read about here) is closely connected with how Japan finally opened its borders to the outside world and as such there's a lot of Western influences in Hakodate.

Hell, there even used to be a British consulate there, which is more than Hokkaido can boast these days! Ah, sorry, slightly bitter about that one.

So, just walking around the streets of Hakodate and seeing the old churches and temples next to each other and the random attempts to make things feel European, but in a Japanese way, is interesting in itself. There really were a surprising number of buildings that wouldn't look out of place in most British towns - including one on a corner that, for some reason, seriously put me in mind of Leicester...

The most touristy thing we did, that involved queueing that is, was taking the cable car up Mount Hakodate to see the "most beautiful night view in Japan". Here it is:

Because Hakodate is built on a peninsular, and the mountain is at the tip, so you're looking back at the mainland, you can really see where the sea cuts into the land. It was very pretty and I love panoramic views, but it was hardly the most beautiful view in Japan. Also it was the busiest and worst organised place we went - it was kind of stressful just getting to see the view.

Other things included drinking beer at the Hakodate Beer Hall, and eating famous curry at Gotoken, which in a way was just Japanese curry, but in another way was really fucking delicious Japanese curry. Hakodate beer is the only one brewed in Japan to 10% apparently and it was very nice indeed. There was, however, a kind of tourist booby trap in that the Hakodate branch of Sapporo Beer's Beer Halls is in the middle of the touristy shops by the bay, and is also called "Hakodate Beer Hall". Cunning. You have to walk towards the station to find the actual Hakodate Beer Hall that serves Hakodate Beer.

Also, there's history:

That's Goryoukaku Tower, which is designed to look down upon:

Goryoukaku Fort, a fabulous looking five pointed star fortress thing that played a key role in Japan's restoration of the Emperor, after the feudal Edo period. I won't go into the history itself, but it is interesting that the losing side, those that wanted to keep Japan closed off to the outside world and opposed the restoration of the Emperor, are pretty much presented as the heroes here. To the point that you can buy macho, bad-ass t-shirts with the names and faces of those generals and leaders in the gift shop here.

So Hakodate - smaller than I thought, but a really great place to spend a couple of days looking around. And Hijikata Toshizou could kick your ass. That's what I learnt anyway.


  1. That picture of the Goryokaku tower is really ominous.


  2. I know. Needs a speeded up film of those clouds rolling past in the background and it'll work well as a cut-away in a mostly computer generated manga in which Goryokaku Tower becomes a giant robot, Goryokaku become a space ship with a giant drill on the front and they team up to fight a giant robot squid.

    Oh wait, to late, that's already on sale in the gift shop.