A Japanese port city with a lot of western influences, wedged between the Sea of Japan and the pacific ocean. What does this mean? Well it means it bears some other character not seen in other Japanese cities and it boasts rich and fresh seafood of course!
I ended up in Hakodate initially just to break up the travel from Zao Onsen to Sapporo. After leaving Zao Onsen at 11.20am I transited via Yamagata then Sendai and almost 8 hours later I arrived in Hakodate. Don’t under estimate how far away Hokkaido really is on JR. There’s a reason Hyperdia suggests flying instead – it’s way more efficient – but I had the JR pass and really wanted to see the “dragon’s head”.
I stayed at the Hakodate Guesthouse owned by a man named Takahashi (¥2,600 for a futon single room). He inherited the building when his father passed away and moved back to Hakodate so that it could live on in the family. The building once was a tea shop, so I found myself sleeping in a converted storage room about 3 tatami mats in size. It was more than enough for one, but just be aware the place is over 100 years old and Takahashi is still renovating as of April 2016.
Takahashi showed me all the antiques left behind by his father and told me all about the city as he drove me around town. He was more than happy to take the time and dropped me off at the waterfront to find dinner as he went about his errands.
I went to a Hakodate favourite, a burger joint that Japanese come from all around to try called Lucky Pierrot (“Lucky Sparrow” I think). It’s got some interesting character and has expanded to a few dozen stores just in Hakodate. Apparently they get a lot of support from the community because they support local suppliers.
Food there is cheap cheap. For ¥900 I got a burger, fries and a Lucky Pierrot guarana soft drink. The burger has a really tasty sauce which must include sesame in some way. The chips were crispy, the drink tasty and the music and atmosphere very true to the era that this place must have been built during.
The waterfront area was very quiet at night, but there were a number of converted warehouses filled with bars and restaurants which were originally built by a pioneer of the growth of Hakodate, Kumashiro Wantanabe.
Takahashi picked me up after dinner and showed me a few other historical buildings with English and German influence. He also told me about the samurai and all about his previous exploits as a tour guide in Australia while he surfed the coasts.
The next day I woke early to check out the Hakodate Fish Markets and go in search of donburri. I ran into the only other guest, another Australian called Rachel, and we headed off to the market together. Takahashi leant us the bikes for free because it was so quiet – he’s very kind.
The weather, was, freezing! To think that I arrived in Japan without a jumper or jeans…
The markets were chockers with seafood. Fresh, dried, you name it. Fish, squid, octopus, sea urchin, eels, shellfish, shrimp. It was all there. Oh and this thing…
Apparently the seafood is fantastic here because the warm Pacific Ocean mixes with the Sea of Japan. I’d have to agree.
I picked up a good taster donburri with scallops, uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe) – the last two I’d never tried before. The scallops were very sweet, but I think I had softer ones in Kyoto before. The salmon eggs were tasty juicy bursts that reminded me of pomegranate seeds and the sea urchin was surprisingly delicious – oishi! Rachel said the uni was far cheaper and more delicate than in Australia – I’d have to take her word on it but she seemed like an expert. That and she demolished a much larger bowl with raw shrimps and I forget what else.
From there we rode back past the hostel to check out and go to see Goryokaku park. The park is the home of the last stand of the samurai against the Japanese Imperial Army. Surprisingly, Mr Imura, the politician leading the Japanese Imperial Army in the movie Last Samurai looks just like Enomoto Takeaki, who actually lead the last Shogunate of samurai. The movie is more about drama than history I guess, but it does have Tom Cruise in it after all and he’s a master of sensationalising himself.
A park now occupies the place of the old fortress. Interestingly, it’s star shaped which I thought was very unusual. The park looks incredible during sakura from what I’ve seen in the Japanese tourism posters, but unfortunately today was not the day.
On the way back we grabbed some epic miso ramen and gyoza at a place nearby and over ordered on karage chicken, but it was worth it.
We headed back to the hostel to meet Takahashi who kindly drove us to train station. He’s very kind and I would stay there longer if I had time, but travel times are very long to more northern places. I wanted to go to Biei, but it was certainly not the season (no snow or flowers in April) so both ended up in Sapporo which has to have been one of my best Japanese experiences yet.