Hokkaido: Hakodate is Japan’s seafood paradise and more

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    Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market
    Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market

    Hakodate( 函館) is the place to be if you’re a seafood lover. The city is famous for its Hakodate Morning Market and the myriad restaurants touting fresh sashimi, seafood hotpots and Hokkaido’s well-loved king crab. However, that’s not the say that food is the only attraction in Hakodate. Places like the Hakodate Bay Area, Mount Hakodate and Goryokaku Park are some must-sees.

    Not a seafood lover? We’re got other recommendations for you too. Check out our feature on ‘where to eat in Hakodate if you’re not into seafood’.

    All in all, we’d recommend setting aside 2-3 days for Hakodate.

    Top things to do in Hakodate

    1. Mount Hakodate

    Hakodateyama, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0000, Japan

    Most people prefer to visit Mount Hakodate at night. Indeed, the night view from the summit is breathtaking.

    The best way to reach the  summit station of Mount Hakodate is via the Hakodateyama Ropeway. It’s a three-minute ride that’s both breathtaking and thriling, especially if you have a fear of heights. But if not, the best spot to stand in the ropeway is near the right-hand window towards the back of the car. You’ll get a good view of the city as the car is being hoisted up the 334- meter mountain. A one-way trip costs JPY660 or JPY1200 both ways. The ropeway operates during the coolder months between October and April.

    Night view of the bay area from Mount Hakodate
    Night view of the bay area from Mount Hakodate

    During Mid April to November, the main public transport to the summit station is by bus. But do note that the bus can get very congested so don’t carry too much things with you. Also, there’s a pretty long wait for the bus of at least 20 minutes. During our trip to the summit, we’ve also had the misfortune of getting a guide who spoke halting English, so we couldn’t understand half of the things she was saying. The bus departs from Hakodate Station and takes around 30 minutes to reach the peak of Mount Hakodate. It costs JPY400 for a one-way ride.

    When you reach the summit, take your time to enjoy the panaromic view of the city below, which is shaped like a hand fan. Depending on the season, the scenery changes. On a fine day, for instance, you’ll get a clear view of the dazzling night lights below, whereas on a foggy Summer’s day, the view may be obstructed by a veil of fog. The souvenir shops at the summit station are quite well stocked with food gift items and other knick knacks. As the shops are quite very popular with tourists, you might want to set aside some time to browse around. We had the BBQ king crab in a small portion. The flesh was very fresh and sweet.

    2. Goryokaku Park (五稜郭)

    43-9 Goryōkakuchō, 五稜郭町 Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0001, Japan

    If you’re in Hakodate ‘s Gorykaku Park during Sakura season, you’re in for a treat! The park is adorned by some 1,600 cherry blossom and Japanese wisteria trees in bloom. Dressed in a sea of beautiful pink cherry blossom and layers of cascading lilac and purple wisteria, the scenery at the park is truly a sight to behold, not to mention the fresh flora scent that perfumes the air. Autumn is another popular month to visit the park to see the vibrant red and yellow foilage of Fall.

    Cherry blossoms in full bloom in Hokkaido
    Cherry blossoms in full bloom
    Yugura Shrine at Goryokaku Park
    Yugura Shrine at Goryokaku Park
    Goryokaku Park during autumn
    Beautiful autumn colours at the park
    Visitor Centre at Goryokaku Park
    Visitor Centre at Goryokaku Park

    The other attraction at Goryokaku Park is the 107-meter tower overlooking the park and the star-shaped structure that is the Goryokaku Fortress, built to commemorate the Battle of Hakodate. To get to Goryokaku Park, take the tram to Goryokaku Koen-mae Station. The park is an eight-minute walk from the station.

    Be prepared for a good walk in this massive park so comfortable shoes are a must. Pack a sandwich and drink to enjoy with the awesome scenery.

    3. Hakodate Bay area

    If you only have time for one place in Hokodate, we’d recommend you spend it at the Hakodate Bay area. Over there, you’ll get an expansive view of the beautiful port. Built more than 100 years ago, the rows of red-brick warehouses (Kanenori Red Brick Warehouse) along the bay, that have come to symbolise the Hakodate Bay area, have now been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants. One of best and cheapish way to enjoy the million-dollar view is at Hokodate’s exclusive fast food restaurant Lucky Pieriot. Just order your meal and park yourself at a table overlooking the bay.

    View of the Hakodate bay area
    View of the Hakodate bay area

    The Hakodate Bay area is filled with restaurants specialising in seafood. If you keen to try the famous king crab, note that it costs around JPY12,000 for a whole crab, so it’s best for larger groups. The crab can have it prepared in different ways such as in soup and BBQ. If a whole crab is too much, just opt for a smaller portion instead.

    4. Hakodate Morning Market (函館朝市)

    9-19 Wakamatsuchō, 若松町 Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0063, Japan

    Want to get some ultra fresh seafood at affordable prices? Then don’t miss the Hakodate Morning Market, which opens daily from as early as 5am (from 6am during winter) to noon. The shop owners are generally quite friendly and will offer you food samples to try. Don’t hesitate to try them and buy home your favourite snacks.

    With over 100 stalls touting the freshest catch of the day, you can really have your fill of the freshest sashimi, uni (sea urchin), salmon eggs and squid. One of the specialties of Hakodate is squid sashimi (also known as ‘dancing squid’). The dish is called dancing squid because the sea creature is still moving when it is served!

    Salmon at Hakodate Morning Market
    You can see seafood of all kinds at the market.
    Shellfish, clams, oysters at the Hakodate Morning Market
    Shellfish, clams, oysters, you name it they have it.
    Entrance of Hakodate Morning Market
    Entrance of Hakodate Morning Market
    Interior of Hakodate Morning Market
    Plan your Hakodate Morning Market visit early in the day.
    Street view of Hakodate Morning Market
    The market is not big but they have plenty to offer.

    While you’re at the Hakodate Morning Market, take some time to walk through the other sections of the market as well. There’s an area specialising in fruits and vegetables that you should check out. It’s a great place to pick up a Japanese melon, persimmons, grapes or any other fruits in season. Japanese melons are expensive, costing around JPY5,000 and upwards each but definitely worth it. You can also buy them by the slice for around JPY300-400. Sweet, juicy and perfumed by a slight melon musk, the fruit is a must try!

    To get to Hakodate Morning Market, take the JR Hakodate Station. The market is a stone’s throw from the station.

    manhole cover in Hakodate
    You can see these unique manhole covers all over Hakodate