Hakodate Travel – see, do, eat

We ended our year-end Hokkaido trip with a 3 night stay in Hakodate from 12 to 15 December 2015.

Not relishing the 1.5 hour wait in Oshamanbe Station if we wanted to take the train from Kutchan (Niseko) to Hakodate, we decided to fork out 60,000 Yen for the 8 of us to travel in mini-van comfort. It was snowing when we left Niseko so we were pleasantly surprised at the sunny, autumny weather we encountered at the Yakumo (八雲) Panorama Park rest-stop along the way. Doffing our heavier ski wear and down jackets, we thought we would enjoy the same balmy conditions when we got into Hakodate. Five minutes waiting for the tram outside our hotel convinced us to return to the room to don back our heavy duty winter clothes.

Yakumo Panorama Park


Hakodate is a harbour city down south of Hokkaido. Built around an isthmus, it is famed for seafood (it is literally ‘Squid Town’!), onsens and the million-dollar night view. The first three on the list of attractions below are relatively close to each other so you may wish to visit these together in a day. The morning market is smack in the centre of the list so you can drop by and fuel up with breakfast before setting off in any direction. The last 2 on the list are again close to each other so it would make sense to allocate a day to cover those areas so as not to rush yourself.

The best way to travel is really to buy the day pass for the Trams which cost 600 yen. You can get it from the tram driver when you board.

Trams – best way to travel in Hakodate
1. Million Dollar Night View
So the best time to visit, according to all the travel guides, is between 4.30pm to 6pm because that is when you get to witness the transition from light to dark, day to night, dawn to dusk, you get the picture … So we trudged from the Red Brick Warehouse area to the Ropeway station  (uphill about 20 minutes) and were just in time to be ahead of the busloads of tourists being unloaded. Packed into the single cable car, it was a short 5 minute ascent to the summit where an uber impressive sunset greeted us.

The viewing area is pretty big but the best vantage points are right at the top level where all the tourists were making a beeline for while we were gawking and trying to capture time lapse videos of the setting sun. So when it finally got dark, we realised that we were behind maybe 4 rows of tourists. Fortunately for us, some of them were overcome by the freezing winds and gave up their places, enabling us to worm our way forward. So for 15 minutes, we withstood the cold to capture infinite shots of the spectacular and dazzling lights of the city.

Catching the sunset to twilight moments of the Million Dollar Night View

Rated three stars by the Michelin Green Guide, Mount Hakodate’s night view is on par with Hong Kong’s and Naples and is listed as the number 1 attraction of Hakodate. So please do visit if you are here. The ropeway costs 1,200 yen for a round-trip for adults.

Critter rating: 4.5/5
2. Motomachi

We make it a point to try to attend mass in whichever city we are in over a weekend. Partly to assauge the Catholic guilt in us as well as a real interest in the architecture of churches overseas. So from the morning market, we hopped on a tram and dropped off at Jiujigai. From there, it was a pleasant stroll to the left (uphill again!) to where the Catholic church is. Opposite the Catholic church is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Japan but we did not have time to explore the grounds, only pausing long enough to snap a couple of shots.

Strolling along Motomachi
Catholic Church in Motomachi

As a historical enclave with old western style government buildings, the cobblestone streets lead all the way to the port and bay area at the bottom. However, what made an impression on us were the quaint cafes nestled along the roadsides, just waiting for you to drop in for an artisanal coffee and a delectable lemon cheesecake. Expect to spend around 2 hours or more here with Instagram / Facebook moments in a cafe.

Drip coffee and cheesecake in Hakodate Motomachi Coffee. Best!


Critter rating: 3/5
Adult rating: 3.5/5
3. Red Brick Warehouses

You can’t miss this area if you are heading towards Mount Hakodate and Motomachi. The red brick warehouses are a great place to pick up all your seafood and other souvenirs as well as to grab a beer hall meal or a Starbucks fix. A great place to part with lots of yen.

Time to buy! Seafood and other souvenirs 😉


Beer hall grub


Critter rating: 3/5
4. Morning Market (函館朝市)

So we discovered that Hakodate is really Squid Town, what with almost every restaurant here serving up a squid dish of sorts. The morning market is no exception and this is where you can experience the thrill of live squid fishing, for those who never had the chance to try it before. After you catch one, the staff will deftly draw and quarter the poor squirming creature, pour soya sauce on its remains to make the tentacles dance a bit more and serve it up to you for your breakfast. I am surprised the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Squid aren’t up in arms and calling for the boycotting of travel to Hakodate.

Watch out for squirting squids!


Any way, being squeamish about such practices, our family was happy to wander around the stalls doing bustling morning business selling other varieties of seafood. Sashimi aficionados will attest to the quality of the kaisendon (seafood rice bowl) and unidon (sea urchin rice bowl) sold in almost every self-respecting seafood shop there. If raw isn’t your thing, you can also get very good grilled fish with rice.
The morning market is a short walk across the street from the the Hakodate station and makes a great start to the day. It is, as far as I know, the earliest place to catch breakfast in the city if you aren’t dining in your hotel and do not want to settle for McDonald’s or konbini (convenience store) fare.
Critter rating: 3/5
5. Goryokaku (五稜郭)
This star-shaped fort was built in the last years of the Edo period (around 1866) to deal with foreign trade and possible military invasion from Russia. It has its historical importance as being the site of the Battle of Hakodate, a civil war between loyalists to the old Tokugawa Shogunate (the Shinsengumi) led by Hijikata Toshizo and the newly established Meiji government.

It is best to catch the 360 degree overview of Hakodate and Fort Goryokaku from Goryokaku Tower, where you can also learn the history of the city. After that, take a walk in the park of Goryokaku where the kids can climb to the top of each of the star-shaped battlements. Although there isn’t much to see there during the winter months, it is a famous cherry-blossom viewing point in May with over a thousand sakura trees there.

Goryokaku Tower


Critter rating: 3.5/5
6. Yunokawa Onsen (湯の川温泉)
If you are in the Goryokaku area, do take a side trip to Yunokawa Onsen, a popular hotspring spa town. Our original plan was to visit the Botanical Gardens first to invade the privacies of bathing snow monkeys. However, as the place closed at 4pm, we simply did not have enough time so we settled on heading for a dip in an onsen ourselves.

Flanking the seaside, Yunokawa boasts an array of onsen hotels that leaves one spoilt for choice indeed. As we wanted one that overlooked the ocean directly, we sought out Yunohama Hotel (湯の浜ホテル) which was about a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Yunokawa Onsen tram stop. It was a sublime experience slow-cooking ourselves in 43 degrees of heated water while the cold, salty wind whipped at our faces. We also witnessed another amazing sunset while we were at it. Besides the rotenburo or outdoor bath, there were also another 5 indoor baths to frolick in. If you are suffering from body aches and stiff joints from all that walking around, this onsen experience is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! 1000 yen for adults and 700 yen for elementary kids.

Spectacular sunset over the sea from Yunohama Hotel’s Onsen


Critter rating: 4.5/5
After onsening, the critters were naturally famished. A quick check with Google maps turned up a ramen restaurant just down the street and it was one of the most excellent and cheapest finds that we discovered this trip!

Hakodate Menya Ichimonji (函館麺や 一文字) is a mouthful to pronounce but every mouthful of ramen there was super yummy! We had the shio (salt) and miso ramen with 2 orders of char shiu don (grilled pork rice). The pork was given the flame-gun treatment making the crispy, charred bits absolutely delectable with rice. We left feeling fat and full, but oh-so-happy. Please look up this ramen shop if you are in Hakodate. They have another branch near Goryokaku station.

Tender, melt-in-mouth char siu!


Best ramen we have eaten in Japan!!
Flame-gunned Charsiu Don – so amazing!!


Critter rating: 5/5

Hakodate was a great way to end our Hokkaido trip, what with great coffee, awesome food and amazing onsens! For accommodation, we stayed in the Loisir Hotel as it is close to the Hakodate Station, has a direct bus to the airport and our family of 2 adults and 2 kids stayed quite comfortably in the twin room.

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