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3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Hakodate

3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Hokkaido / Hakodate

The Hokkaido Island is situated in the northern Japan with the area equivalent to the total areas of Switzerland and Denmark. It has one-fifth of the national land of Japan. Full-fledged development started in the 19th century, and western styled cities were born for the first time in Japan in the land that had been unexplored before. Hakodate in the south Hokkaido, facing Aomori in the Honshu Island across the Tsugaru Channel has particularly flourished as the gateway to the southern Hokkaido from the early times. The harbor was designated as one of the first international harbors in 1859 along with Yokohama and Nagasaki. There remain a number of structures in the western style that are reminiscences of the late 19th century.

As soon as I arrived at Hakodate, I went to the morning market held on the western plaza of JR Hakodate Station. As it is surrounded by sea, Hokkaido is a treasury of abundant seafood. There are many markets for fresh seafood, vegetables and fruits for the local people. Above all, this morning market in Hakodate with over 400 shops is one of the best in the size and abundance of commodities. "Come! See these fresh crabs!" "Just sample this taste!" The market is full of lively voices of the vendors. I was told that the trick to get a good deal at the morning market is to buy from the shops where the vendors give kind explanation of the products, and be sure to sample the taste. So, I did not hesitate to sample a melon, one of the specialties of Hokkaido. Sweet, juicy sensation spread in my mouth, and I could not help but asked for another piece! There are eating houses that offer dishes with plenty of fresh sea-urchins, salmon roe, scallops, etc. and they were crowded with people having breakfast. The morning market is open from around 5 a.m. to noon. It gets crowded from around 9 o'clock. If you want to enjoy the sight well, you had better go before that.

After I took breakfast at the market, I got on the city sightseeing bus "free-time tour course" which I can get on and off as many times as I like all day. First I headed for the Goryokaku Park in the north of the city. It is located at the site where the first western style castle in Japan was built in 1855. It is designated as a special historical site today. "Goryokaku" means five edges, in other words a star shape. It is this pentagonal park that we first see when we approach Hakodate by plane. I understand pentagonal castles and forts were popular in Europe in the Middle Age when frequent battles were fought because it is advantageous in defense.

I climbed to the observation deck in the 60-meter tall Goryokaku Tower standing next to the park. There are moats surrounding the star-shape structure fringed with greenery. I hear as many as 1,700 cherry trees bloom in spring and fill the park. It must be a fantastic sight when the cherry blossoms are reflected on the water in the moat.

I got back on the bus. In 15 minutes, I got off at the Trappistine Convent in the suburb. This is the first convent founded by 8 missionary nuns from France over 100 years ago. As I entered through the gate, I saw a statue of the archangel Michael standing as if it welcomes the visitors. There is a white statue of St. Mary behind it with the background of a beautiful brick chapel. Visitors are only admitted to the front of the chapel. Behind the brick wall, about 70 nuns spend their lives in seclusion observing strict commandments of the Cistercian sect even today. The reference room in the premise displays paneled photographs that introduce part of the life in a convent. I stopped by the shop next to the reference room and bought butter candies and French style cake made by the nuns. Their genuine tastes with absolutely no additives seem to reflect the pure hearts of those nuns.

After the bus left the Trappistine Convent, it went through the Yunokawa-onsen Hot Spring resort that boasts one of the largest volume of spring water, and continued a smooth run on the Isaribi-dori street along the Tsugaru Channel. As I enjoyed the sight of the beautiful blue sea from the window, the bus soon arrived at Motomachi, at the foot of Mt. Hakodate-yama. This area used to be the residential district for the foreigners who came over to Japan when the isolation policy was abandoned and the modern civilization started. There are a number of exotic structures such as the Russian Orthodox Church in the Russian Byzantine style and a group of other churches, former British Consulate, and homes in a half-Japanese and half-western style. You can feel exoticism everywhere. The most remarkable building is the Old Hakodate Ward Public Hall in the wooden colonial style. It was built in 1910 to replace the town hall that had burned down in a great fire, and had been used as a guesthouse for the Emperor and VIPs. The interior decoration in the Renaissance style is truly splendid. The balcony on the second floor commands a bird's eye view of Motomachi and the Hakodate Harbor.

I left this Old Hakodate Hall, and as I was enjoying a stroll in Motomachi with brick fences and stone pavement, the bells of the Russian Orthodox Church nicknamed "Ding-dong temple" tolled to tell the arrival of sunset. So, I hurried to the ropeway station at the foot of Mt. Hakodate-yama.

Mt. Hakodate-yama is 334 meters high and juts out to the sea like a nose. It offers a fantastic view from the top. A large size gondola with 125 seats carried me to the view spot at the mountaintop in 3 Minutes. The view of the narrow land sandwiched by Hakodate Harbor and the Tsugaru Channel is unique to Hakodate. The sight of the city lights emerging as the sun set and slowly increasing brightness in the night sky was beyond any description. I thoroughly enjoyed one of the three famous night views of Hakodate rivaling Hong Kong and Naples.

As I climbed down Mt. Hakodate-yama and crossed a boulevard where the famous Hakodate trams run, I was already in the Bay Area. This area is a treasury of retrospective, nostalgic buildings. The popular site is the group of old warehouses built with red bricks. They have been remodeled into beer halls, restaurants, shops, museums and a variety of other facilities. I decided to appreciate seafood dishes watching the beautifully illuminated harbor. Cheers to the romantic Hakodate night view!