Hakodate is a well-connected international seaport that has facilitated trade in Hokkaido since the times of yore. Because of this background, the city is full of buildings and architecture that are heavily influenced by Western culture.
We asked Dan, a freelance writer who was born in Norway, raised in Australia, and moved to Hokkaido in pursuit of his passion for snowboarding, what are some must-visit Hakodate spots from his viewpoint as a foreign-born local resident, and he had at least ten places to share. See if any one of them appeals to you as well!
Main image courtesy of Hakodate International Tourism and Convention Association
- Table of Contents
- 1. Hakodate Lucky Pierrot: A dreamy restaurant designed to make all diners feel special
- 2. Honcho: Hakodate's downtown district for drinking tours
- 3. Hakodate Morning Market: The lively kitchen of Hakodate is always full of energy!
- 4. Western Hakodate: Saturated with exotic charm
- 5. Mount Hakodate: A beautiful place to watch the sunset and enjoy the city's nightscape
- 6. Omori Beach: The beach that saw Hakodate grow throughout history
- 7. Todohokke Mizunashi Seaside Hot Spring: An unusual outdoor bath that merges with the sea!
- 8. Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden: Ever seen a troop of bathing monkeys?
- 9. Goryokaku Park: Historic sakura viewing spot
- 10. Cape Tachimachi: For a scenic view of Tsugaru Strait
- Hakodate - an ideal place to visit all year round
1. Hakodate Lucky Pierrot: A dreamy restaurant designed to make all diners feel special
Dan: "This is a hamburger restaurant chain in Hakodate City with a most interesting design theme - every store decor is unique and has completely different things on display.
"My personal favorite is the Jujigai Ginza branch, located right next to Jujigai tram station. You get to taste the Lucky Pierrot signature burgers - every bit as delicious as everyone says it is, by the way! - while being surrounded by 5,000 Santa Claus figures, watching and making sure you enjoy the meal. It's like Christmas every day here!"
The president of Lucky Pierrot, Ichiro Oh, designed the Jujigai Ginza shop around the concept of cherishing every moment spent with family and loved ones, as if every day was a special day like Christmas.
All the Santa-related items that can be found in the shop are from president Oh's personal collection, which he started as a hobby before the Jujigai Ginza shop was established, and he was apparently such an enthusiastic collector that he filled his entire house with them!
Hakodate Lucky Pierrot Jujigai Ginza Store函館ラッキーピエロ 十字街銀座店
- Address 8-11 Suehirocho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0053
- Phone Number 0138-23-2300
Hours: 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. on Saturdays)
2. Honcho: Hakodate's downtown district for drinking tours
Dan: "Honcho is a district located near the famous Goryokaku Park. This downtown area is also known as Susukino-lite, offering a slightly toned-down but ultimately similar experience as Susukino, Sapporo's foremost entertainment district.
"You can find almost any sort of entertainment here, from tiny but relaxing bars to bustling karaoke joints and more. There are many ways to enjoy the nightlife here. Either lounge in one shop to slowly take in the atmosphere, or walk around the area to discover unique stores and hopefully find the one that suits your palate best."
Since Honcho is Hakodate's busiest entertainment district, the more popular bars and nightclubs can usually be found in higher concentrations around the vicinity of train stations in the area.
Step into one of the back alleys from the main street, however, and the scene dramatically changes. The paved roads will be dimly lit by lights from the longtime establishments here, giving the area an air of nostalgia, making it almost seem as if you've walked into another time altogether!
So take your time to explore and don't forget to enjoy your Hakodate nightlife with some tasty local brews as well.
- Address Honcho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0053
3. Hakodate Morning Market: The lively kitchen of Hakodate is always full of energy!
Dan: "After that wonderful night out in Honcho, you'll want to wake up to some nice food and maybe take a refreshing walk somewhere. If so, I definitely recommend going to the Hakodate Morning Market near Hakodate Station on the JR Lines.
"The market is divided into a few sections and it's the best place to get a taste of Hakodate's usual local breakfast fare. Those looking for snacks and takeout meals can head down to the Market Square section and pick out their favorites from a large selection as well.
"In the Ekini Market section, there are souvenirs, fresh seafood, dried goods, and various other food items. The Live Squid Fishing Moat section is where staff will take live squids out from a feeding tank and immediately process it into sashimi in front of your eyes. It's a very popular dish here! Donburi Yokocho is the restaurant section of the market that serves up the freshest local seafood for customers."
Hakodate Morning Market opens its doors for business from 5:00 a.m. (6:00 a.m. from January to April), but many shops remain open even in the afternoon, so there's no need to worry about waking up early to catch the best deals.
Hakodate is also known as Squid Town, and with a name like that, you'd naturally expect the squid delicacies to be absolutely amazing - and they are! However, this delicate seafood doesn't stay fresh for long, so it's best to enjoy it directly from the source.
In fact, the squids served at the Live Squid Fishing Moat are so fresh, even their innards are tenderly tasty. So be sure to give it a try if you happen to be visiting!
4. Western Hakodate: Saturated with exotic charm
Dan: "The western part of Hakodate is situated in between Hakodate Port and Mount Hakodate. As an international port, this area is known as a trading center and the gateway of Hakodate to the world.
"There are many foreigners here because of that, some of whom eventually settle down and make Hakodate their permanent home.
"On the highland to the northwestern part of Mount Hakodate is a foreign cemetery, the final resting place of many foreigners who passed away on this land. The area towards the western edge of town is also where many old buildings were constructed around the late-1800s to early 1900s.
"Besides traditional Western and Eastern architecture, some buildings are a unique mix of both styles to reflect the period of international integration they originated from. Walk down these streets to get a sense of what life was like back in Commodore Perry's time, when Japan was just starting to open up to the world."
Mount Hakodate and Hakodate Port can both be found in the city's western district, along with several important traditional buildings that have been preserved. This makes it one of Hakodate's best sightseeing spots.
The place is roughly divided into two major areas. The first one is Motomachi, which is on the slope along the mountain and includes places of interest with heavy Western influences, such as the Hakodate Orthodox Church, Motomachi Roman Catholic Church, Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, and Motomachi Park.
The other area along Hakodate Port is where you can find port-related structures like the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse and other storehouses, as well as old buildings such as the former marine association mansion.
It's not hard to imagine what things may have been like in this area back in its heyday as you slowly soak in the olden atmosphere it exudes.
5. Mount Hakodate: A beautiful place to watch the sunset and enjoy the city's nightscape
Dan: "From afar, Mount Hakodate seemingly floats atop the sea that surrounds it and is the symbol of the port city.
"Most people know of Hakodate's night scenery, but one of the things I love doing here is to walk on one of the city's well-maintained hiking trails to gaze at the sunset from the mountaintop.
"The 3-kilometer (about 1.8 miles) route going to the peak takes about an hour to complete. If you start walking about 90 minutes before that day's projected sunset time, you'll arrive just in time for an amazing show.
"Wait a while more until it becomes dark, and the famous Hakodate nightscape that many are familiar with will slowly start coming to life before your very eyes as the city below lights up. Take plenty of pictures, then head to the ropeway station for a quick ride back down. That's my recommended course, anyway!"
The public transportation options connected to Mount Hakodate's peak are the ropeway and bus. The ropeway takes you from the foot of the mountain to the top in about three minutes.
A unique feature of taking the ropeway is the ability to see the city rapidly drawing away as the mountaintop draws nearer through the carriage's glass windows. In addition, the bus will depart from within Hakodate itself and go straight up to the mountain peak, so there's no need to make any transfers.
Passengers of the bus go through forested areas and are treated to the sight of the natural landscape bursting into view from time to time - a special experience that those on the ropeway will be missing out on!
6. Omori Beach: The beach that saw Hakodate grow throughout history
Dan: "Omori Beach faces Tsugaru Strait and stretches from Sumiyoshi Fishing Port to Yunokawa Onsen, near the mouth of Matsukura River. In my opinion, it's one of the best beaches you can visit.
"Despite its close proximity to the city, the area is clean and beautiful, with hardly any trash to be found. The beach has deep historical connections as well - in the past, the poor would stay here, and it was used as a refuge for those fleeing from the great fire of Hakodate in 1934.
"The waves never stop coming in all year round, so surfers wanting to challenge the Tsugaru waves often visit, even during winter."
The famous Japanese poet Takuboku Ishikawa once composed a song as he walked along this beach during his time in Hakodate, a testament to how beautiful the sight here must be.
The nearby Takubokusho Park has a statue of him and a plaque engraved with the song. Come to the beach to get a sense of how Hakodate's history unfolded through the sands of time.
- Address 22 Omoricho, Hakodate City, Hokkaido 040-0034
7. Todohokke Mizunashi Seaside Hot Spring: An unusual outdoor bath that merges with the sea!
Dan: "This is a very unusual coastal outdoor hot spring. It meets up with the Pacific Ocean at a point, and you can just imagine the sense of openness this hot spring gives as a result.
"Although it's about an 80-minute drive from Hakodate, I think the experience you can get here makes it worth every minute of the drive.
"Do check the hot spring's operating hours before actually heading down, though, as accessibility changes from day to day depending on the tide."
Mount E's volcanic heat heats the waters of Todohokke Mizunashi Seaside Hot Spring. They then flow out to the sea near the coast. There are male and female changing rooms here, and visitors must put on a swimsuit when bathing.
As mentioned, operating hours change from day to day depending on tide conditions. During times of inclement weather or high tide, you may even have to leave without being able to bathe. To avoid disappointment, therefore, be sure to check the latest information available before starting to drive down.
Todohokke Mizunashi Kaihin Onsen椴法華水無海浜温泉
- Address Esan, Hakodate City, Hokkaido 041-0605
Phone: 0138-86-2111 (Hakodate City Hall Todohokke Branch Industrial Construction)
Hours: All hours *Subject to change depending on tide conditions
Closed: Open daily *Check bath times before heading down
8. Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden: Ever seen a troop of bathing monkeys?
Dan: "Hakodate Tropical Botanical Garden is located near Yunokawa Hot Spring Resort. During winter, Japanese macaques start dipping into the hot springs here, which makes for an interesting sight that has become very popular among visitors.
"These clever monkeys have actually learned how to ward off the biting cold by bathing in a hot spring! The area around the garden is full of great restaurants as well, so coming here will be a nice treat for both your eyes and stomach."
You should be able to catch a glimpse of monkeys soaking in the hot spring here between December to May, until the Golden Week. After amusing yourself with the sight of these adorable primates, don't forget to check out the plant life here too!
There are about 3,000 plants from 300 tropical species in all, so you'll get to see things that don't usually grow well in Hakodate's climate. Facilities include an outdoor playground and ride-on cars, so that families with children can all have a great time here as well.
9. Goryokaku Park: Historic sakura viewing spot
Dan: "Goryokaku is a star-shaped fort that has been designated a national special historic site. Why? Because it's the site where the Battle of Hakodate (1868 – 1869), the final battle between the forces of the newly formed government back then and remnants of the old Shogunate army, took place. The area within and around this fort is known as Goryokaku Park, and besides being a very well-maintained garden, you'll also find restored ancient buildings like the Hakodate Magistrate's Office on its premises. Visiting the park is an excellent way to get closer in touch with Hakodate's cultural history."
The park is also a popular sakura viewing spot, with about 1,600 Somei-Yoshino sakura trees blooming here each year. Right in the middle of the park looms the impressive Goryokaku Tower. The observation deck inside offers a moving view of the landmarks around the area, including such sights as Mount Hakodate, Tsugaru Strait, and the Yokotsu Mountain Range.
10. Cape Tachimachi: For a scenic view of Tsugaru Strait
Dan: "Southeast of Hakodate is Cape Tachimachi, which is an ideal spot to have a panoramic view of the lovely Tsugaru Strait that the cape is connected to.
"On clear days, you can even see Aomori in the distance, and flowers bloom beautifully in the vicinity during summer as well. There's a shop in the park that sells local snacks, like potato skewers coated with butter and soy sauce, which you can buy and slowly relish as you admire the scenery around you. This small little detail can really make the whole experience so much more enjoyable."
Cape Tachimachi is one of the best spots to see the beautiful scenery along the coastline stretching from Omori Beach to Yunokawa Hot Spring Resort as it melts into the waters of the Tsugaru Strait.
Tucked in a corner of the plaza are Hamanasu Park and its bevy of hamanasu (rugosa rose) bushes. As you would expect, the place is filled with an aromatic fragrance every summer when the flowers are in full bloom.
The shop in the park, called Hamanasu, has baked potato chips, oden (Japanese stew), scallops, and other interesting local delicacies on sale for visitors to try out.
- Address 9-9 Sumiyoshicho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0045
Phone: 0138-40-3605 (Hakodate Housing and City Facilities Public Corporation)
Hours: May not be accessible depending on snowfall or road conditions. Roads are closed to cars between November 9, 4:00 p.m. to the end of March. Walk-ins only during this period.
Hakodate - an ideal place to visit all year round
Hakodate Port was one of the earliest ports of Japan to open up to the world, so the connecting city of Hakodate developed under the heavy influence of foreign cultures while still preserving its core Japanese identity, ultimately creating an intriguing place with much to discover for everyone.
Because the weather here is always relatively mild for its location in Hokkaido, visitors can enjoy the city's signature squid cuisine, fresh seafood, lovely hot springs, and spectacular scenery all year round without too many worries. So feel free to drop by at any time of the year to check out these incredible places recommended by Dan!
Text by: Masakazu
English translation by: Huimin Pan
*Information in this article is accurate as of April 2021. Check the official websites for latest information.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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