Hakodate is a city on the southernmost tip of the island of Hokkaido. It’s a port city that figures large in modern Japanese history. It’s the first city in Japan that the American Navy under Commodore Perry opened up to the world at the end of a period of isolation. An important battle at the end of Tokugawa Period and the beginning of the Meiji Era took place here as well. Hakodate is also known for its physical beauty because the city is situated on a tiny isthmus surround by the ocean on both sides and a mountain conveniently located at the southern end of the city to take in this scrumptious city and ocean view.
For our travels to Hakodate from Sapporo, we considered two different modes of travel. The train would have been faster and more comfortable ride, but the price was roughly ¥8,300 one-way/¥16,600 round trip. Looking at a train ride that costs about CAD$170 per person was not what we wanted to spend. Especially when I think of the time to get there as almost the same as a Vancouver to Seattle road trip.
Thankfully, one of our shared-house mates had done the trip to Hakodate previously and took a Chuo Bus. The round-trip ticket worked out to just about ¥8,000 round-trip per person. That was half the price of what it would have cost us by train. Being a transit traveller and passenger train geek, I would have loved to take the Super Hokuto train to Hakodate. However, our budget for staying a month in Hokkaido did not allow for such a luxury. The bus was way more economical.
By toll highway without any stops, the drive from Sapporo to Hakodate is just under 4 hours. However, we had a pit stop at a toll highway rest stop for a half hour and we deviated from the expressway a few townships before Hakodate. So our bus ride was more like 6 hours from station to station.
We arrived in the early afternoon in Hakodate after our highway coach ride. The bus plunked us right outside the JR Hakodate Station. We picked up our Hakodate Tram Day Passes in the tourist office inside and we were set for transportation for the day. Our next task, though, was to go to our accommodation and drop off any excess stuff before exploring the city.
Our friend and housemate had recommended what is known as a “pension”, or ペンション (penshon), in Japanese. No, this is not the money that you receive when you retire as most of you will think. A penshon is very affordable Japanese accommodation consisting of rooms with tatami floors and futons to sleep upon. Bathing and toilet facilities are then shared by all the guests. Our one night stay at the penshon only cost us around ¥7,400. If you do go for penshon, you really need to know Japanese because the owners likely don’t speak anything but Japanese. Also, booking these places require going to a Japanese language travel site like jalan.net.
After dropping off our stuff, we had to find some lunch. I had already planned before coming to Hakodate that I would try Lucky Pierrot. Lucky Pierrot is an exclusively local Hakodate burger chain that specializes in Western style burgers with a twist. For example, I had the Chinese Chicken burger which is chicken meat slathered in a Chinese sauce slapped inside two burger buns. If you are looking for truly All-American burgers, then this is not the place. If you are looking for something a little different, then this will fit the bill. I really enjoyed my burger. My wife had the Lucky Egg Burger. She really loved her burger too. Then our side of fries were served in a ceramic mug covered in plenty of gooey cheese. Yum.
Our first tourist stop of the weekend was Goryokaku Park and the Goryokaku Park Tower. Goryokaku is Japan’s only European style fortification complete with star shaped moat and walls. It was also the site of one of the last historic battles of the Tokugawa Period as Japan changed from the feudal shogun era to the modern era. Many of the original buildings of the fort are no longer there, but there are a couple of rebuilt replicas on site. It is now primarily a tourist attraction and city park for local residents to use. The tower was built beside the park to allow for a bird’s eye view of the star shaped fortification, but it also has great views south towards Mount Hakodate.
Later that evening, we headed south towards Mt. Hakodate and took the Ropeway up the mountain to the observation building at the top. Dusk had already set and the sun had already dipped below the horizon by the time we went up the ropeway. It looks like every tourist in town had come to the mountain to take in the famous night view.
The view did not disappoint. It truly was worth the trip up the mountain, even though hundreds of others were jostling cheek to jowl with us on the mountain top. I imagine the view is better in the winter with cleaner, crisper air and less people atop the mountain.