Ultimate travel guide #1: Hakodate, Japan

Words by Ceia Ylagan | Photos courtesy of the Hakodate Photo Library 

Hakodate, located at the southernmost point of Hokkaido, is also its third largest city after Sapporo and Asahikawa. It was one of the three international ports opened in Japan in the 19th century, which made it one of the first few Japanese cities to have trade relations with the outside world. Traces of Western influences have remained throughout Hakodate, most of which can be seen in government buildings and some preserved homes with a fusion of both Western and Japanese architecture and design. This coastal city is popularly known for seafood such as squid, sea urchin, and crabs.

(Hokadote morning market)

What you’ll need 

Visa requirements: Most Asian passport holders will need a Japanese visa to visit Hakodate.

Time difference: Japan is one hour ahead of Southeast Asia.

Getting there

Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways, and Philippine Airlines are some of the airlines that fly to Tokyo via Haneda or Narita airports. From there, take a 90-minute domestic flight to Hakodate Airport.

Alternatively, visitors can take a train ride Tokyo to Hakodate via the Hokkaido Shinkansen service, making the region and its nearby towns more accessible for tourists. Kikonai station, the first stop in Hokkaido, is a quaint yet serene town where guests can try juicy Hakodate beef.

When to go

Hakodate is lovely to visit all year round, particularly to see the famed Mt. Hakodate night view. However, the best time to go is from April through September when the climate is warmer.

(The famed Mt. Hakodate night view)

Where to stay

Four Points by Sheraton Hakodate 

Formerly the Loisir Hotel Hakodate, this ideally located Western-style hotel is right across the JR Hakodate Station and the Daimon Yokocho, the best place to try Hakodate’s famous seafood donburi bowls. Behind it is the well-known Hakodate Morning Market that comes alive as early as daybreak. Don’t miss Shabu Shabu Kirari for a taste of premium Hokkaido beef. | premierhotel-group.com/hakodate

La Jolie Motomachi by WBF

This chic and stylish boutique hotel conveniently located in the Motomachi District boasts of 29 designer rooms that reflect the same charming Western-Japanese sensibilities of Hakodate. Egyptian cotton beddings and antique décor paired with modern comforts ensure a comfortingly homey yet pampered stay for guests. A tram stop is also just a minute’s walk away.  | hotelwbf.com/lj-motomachi

La Vista Hakodate Bay V

This upscale hotel falls right smack between many of Hakodate’s most interesting attractions. It’s just a three-minute walk to the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouses, and a few blocks further northeast leads to Hakodate Morning Market. Towards the southwest is Motomachi District and access to the Mt. Hakodate Ropeway. | hotespa.net

Wakamatsu Hot Spring Resort 

Expect the highest level of Japanese service in a ryokan as rich in history as this. From its charming façade to its subdued interiors, its 24 rooms – each with its own view of the Tsugaru Straits – have been carefully designed to create the most tranquil environment for guests. | wakamatsuryokan.com/hakodate

Yunokawa Prince Hotel Nagisatei 

This ryokan-style accommodation facing Tsugaru Strait is best for travelers seeking a change of scenery and an alternative option in Hakodate. Experience an authentic tatami room with an open-air bath and enjoy a Japanese buffet with an open kitchen that serves freshly-made tempura. |  nagisatei.info

Bourou Noguchi Hakodate 

With the highest open-air bath in Yunokawa, this luxury ryokan provides an unmatched breathtaking view of the city, Mt. Hakodate, and Tsugaru Strait. Some rooms have private hot spring baths with a panoramic view. The spring waters here are made up of sodium calcium and chloride that are good for guests suffering from joint pain, rheumatism, and fatigue. A Japanese garden, library, and billiard room provide guests with entertainment and leisure options. | bourou-hakodate.com

 

Where to eat 

Uni Murakami

This small restaurant at the end of the Hakodate Morning Market lane, serves the best sea urchin rice bowl dishes. Diners can also choose a combination uni don with other seafood such as scallops or salmon roe, for variety. Make sure to come early or make reservations, as seats are limited, and to avoid a long wait. | uni-murakami.com

(Fresh seafood rice bowl0

Daimon Yokocho

For the best donburi selection, head to Donburi Yokocho Market that’s just a minute’s walk from the JR Hakodate Station. Over 20 restaurants offer various kinds of donburi (rice toppings) using only the freshest seafood such as squid, sea urchin, salmon, scallop, shrimp, and more. This is sushi heaven at its finest that no seafood lover should miss. | donburiyokocho.com

Pastry Snaffles

These guys make the lightest, fluffiest “catch cakes,” the Snaffles’ version of a cheesecake made of Hokkaido milk, cream cheese, and eggs. Make sure to bring home some of these treats in its original cheese or chocolate flavors, along with cheese tarts or “snow ball” pastries. | snaffles.jp

Restaurant Yano

Make time to visit this dining destination when visiting Matsumae Castle. This restaurant right across Matsumae park serves a unique bluefish tuna bento set. The tuna, freshly caught each morning, is prepared in several different ways, to highlight its best qualities and flavors. The bento set is served with Hokkaido rice, miso soup with local kelp, and pickled Matsumae squid. | matsumae-yano.com

Hakodate Beer Hall

Stay warm with a mug of Sapporo beer and a hearty meal from this place that looks as great as its food and beer selections are varied. Food selections range from local specialties to Western cuisine such as beef and potato stews, and it’s interestingly located at the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse.

(Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse)

Shabu Shabu Kirari

Take a break from seafood with a traditional Japanese shabu shabu at at the Four Points by Sheraton Hakodate. Generous servings of premium Hokkaido beef and seasonal vegetables are cooked at your table in a flavorful broth which makes this a must-try experience in Hakodate.

 

What to do

Go on a day trip to get up close and personal with nature.

Get closer to Mother Nature at Onuma Park , just 30 minutes away north of Hakodate. The park at the foot of Mt. Komagatake has two lakes where you can take boat tours or rent a bike to explore the various lakes and small islands. Other activities to do at Onuma Park are horseback riding, canoeing, and snowshoeing in winter | onumakouen.com

Get to know a yokozuna

Visit the Chiyonoyama & Chiyonofuji Memorial Hall at Fukushima Town, a sumo wrestling museum dedicated to two of Hokkaido’s renowned yokozuna (highest ranked sumo wrestling champions). The museum chronicles their lives and careers, and showcases their awards and accolades. A dojo at the back of the museum is sometimes open for public viewing, and if you’re lucky, you might even catch some young sumo wrestlers training or competing there around August. | town.fukushima.hokkaido.jp

(Mt. Komagatake)

And with that, you’re now ready to visit Hokadote. What did you think of this travel guide? Did we miss anything spectacular? What other destinations would you like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments section, or leave us a message on our official Facebook page.

Happy travel planning!

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