The smell of the sea is always present in this peninsula-nested town where fishing and selling seafood products are the main activity, with squid, the crab and the seaweeds standing out in both restaurants and seafood shops.
But Hakodate, despite being the gateway to the Hokkaido prefecture (now less important since the Shinkansen train has now made the connection to this island by removing ferry money), lives in a monotonous calm where the boulevards wide, lattice-like designs never fill with cars, where the tram runs almost empty and where the broad sidewalks look almost deserted.
In the mornings, daily the highlight of Hakodate’s commercial life is the Asa-ich market, which extends into the adjacent streets, dedicated to selling fish and other marine products, but where the highlight is the giant crabs.
At the end of this peninsula rises abruptly a hill whose autumn vegetation is dotted with brown and yellow with dark reds here and there. At the foot of this elevation lies the most interesting part of the city, the Motomachi district; a concentration of houses and churches built in the ninth century, arranged in a perfect lattice that climbs the steep hill. Most of the houses, made of wood and painted in soft pastel colors, feature European architecture and the presence of British-style Christian churches creates a stark contrast to the rest of the city and does not even seem to belong to this country.
But for me, the best part of my stay in Hokadote is the proximity of Onuma National Park, from what is left of Koma-ga-take volcano, the highest in the region. From a 30,000-year-old eruption dammed up depressions at the base of the mountain thus creating Lake Onuma, where several small islands appear, most of them near the village of Onumakoen (where the train station is located). Connecting these small islands, full of dense trees, there are small bridges that allow you to enjoy a pleasant walk where in the quieter waters you can see ducks and where birds of prey quietly fly over the trees. Some of these trails offer very good views of the Koma-ga-take volcano.
How to reach Onuma Quasi National Park:
The park is located about 30 km north of Hakodate, about 30 minutes by train (Super-Hokuto) to Onumakoen, the nearby station. Outside the station you’ll find a board with the trail maps.
It’s possible to rent a bicycle to visit the park, but the trails near the village of Onumakoen are closed to bicycles, and these are only worth renting if you want to go around the lake.
There are accommodations also at Onumakoen, but found them more expensive and to visit the park, half day is more than enough.
How to visit Motomachi:
This neighborhood is easily reached on foot from Hakodate downtown.
Where to sleep in Hakodate:
Motomachi Guest House Cocoa
Address: 040-0064 Hokkaido, Hakodate, Otemachi, 6-4; Phone: 0138-83-6605
It’s a new hostel only with dorms (male and female) with very good conditions, attractive price and about 10 minutes from Hakodate trains station. The breakfast in included but is very basic. Tea and coffee are for free. There are bicycles available.
Hokkaido is also home to one of Japan’s small ethnic groups, the Ainu, descendants of Caucasian peoples from Russia. There are some cultural centers and museums with information about Ainu culture and people, but in Hakodate I found it as easily as possible at the Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples.