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SOLO JAPAN II 14.-28.3.2004.
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conclusion of my trip | photo gallery II
Thursday, 18th of March 2004

Day Five :
Freezing Hakodate

A good start for the day

The first good news for today was that my ankle wasn't as sore as I feared. Walking wasn't a big problem like it was yesterday, but just to play it safe, I'll keep the bandage wrapped around it for today too.

Watching the morning programs, I was now sure that every region of Japan has its own local morning program, as the weather forecasts were mainly focused on Hokkaido. They said that for today the temperature would be somewhere around 5 Celsius.

I decided not to try the expensive breakfast served in the hotel and find another place to eat while visiting the tourist information centre, which is located back at the railway station.

Brisk, cold wind

Once I got outside, it didn't take me longer than two seconds to acknowledge the weather was very cold thanks to a strong, freezing wind. Good thing I took a winter cap and gloves with me! As I walked towards the station, I stumbled across the much advertised fish market of Hakodate. There was a huge amount of fresh fish, crabs and other living things fishers had lifted up from the ocean.

The fishermen and women were happy to give taste samples and were in a very talkative mood, but it was very unfortunate I couldn't understand Japanese myself. Friendly people, nonetheless. And at least I had a light, free sea food breakfast as well.

I made it to the tourist information centre and grabbed some maps of the city. I also asked for a day pass for the trams, but they didn't recommend buying one unless I was planning to use it more than three times, so I changed my mind and didn't buy it after all.

Hakodate's history

Okay, time for a quick introduction of Hakodate. This city is most known historically for being one of the three ports that opened for international trade in 1859 after the commodore Perry from the United States had successfully pressured Japan to open trade with them. The other two ports that opened trade to the outside world back then were Yokohama (near Tokyo) and Nagasaki (yes, known for another unfortunate historical event).

The arrival of foreign cultures and Japan's quick development plans to modernize the country was a huge change for Hakodate. Diplomats, merchants and missionaries came from many countries and it can be seen by many protected old western buildings built on the western area of the city.

Seeing all these old buildings in Japan was very unusual and did give that genuine sense of feeling this was one of the first locations were foreign cultures got a solid foothold on a nation that was isolated for so long. Especially the strong presence of churches was very odd after seeing so many buddhist temples and shinto shrines earlier in my travels.

The buildings were conveniently located close to each other and there were plenty of tourist boards in English explaining the history of Hakodate. Despite the harsh wind, I went through all the buildings and turned around once I had reached the foreign cemetery.

Moving to the other side of town

I got on a tram, where I picked up a numbered ticket and paid the amount needed as I got off. The next tourist spot was the Hakodate fortress, which was the first one in Japan build western style (it was star shaped).

Unfortunately the fort wasn't that interesting from ground level, but the view from a nearby watch tower was more revealing what it looks like. By this time the weather had changed into a snow blizzard.

Talking about the watch tower, when I happened to enter the elevator alone, the elevator girl still went through the routine speech of the history of the fortress she must have repeated hundreds of times already today and was probably quite amused like myself that I wasn't going to understand anything she said, but she had a job to do anyway.

I took a look at some art museum near by the tower, but there wasn't anything that interested me, so I returned to the hotel to warm myself up before going to one of Hakodate's star attractions, Mt. Hakodate.

On my way back to the hotel by tram, I realized my shoulders were very tense from trying to keep myself warm in the cold weather.

The heavily advertised view of Hakodate

After my short break at the hotel, I walked to the cable car station which was quite near the hotel. The day was still bright once I reached the top, but it was getting darker by the minute. The wind outside was twice as wicked what it was downtown, so people basically went outside for a few minutes to watch the city below before returning inside the building to warm up.

Typical to Japanese tourist spots, there was a sufficient souvenir shop available, plus a restaurant with tables offering a splendid city view. Sliding off the subject at bit, I've heard that even the top of Mt. Fuji has a souvenir stand (and probably a vending machine too)!

As the night drew closer, the amount of people increased sharply as tourist groups came pouring in. The weather couldn't quite decide should it be clear or snowy, but during the moments the weather was clear, the view was beautiful indeed. It was a shame I couldn't stay to admire it longer than a few minutes continuously because of the cold weather that forced me to go back inside to warm myself up.

Once I got on board the cable car back down, I was surprised to notice I saw the first caucasian tourist during the whole day! Usually I bump into a fellow colleague almost every hour or so.

Winding things up for the day

I grabbed something to bite from a convenience store that was opposite from the hotel, returned to my hotel room and prepared a bath in order to relax my tense shoulders. My sprained ankle wasn't feeling that bad, so it looks like I won't have to worry about it too seriously.

So that was one full day exploring Hakodate. It's a different city thanks to the unique history it holds and the fish market is a nice addition to that too (although it surely is pale in comparison to the Tokyo version, something I haven't seen myself).

The bizarre weather had its special touch to the visit, but did prevent me from enjoying the sightseeing in a more relaxed and slow pace.

I can't claim I've seen Hokkaido the island itself as it is more known for its untouched nature, but at least this one small part of what I saw now was worth the stretch up here.

back to top | proceed to day six!


Photo copyright Ude
Local fisherman at the Hakodate fish market.

Photo copyright Ude
Walking along a street, Mt. Hakodate in the background.

Photo copyright Ude
A Russian orthodox church (founded in 1859, current built in 1916).

Photo copyright Ude
The only photo I took of the Hakodate fortress from the near by tower (and it isn't even a good one, it was too big to be fitted into a single frame!).

Photo copyright Ude
Hakodate as viewed from the Goryokaku Tower. Yes, there is now a snow blizzard outside. Very unstable weather!

Photo copyright Ude
Approaching Mt. Hakodate (334 meters high) by cablecar.

Photo copyright Ude
Interactive view of Hakodate. Place your mouse over the image and press the image too to see the night lights coming to life!

Hakodate - Rather plain English pages, but functional and informative nonetheless.
Copyright 2003-2019 © , second edition. Latest minor update 4th of May 2010 (fixed and deleted broken links)
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