Hakodate (pop. 284,000) is Hokkaido's third largest city after Sapporo and Asahikawa, as well as the main port to access the island from Honshu (direct ferry to Aomori and Oma).
The city enjoys a unique geographic position, with the old town sandwiched by the sea on both sides and looking like a corridor linking Mount Hakodate to Hokkaido's main land.
Its history also sets it apart from other Japanese cities. Hakodate was the first port, along with Shimoda (in Shizuoka prefecture), to open to foreign trade after the Kanagawa Treaty (1854) was forced on the Japanese authorities by Commodore Perry.
Consequently, Hakodate has more Western building than almost anywhere else in Japan. Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, along with the old Russian and British Consulates are some of the testimony of this past.
Most of the sightseeing is in the Motomachi (元町) district or "old town", and along the water front. The former Public Hall of Hakodate, the Hakodate Meijikan (Old Central Post Office) and the Former Prefectural Government Office were all built in late 19th century Western style. Actual European buildings include the Old British Consulate and a Russian Orthodox Church. Also of interest are the redbrick warehouses along the harbour and the Chinese Memorial Hall (中華会館, Chūka-kaikan), also built in redbrick.
Some 400 merchants sell all kinds of products at the morning market near the railway station. If you are an early riser, it is open from 4.00 am, from Monday to Saturday. Others needn't worry as the bustling actvity continues till about noon.
The Tokugawa shōgunate built Japan's first Western-style fort in 1864 in Hakodate to protect themselves from foreign threats. The fort is called Goryo-kaku (五稜郭) and houses the Hakodate Museum, retracing the city's (military) history.
In 1898, eight French nuns established Japan's first women's convent in the Yunokawa ditrict. The Trappist Convent now has 70 nuns and has an adjoining shop selling delicious home-made biscuits and sweets. Buses from Hakodate station take about 35 minutes to the convent.
How to get there
The JR Limited Express "Super Hokuto" connects Hakodate to Sapporo in about 3 hours and 15 minutes (￥5,560).
Hakodate Airport is 20min by bus from the city center. Flights deserve Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Sendai, Sapporo, Asahikawa, Kushiro and Memanbetsu.
Map of attractions in Hakodate