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This was a bit like Gibraltar – Hakodate

Wed 7 Aug – day 89  As I only had one day to see all the sights in Hakodate, before moving on to see the rest of Hokkaido, it was an early rise, pack my day sac and down in the lift to the ground floor.  After a quick check of my e-mails, I left through the back door as I was heading for GoryokakuThis was a fort constructed in a massive star-shaped western style, so very unusual for Japan.

Even though it was only just 09:00hrs the temperature was already above 25° C and still climbing; I had hoped that having travelled this far north that there would have been some respite from the extreme temperatures that were hitting the whole country, but even the locals were complaining about the heat.

The walk to Goryokaku took me through the narrow streets between people’s houses; everything was in immaculate condition, with not a bit of rubbish anywhere.  Just like all the other suburbs I had seen none of the houses had extensive gardens, but the occupants had done the best with the limited space that they had available and there was potted plants in profusion, so there was a lovely scent in the air.

As I left the quite backstreets and crossed the main road I passed a restaurant which looked if it served a bit of everything – a strange mix of things on offer!  The Goryokaku Tower dominates the north end of the city and is considered an eye-sore by the residents, but it helps to attract the tourists (or traveller in my case).  About the only good thing the tower possessed was the observation platform 55m above the ground from where a good view of the fort could be had.  The heat haze meant that it was impossible to see any distance; I could see my hotel, but not as far as the down-town area and so I went back down in the lift to the ground floor.  Like all good tourist traps when you left the lift you had to walk through the souvenir shop before you could exit the building, so just the place to buy some more postcards.

Compared with the throng of visitors pouring off the coaches by the tower, the fort was a much more tranquil place and the tree line paths gave a degree of cover from the blazing sun.  Just like all the other monuments that I had visited in the country a large amount of restoration and reconstruction was being undertaken in order to restore the fort to something like in had been during the late 1800’s.  The Former Magistrates Office had been the first structure to ‘re-emerge’ and had opened to the public in 2010; this was where the tourist information office had been located and once again the staff were very helpful.  The building contained many offices and as the same the world over, the size of each room depended on the position the occupant had in the bureaucratic hierarchy.

During the reconstruction a number of rather ancient muzzle loading guns had been uncovered and these where now on display along with many other artefacts found during the excavations.

The extensive grounds were being prepared for the Hakodate Historical Pageant which used an amateur cast of thousands to tell the story of the city.





Having completed my visit to the fort it was time to head back to the city centre, so I boarded a tram which took me back to the station, here I alighted as I want to visit the market, a location that both the Lonely Planet and Japan By Rail guidebooks advise people to visit.  This is primarily a fish market and the tanks were filled to bursting with freshly caught crabs; it seemed that King Crabs were the main item for sale, but there were shellfish and other species in abundance.  And if you were hungry there were many stalls offering cooked fish.




As this was a very fertile part of the country the fruit & veg market had lots of stalls where farmers and people who had small holdings were selling their very fresh produce.  No supermarkets and items wrapped in plastic for sale here and long may it continue.  I paid ¥100 for slice of musk melon – very tasty it was too.

One shop was selling tinned curry,but what the difference in flavours was between the various items on offer I had no idea.

It was then back on the tram as I headed for the Motomachi District which was located on the lower slopes of Mount Hakodate; this was where the first traders from around the world settled when the port was opened to foreigners in the 1850’s.  From the tram stop by the harbour it was a long slog up one of the roads that led to the area where the historic buildings were located.  All the roads leading away from the harbour were aptly named Slope’s.

The first building I stopped at was the former British Consulate which was now owned and run as a tourist attraction by the city authorities.  The original Royal Crest which had hung on the gates was now in a display cabinet just inside the main entrance.  The Fountain Garden at the rear of the property was a popular place for Japanese couples to have their wedding photographs taken.  Also very well frequented was the Victoria Rose Tem Room where traditional English afternoon teas were served.  The gift shop which sold a very wide variety of British souvenirs, including miniature bottles of scotch, was doing a thriving trade as the coach loads of Japanese tourists purchased virtually anything that had a Union Flag on it.

The historic houses were in a wide variety of styles, depending on where the original occupants had come from and these ranged from the traditional Japanese wooden house; houses occupied by Russian merchants and properties that looked as if they had been transplanted from New England. At one of the properties the shop had been converted into an ice-cream parlour and café and so I stopped and bought a rather large ice cream that had to be consumed in rather quick time before it melted.  Delicious!!

Further along the road was a shop that sold imported items and I was amazed to see a quintessential British park bench and London street name up for sale.  There were a number of artists painting street scenes and having looked at some of their wares, I bought a couple of small watercolours to frame and hang once I had returned home.

As this area had been a melting pot of nationalities, this was reflected in the variety of places of worship that had been constructed.  The first was the Hakodate Russian Orthodox Church which was the oldest Orthodox Church in Japan; although no longer a place of worship, it was still maintained as such and due reverence was expected on entry.  Built in the Russian Byzantine style, the church had been placed on the register of National Important Cultural Property in 1983 and so the government now had a commitment to maintain it.  Both the Motomachi Roman Catholic Church and the Hakodate Episcopal Church still held regular services in order to cater for the small Christian community in the city.

The street had beautifully cast manhole covers and then there was the sign above a shop that described what was for sale.





At the far end of the road was the lower station of the Mt Hakodate ropeway (cable car) and despite the mist that was still obscuring the view I decided to take a trip to the top.  I managed to get a fairly decent shot of the harbour before the gondola entered the mist / heat haze and just before we reached the top I could see out to the east and the Pacific Ocean.  At the upper station there was a small café, a restaurant that was not open (evenings only in mid-week) and a souvenir shop (more postcards).  Above this was a viewing platform from where you could see in all directions; the view to the south confirmed that Hakodate was a bit like Gibraltar, with a mountain at one end and surrounded on 3 sides by water.  Indeed the whole of Mt Hakodate and the southern part of the peninsular had once been a military area and off limits to civilians; just like in Gibraltar large calibre guns had been installed so that they could fire upon any enemy ships that tried to transit through the Tsugaru Straits.

Just before I descended down in the cable car, the mist had lifted enough for me to be able to see the Goryokaku Tower, four miles to the north.



At the top and bottom of each Slope were signs that indicated where houses were located, but what made these interesting was that on each sign a carving of a local bird had been affixed.


Having wandered back down to the water front, my knees did ache, I then strolled around the old warehouse complex which had been restored and converted into shops and restaurants before taking the tram back to the station.  Here I was able to buy a copy of the Japan Times so that I could get my ‘fix’ of what was happening in the world outside the bubble I was travelling in.

As a beer garden had been set up on the station concourse I sat down at a table and then proceeded to have some food a drink.  You could buy cooked food at one of the stalls or bring your own and cook it yourself; the cooker and plates were supplied.

At the next table were some elderly ladies and after some time we started a conversation that involved much sign language and the use of the phrasebook until one of the ladies granddaughters arrived and translated everything; she spoke English as it should be spoken and would have had absolutely no difficulty getting a job at the BBC of the 1950’s as an announcer.

As the working day finished the tables soon filled up with and by 19:00hrs there were so many people that the staff were erecting more tables and chairs.  As far as I could see I was the only non-Japanese person present – great.

Having had my fill of food and drink I said goodbye to the ladies (much bowing) and took the tram back to my hotel where I bought a small tub of ice-cream in the 7 / 11 adjacent to the front entrance before I went up to my room.

Looking out of the window I could see the Goryokaku Tower all lit up and this was probably the best time of the day to see it.

And so to bed.