One of our dining room tablemates on Holland America Westerdam was born in Japan so I’ll trust her on the pronunciation of this Japanese city. She said it’s Ha (as in ha ha ha) ko (rhymes with no) da (rhymes with paw) tay (rhymes with play) – assuming you pronounce all those rhyming words like a west coast American (the way most people speak on American TV shows).
Hakodate is located at the southern tip of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Mount Hakodate dominates the view from Hakodate, the island’s third largest city. The mountain’s summit is reachable by aerial ropeway gondola, bus, or car and offers excellent views of the city.
Hakodate was Japan’s first city whose port was opened to foreign trade, in 1854. It was the biggest city on Hokkaido before the Great Hakodate Fire of 1934 burned down ¾ of the town when a chimney from a public bathhouse blew down in a storm and extreme winds quickly spread the fire. Hakodate features four distinct seasons with about 150 inches of annual precipitation. Summers are generally warm but not hot, with average high temperatures in the warmest month (August) around 78 degrees F.
HAKODATE CRUISE PORT
The ship passed through a small channel between lighthouses on the way into the bay and docked across from a junkyard and next to a container port. There’s no terminal building, but they had a visitor information booth set up under a canvas tent near the gangway where passengers exit the ship. They had some local area maps and booklets on attractions available. Japanese ports are very good about having visitor information and maps right at the port.
The cruise terminal is 4K away from the city center. Complimentary shuttle busses take passengers to a bus terminal next to the train station in town. There are also taxis available. From the shuttle stop people can take a bus or train to other attractions or walk to the nearby morning market. From the morning market it’s not too far to walk to the Red Brick Warehouse, which is now a tourist shopping destination.
People who don’t mind a bit of a hike could walk from there to the lower ropeway station. In addition to the cable cars people can get to the top of the mountain on foot or by bus. The cable cars were down for maintenance during our port stop leaving only the other options for anyone wishing to reach the top.
The morning market sells mostly seafood. Besides many stalls selling whole fish and other raw seafood intended for locals to buy and take home, there are numerous places with seafood available ready to eat or prepared while you wait.
Menus posted outside many of the little restaurants around the outside of the main morning market building are often examples of the food in either pictures or fake food.
The streets nearby are full of little booths under canvas tents or even just umbrellas. Just like shops in the building, some sell merchandise and others ready to eat food.
Catching your own squid seems to be a popular theme with squid tanks in several small restaurants as well as the popular one in the center of the main marketplace. It’s not hard for people to catch the one they want as the gear is set up for snagging them rather than enticing one to bite a bait. Once caught the person manning the booth prepares the squid for the one who caught it to eat. They have tables next to the tank so the diners have a place to sit and enjoy their food.
Other stores in the area and at the red brick warehouse offered a variety of sweets, though not necessarily things westerners are familiar with. Ice cream stands are quite popular and at least one offers some interestingly different flavors like squid ink ice cream. (It had some more appealing flavors too.)
We saw a lot of packaged items where you really can’t tell if that thing under the plastic is some sort of sweet or raw seafood. Of course anyone who can read Japanese could look at the label, but by just the product itself people not familiar with the food there really can’t tell.
Squid and cantaloupes seemed to be the most popular things for the area with squid décor even in places where squid weren’t for sale, and besides fresh cantaloupes available at many market stalls, cantaloupe wine is a specialty of the area. If you aren’t sure what a cantaloupe is you may live where it is called a rock melon.
We saw a couple more tourist information booths around town besides the one at the pier. We also saw a lot of vending machines not just around Hakodate, but all over Japan. Not just inside buildings, but also sitting out on the sidewalk on the streets. Mostly they sold things to drink, but a few had things like ice cream or other food. We also saw rickshaw rides and harbor cruises near the red brick warehouses.
Things to do on your own
Mount Hakodate – aerial ropeway gondola, mountaineering
Goryōkaku – star fort turned park, popular for springtime cherry blossom viewing
Goryōkaku Tower – observation tower at the park
19th century Russian Orthodox Church
Museums, statues and historic sites
Rickshaw ride or harbor cruise
Morning Market and Red Brick Warehouse shops
Cruise Ship Excursions
Excursions offered from the Westerdam included a hike in a national park an hour away by bus, and a best of Hakodate tour stopping at Goryokaku fort and tower, the magistrate’s office with historical exhibits, the Morning Market, and the Museum of Northern People. It was also supposed to include a ride up the ropeway, but since it was closed for maintenance and inspection they had to go up by bus instead. More tour options were a visit to the Morning Market and ropeway – again substituting a bus for the tram, one going to the Morning Market and Goryokaku park and tower, and a scenic bus tour driving through the city and to the top of Mount Hakodate.