Holland America Westerdam slowly glided into port in Hakodate, Japan escorted not only by the usual tugs, but also by a boat with Welcome to Hakodate painted in large bold letters easily readable from neighboring ships on its side. This small escort boat sprayed water high into the air similar to that seen from a fireboat, except the spray from this boat came in ever-changing colors reminiscent of fireworks. Red, blue, yellow, and green alternately brightened the sky above the boat, especially scenic as it passed the lighthouse sentinel of the harbor.
As the first Japanese port on our cruise from Vancouver, Canada to Shanghai, China, everyone on the ship had to go through customs before disembarking. Once the ship docked customs officials came on board and everyone went through according to pre-assigned color and number groups with paperwork already filled out having received it in our cabins prior to reaching port. The process went a bit slower than expected as they didn’t call our group until an hour past the scheduled time. First to get processed were of course those with ship tours. Since the ship stayed in port from 8am to 11pm even the people processed last and any crew with some time off still had plenty of time to get off the ship and find something to do.
We would have liked to take the ropeway up Mount Hakodate, but it was closed while we were there and since the point for us would have been more to ride the cable car up the mountain than merely getting to the top we weren’t interested in taking a bus instead so we just took the free shuttle into town. From the shuttle stop people can take a bus or train to other attractions, but we just went places we could walk to.
John really wanted to see the Morning Market so we went there first. It was just a short walk from the shuttle stop. We were told it’s called a morning market because things normally close at noon, but much of it stayed open later the day we were there, probably because of the cruise ship passengers. Things like whole fish and crabs that people need to take home and cook are of course there for locals only, but the numerous restaurants and shops selling clothing or packaged items that might appeal to tourists had reason not to close with a ship full of potential customers roaming through. One ice cream shop had some unusual flavors like squid ink ice cream.
Catching your own squid was a popular thing there, with a squid fishing tank in the main morning market as well tanks at several little restaurants and booths around the market area. Even so they were not nearly as abundant as stall after stall of fish and crabs. Corn and cantaloupe seemed to be the most plentiful non-seafood options. We did come across the occasional stall selling something completely different like clothing.
Squid and cantaloupe are big in Hokkaido Prefecture, which is a division of the country something like a state or county and where Hakodate is located. Even places not selling actual squid often had squid décor. Besides fresh cantaloupe, they also had cantaloupe wine which was mostly available only in that prefecture, though we did find it in one shop in a port later on at a store selling food products from around the world.
After wandering around the Morning Market for a bit we headed down toward the waterfront and found a winding pathway up to an overpass that seemed little used, but made a nice viewpoint.
From there we wandered through a place with a bunch of little canvas-topped outdoor booths set up that seemed to be some sort of carnival or street fair. It had one booth with carnival style games some small children were playing Another booth had a Halloween theme selling orange cotton candy among other things. Food cooking in some of the booths there smelled a lot better than anything at the fish market – cooked or uncooked.
We found a signpost pointing out the way to several things including the Red Brick Warehouse, a touristy shopping area. Outside the shops in the old warehouse we saw a number of rickshaws, something I would have more expected to see in China than Japan, but there they were. We saw a couple people get in one. The guy pulling it started off at a jog, but only went a block or so before stopping. He seemed to be telling them something about the place he stopped by so we pondered over the possibility of it being some sort of rickshaw tour, which would definitely make something unique and different to do.
Shops selling sweets or ice cream inside the warehouse were nearly as numerous as fish stalls in the Morning Market. Others sold jewelry or souvenirs. We found a little cat cup that made both of us think of our cat-obsessed grandson so we got it for him to save as a gift for the next Christmas.
We were quite amused by some of the sweet options. Things we’d never heard of like corn candy, or would ever have even considered like squid cookies. Besides cookies and candy there were also quite a lot of packaged cakey things. There was also colorful gelato and cases of fancy puddings.
After looking through some shops we wandered down a stone path and came across a booth selling tickets for a harbor cruise. It was $15 for a fifteen minute cruise on a speedboat. It made a loop through the harbor that passed by our ship so we decided to go. Short, but fun, scenic, and not that much money. There’s often random fun things to do that you had no idea were there when you get off a cruise ship without any specific plans.
We saw other interesting things around the area near the red brick warehouses including a row of matching bikes that were probably rentals and boats strung with many lights that they use for squid fishing.
The shuttle stop was at some sort of bus terminal so we initially thought all the Japanese girls wearing school uniforms on the platform when we got there for our return to the ship were just waiting for a bus to take them somewhere, but it turned out they were actually there to greet the cruise ship passengers. They came from a girl’s high school and had a chance to practice their English with the cruise ship passengers there. They spoke English quite well. The girls made little origami swans which they handed out to people. We thought one of them said they would be coming to the ship that evening to perform in a locals show, but the performers turned out all to be men other than a couple girls who introduced the two different dances the men did and explained what they were about. Perhaps she meant they got to visit the ship with the performers rather than that she and the other girls would actually be in the show, which was a bit of a disappointment since we went to the show mainly to watch the girls we’d met dance.