Took the 4-hour Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakodate. Our first adventure in Hokkaido was stepped up by the Shinkansen underwater crossing. Excited much? Well, it was like any other tunnel but for the thought that you’re under the sea. Amazing though how an otherwise 11-hour ride has been cut down to a comfortable 4 hours. Seats reclined to the max, we slept through much of the ride. A coffee cart stopped for some black liquid and some chips.
We were hungry as soon as we stepped out of the JR Hakodate Station. We took 2 solo rooms in this modern hotel just across the tram station, and promptly dropped our bags. (Coin launderette at the hotel basement is convenient but of course you can do your own laundry in your room) By 2pm, most izakayas and donburi stalls in Hakodate Morning Market were closing shop but we luckily found one to satisfy our kaisendon cravings. Salmon, Ikura (salmon roe), Ika (Squid), Otoro (Tuna belly), Uni (Sea Urchin), Unagi (Eel), Hatote (Scallops), Oysters, Abalone, Hamachi, take your pick. Pure agony (deciding which to eat first) followed by pure bliss.
No desserts? Not till we walk off all those carbs and protein from the sea. But we decided to start walking in the Motomachi Historical area. The slopes are leg muscle killers so best to conserve our energy and start from the top. Taxis were everywhere so we simply asked the driver to drive us up to the Hakodate Catholic Church, one of 4 churches we found in the area. The Russian Orthodox Church is best viewed at night. For that matter, the entire Motomachi area. We were there just before sunset, so there was daylight. After the sun has set, we lingered to view the other sites that early evening. The Public Hall looks like a colonial mansion planted on a Hakodate hill. So with the old British Consulate edifice. Many interesting sites here. And once you’re done doing the Mt. Hakodate Ropeway from here and still have the energy to walk back to the central area near the Market, Tram and Bus Station, check out the slopes offering grand views of the harbor. We ran out of energy so we took the bus from the Ropeway to the Station. 👍👌👏
Feeling more confident, we took out a tram day pass costing only ¥600. About the same price of our taxi fare from the Market to Motomachi. From our hotel, we took the Yunokawa-bound tram for Yunokawa Onsen. A bit off-the-beaten path except for the hedonists who opted to stay in Onsen hotels here for the hot springs. But we didn’t come for the Onsen. We came to watch snow monkeys enjoying their own brand of Onsen. Housed within the Hakodate Tropical Garden, the snow monkeys were playfully going about their business — scratching each other (or themselves), picking fleas from each other, climbing here and there. Took a lot of photos and videos but nothing beats just watching them. Every now and then, one or 2 would screamingly chase each other. Monkey antics. Like humans, these snow monkeys take to the hot springs as eagerly. But pray tell, why say monkey business to refer to transactions and activity tainted with anomaly?
Goryokaku is midway between Yunokawa and the Hakodate Station. So off the tram we went, walking towards Goryokaku. Quit checking the maps, the Observatory or Goryokaku Tower is your best guide. Just keep walking towards the Tower. Up above, you can see the star-shaped first-ever Western Fortress in Japan and the beginning of an autumn foliage. Neatly manicured, the towering trees surround the Old Magistrate’s Office which is centrally located and has since been restored. At the Tower’s ground floor, have a fill of cookie, cake, soup and tea samples. Seriously, you’ve got to know what you’re buying. I bought some Hokkaido melon-flavored chocolates here and the sales lady was so nice to give me more samples that she had to put them all in a coffee cup! When she tried to convince me to buy soup and tea packs, I tried the samples and discreetly walked away……
Very near the Goryokaku Tower, we found a corner hamburger joint with long queues. We were perplexed that in a place where seafood abound, the locals line up for their burgers. Thought they probably miss the beef? Lucky Pierrot is a hamburger joint famous for its scallop burgers — so there, it’s seafood after all! I’m told there’s another branch in the Red Brick Warehouses area. Lest I forget, don’t miss the Hokkaido melons. You don’t have to buy the whole fruit. Slices are for sale along with cups of melon cubes. And Hokkaido milk and ice cream? They’re all for the taking at the Ground Floor of the Observatory Tower.
Hakodate has a small town appeal with interesting European influences. None more so than in the Brick Warehouses area. The shopping area is a tourist trap. Find those Hokkaido pastries here — pudding, cake, biscuits, cookies and many, many more. I am NOT a shopper but foodstuff I can’t resist. When I couldn’t decide which pastries to buy, I bought 3. And ate them all. Small desserts, mind you. 😜 The caramels I bought, along with boxes of cookies and crackers. The last item wasn’t on my list but those squid crackers are addictive! (Like the Pinoy “okoy”). And the pudding in a bottle? Ohhhhh.
Last but certainly not the least…. Hokkaido Ramen. Sapporo has a famous Ramen alley but we found one in Hakodate too. An old man tends the tiny square shop hemmed in by walls adorned with photos of the old man (when he was way, way younger) with different celebrities. When we stepped in, it was only 6pm and most other Ramen shops were closed except for two. We were too early but the old man hesitantly took us in. We watched him prepare our bowls of ramen : one salt-based, another soya-based. This cold night in Hakodate, it was perfect. We slurped through our ramen dinner while the old man watched baseball on his TV. We felt like getting fed by grandpa. No wonder we couldn’t resist going back to Hakodate after Sapporo before finally leaving Hokkaido. You’re the best, Hakodate! And you too, Grandpa!