7/29/17 – Hakodate

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

Japanese word of the day: Isshoni ( いっしょに ) = together

This is the port I was looking most forward to out of the entire trip! I can proudly say it didn’t disappoint. We were a little discouraged by the weather initially because it was so foggy outside and drizzling rain, and once we got down to the gangway the rain began to pour harder to the point where we were stepping over massive puddles in order to get our shuttle tickets just a few feet away. We’re Seattle people though, so it was no problem! Now we know how tourists feel when they travel all the way to Seattle just to have it pour tons of rain on them. Nothing we can control.

We wanted to get off the ship early in order to catch the morning market in Hakodate, which is well known for having fresh seafood. It opens at 5AM and officially closes at 2PM, but stalls begin to close at 12PM. A few things Hakodate is well known for are squid and shio ramen (sea salt broth noodles). We could clearly see the abundance of squid in the morning market. The second we stepped in, we saw stands of fish cut open on top of mountains of ice as well as massive scallops grilling fresh on open stoves right in front of hungry customers. I’m pretty sure my mom went a little bit crazy as she saw the endless seafood stretching out down the hall. The most interesting (and terrible depending on how you stand) part of the market was the way they prepared the fresh squid. Right in the center of the market, they had a small pool where squid were swimming around and you could catch one. Once you catch it, you bring the squid to a small stand where they chop the live squid’s tentacles off while it’s still alive. The tentacles were still moving as they were separated from the rest of the body. Then the person cut the body in half. While it was still moving. I had to walk out of the market so I didn’t get sick. I’m so bad with these things. I once saw an abalone cooked alive over an open flame as it was still pulsing and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it because I started tearing up. That’s how bad I am with these things. I’m so sorry you had to read all of that. I think I described in a little too much detail.

Feel free to stop reading here if you’re disgusted, but I promise you that the rest of this post is not as sad and not as graphic as the poor squid story. I also promise you that I don’t see these things every day and this is not how I live my life.

Moving on.

My mom bought us a scallop to share and it was the freshest scallop I have ever had and I really enjoyed it even though I wasn’t hungry from seeing that squid. Oh goodness. Let’s not think about that anymore. This market was so easy to get lost in, but we eventually found our way to an exit where we were greeted by endless food stalls of seafood lined up right outside. Next to the fish market was another market where they sold produce and there was a small food court. I noticed that a lot of people were holding these large crackers that looked like it had dried seafood inside. We found the stall inside the produce market near the back next to the food court, and it turns out this was a rice cracker that had the option of pressing a dried scallop, dried squid, or dried shrimp inside. We decided to try it and get a combination of all three.

It was amazing. Maybe it’s because my appetite began to return, but this cracker was something else. It reminded me of a cracker I used to have as a little kid back at my grandma’s old house, but I don’t really remember the name of it. You couldn’t taste the seafood at all, but there was a slight smoky flavor to the rice cracker that made it really good compared to a normal rice cracker. The four of us finished it quickly, then moved on because my uncle and aunt said that they wanted to meet us at a brewery.

Daily drain pic

We walked about fifteen minutes to a brewery called Hakodate Beer where, of course, I could not drink any of their specialty. While my aunt, uncle, and dad enjoyed some nice, light beer, I tried their special beer soft serve ice cream because I’ve never seen beer soft serve offered before and I’m sure there isn’t enough beer content in the ice cream to influence me, much less get me ID-ed.

It was an interesting dessert (and I was yet again having ice cream at like 10AM). Unlike normal soft serve, this one was a little icier and less smooth which I guess is credited to the fact that they’re using beer and would dilute the cream content in the ice cream. There wasn’t a ton of sweetness to the ice cream, which I actually really liked because I’m not a huge fan of sweets. Initially I was skeptical about the taste of it because I couldn’t taste the beer and it wasn’t really registering as any sort of delicacy. However, as I got deeper into it, the minor bitterness began to come out and it developed into almost a muted caramel taste. I appreciated the experience and would 10/10 recommend if you’re okay with ice cream that isn’t super sweet.

After the Hakodate Brewery, we parted ways with my aunt and uncle and headed towards the Red Brick Warehouses which I was SO EXCITED FOR because for some reason, I really like brick buildings. Maybe it’s the color of the bricks that I’m really drawn to, but I always feel so relaxed when I see brick buildings. I should go to school on the east coast then.

These Red Brick Warehouses used to be shipping ports since they’re right along the water, but once they were put out of service, the city developed them into shopping hubs and how they’re perfect for aesthetic pictures. I really wish I was more photogenic and confident in my picture poses, because these places are perfect for an Instagram snapshot.

Some of the shops that were inside was a calligraphy stand, a music box store, and a Japanese coinpurse store. Imagine Pike Place Market stalls all broken up and placed into these Red Brick Warehouses; that’s exactly what this place reminded me of.

I wasn’t really sure why Hakodate is called the San Francisco of Japan until I saw what lay just on the other side of the Red Brick Warehouses. It looked exactly like Fisherman’s Wharf. Hakodate also has a bunch of street slopes that are similar to San Francisco’s that make it super famous because you can climb the slopes and take a picture from the top looking down onto the bay. We climbed one and the view did not disappoint. The scenery was complemented perfectly by the gorgeous, clean, and wide cobblestone street. It looked like something out of an anime. This peaceful setting was quickly disturbed by the hustle of three tour groups coming in, so we dashed out of there.

We stopped at a snack stall in the middle of our walk to who-knows-where because we didn’t really have an official lunch and it was about 1PM. My mom got a small squid ink soft serve for us to all try (so much ice cream, I know) and in a brave move, I took a bite. The squid ink did not affect the flavor or texture of the ice cream at all, and I think the whole purpose of the squid ink is to say that you tried something exotic. The only thing it did to me was stain my tongue black which was fun when I was talking to people.

The weather at this point was absolutely perfect because the humidity was gone and the temperature settled at a comfortable 75 degrees Fahrenheit or so. We walked a bit further down the street, passing other slopes that gave an amazing view overlooking the city, until we encountered a cute little park with a brick artillery building and a European-style teal house that doubled as an attraction and visitor’s center.

We learned at the visitor’s center that there were a ton of old Western buildings around Hakodate in relatively the same area that we could sightsee, so over the next hour we hit the old British Consulate, a Russian Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic Church, and a Buddhist temple. Every single building was so stunning and unique, with the Russian Orthodox Church showing off a roof of deep turquoise and the Roman Catholic Church boasting a rich red roof. I felt as if I didn’t need to visit Europe when I could see these buildings in Japan.

As I mentioned before, Hakodate is very popular for their shio ramen, so we wanted to find a good restaurant where we could try it. Our taxi driver recommended a place called Ajisai, and he was spot on! The Ajisai he took us to was located right in the Red Brick Warehouse district, which was fun because I got to see my favorite area again J Out of curiosity, we googled the best shio ramen restaurant in Hakodate and Ajisai was the first one that came up. It turns out their ramen is the most popular because they infuse a chicken broth into their shio ramen soup. My shio ramen did not disappoint because this broth was nice and light and complemented the specialty noodles.

A location that I really wanted to visit in Hakodate was Goryokaku Park, which was more towards the city center. Rather than taking another taxi to the park, we hopped on the local tram and took a very bumpy ride into town.

In order to see Goryokaku Park from the top, we took an elevator up Goryokaku Tower. The view from the top of the tower was spectacular, and I personally believe it was better than anything we could have gotten from the top of Mt. Hakodate because the mountain was covered in clouds. I wish we could have caught the sunset from the top of the tower, but unfortunately the tower closed at 7:00PM so we barely saw the city lights turn on.

Goryokaku Park was such a piece of art, though. My love for architecture has really awakened on this trip, and it’s an appreciation I haven’t felt since my dream of being an architect in fifth grade. Goryokaku Park used to be a military base, and was the center of a civil war in Hakodate between a new and old government. The most notable aspect of Goryokaku Park was its star shape. According to some video I watched about it, this was done in order to maximize the amount of surface area that could hold cannons as well as create more angles for the cannons to fire from. In the center was a Japanese-style building that looked like a temple where the old government surrendered.

As opposed to other Japanese temples which are at least 1,000 years old. Goryokaku Park is actually only about 160 years old and was designed in the mid-1800s. The star shape is modeled after the star shape in European citadels, and other countries have used this same star shape to design their own parks.

Goryokaku Park is filled in with cherry blossom trees that bloom in the spring, creating a pink fantasy that I really wish I could see. Cherry blossoms are my favorite flower because of their delicate nature, and they always manage to soften the setting of any place. Goryokaku Park is no exception to the spell of cherry blossoms.

In the fall, the trees turn a beautiful, burgundy red which captured my eye the second I saw the photographs. I love my burgundy colors ❤

The winter looks like what you would expect, but the multiple layers of the star create a geometric formation of snow that really stands out in the birds-eye view of the park. An interesting fact is that when the moat used to freeze over, the residents of Hakodate would cut up the ice and advertise it as “goryokaku ice” and sell it.

I feel like this post got really long, but Hakodate has definitely been my favorite port so far. I’m glad we got to hit so many locations, that they were all in the same area, and that the weather turned out to not be too sunny or humid.

Tomorrow is a day at sea, so hopefully I’ll be doing a lot of writing then!

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