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Feb. 10, Tue.

Winter Wonderland - Hakodate

Hakodate's Delicious Cod

Sonny's Stable

Night View from Mt. Hakodate

The city of Hakodate, on the southern tip of Hokkaido, attracts as many as 4 million visitors each year, drawn by its historic charm, the beautiful night views and the superb seafood. It is especially magical in winter, when it is lit by extra illuminations. Photographer Kit Pancoast Nagamura discovers the beauty and flavors that can only be found in Hakodate in mid-winter. She dines on codfish, one of the seasonal specialties. She goes horseback riding in a snow-covered national park. And she meets with some of the people who call this beautiful city home.

Tea Room Kyu-Chaya-Tei
Located on the way to the Waterfront Warehouse, this tearoom is housed inside a historic building constructed in a Japanese-European hybrid style. The specialties include coffee, matcha green tea and oshiruko (sweet red bean soup). The nearest streetcar stop is Jujigai.
Kobayashi Photographic Studio
It is thought to be the oldest remaining photo studio in Hokkaido. Customers can sit for portraits at the studio or outdoors (prior reservation required). It is a 3-minute walk from Omachi streetcar stop.

Hakodate Illuminations
During the winter, Hakodate is lit up with a total of 120,000 lights at several locations around the city.
Hours: From sunset to 10 p.m.
From November 29 through the end of February.

Mt. Hakodate
Seen from the observation deck at the top of Mt. Hakodate, the cityscape is so spectacular it is known as the "million dollar night view". In the winter, visitors are advised to wear very warm, windproof clothing, as temperatures are much colder than at sea level. To reach the summit, take a streetcar to Jujigai. From there it's a 10-minute walk to the ropeway station. The ride to the summit takes 5 minutes.
Ropeway operating hours (in winter): 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

City Marine Product Wholesale Market
Members of the public are allowed to visit the wholesale market, but they must register their names and addresses at the security booth at the entrance. Visitors should bear in mind that it is a place for business. It is forbidden to get too close to the auction area, or to speak with the participants in the bidding. There are forklifts and carts that crisscross the market, so visitors need to remain alert. The market is a 7-minute walk from Uoichiba Dori streetcar stop.
Open: 5 a.m. - 3 p.m. (closed Sundays and holidays)

Restaurante VASCU
Chef Koji Fukaya specializes in the cuisine of the Spanish Basque Country, where he trained. It is a 3-minute walk from Suginami-cho streetcar stop.
Open daily (except Wednesdays)

Sonny's Stable
Horseback riding tours are offered in the countryside outside Hakodate. Lessons (45 minutes) are offered for visitors who have no prior experience of riding. The stable is 15 minutes by car from Onuma-Koen Station (JR Hakodate Honsen line). A pick-up and drop-off service is available.

Mitsuwa Air Service
Helicopter rides offer the most spectacular night views of Hakodate. The boarding point for the tours is M'S JAPAN hangar, a 2-minute walk from the Hakodate Airport lobby. Prices start from 16,000 yen per person (adults). 3 passengers maximum per flight.
Operating hours: 5 p.m. - 8:15 p.m.
Services are cancelled in bad weather.

Tourist Information
More details are available on the Hakodate tourism site.

From Tokyo's Haneda Airport, flights to Hakodate take 80 minutes. From the airport, it's a 20-minute bus ride to the center of Hakodate. To reach Onuma-Koen, it takes 40 minutes by train on the JR Hakodate Honsen line.

Travel Log - Traveler:

Travel Log

Traveler:Kit Pancoast Nagamura

Some of the world's heaviest snows fall in Hokkaido, where Hakodate is located. My plane landed in a blizzard, and the airport promptly cancelled all subsequent flights for the day. Feeling lucky, I headed toward the city center on roads muffled in pristine blankets of white. The city's main marketplace, featuring century-old red brick warehouses refurbished into shops and restaurants, was cheerfully decorated for Christmas. The centerpiece, a towering real pine tree, was gifted by Hakodate's sister city, Halifax, in Canada. Having spent part of my life near there, I felt a sudden kinship with Hakodate. Hakodate was one of Japan's first ports opened to foreign traders in the 1850's, and its historical architecture reflects this. Climbing Motomachi hill, I enjoyed a striking view of three of the city's foreign churches, then strolled past unique buildings featuring a mixture of Japanese and Western architecture. Somehow, the combination seems a tribute to people open-minded and willing to try new things. Some of Japan's earliest shutterbugs hailed from Hakodate. At the city's oldest photo studio, now managed by photographer and self-styled personality Akira Tanisugi, I found myself the slightly bashful subject of his lens. Afterwards, he guided me to Mt. Hakodate, the small mountain overlooking the city, that many say has some of the world's prettiest night scenery. Dusk tinged the snow violet as myriad city lights lit up. Just stunning!

The following morning, I headed out in blizzard conditions to the local wholesale fish market. I followed the "Iga-igaaaaa" singsong of an ika (squid) hawker - stopping to taste the city's main seafood - and then met fisherman Yoshihito Matsuda who explained the intricacies of bidding on fresh catches. Matsuda's friend, chef Kouji Fukaya, beautifully prepared for me another local fish, Pacific cod, at his gourmet Basque restaurant, VASCU.

At Quasi National Park of Onuma, just outside the city, the famed marshlands were frozen over. Graphic slabs of ice, the charcoal etchings of bare trees, and the profound quiet were nothing short of mystical. Nearby, I saddled-up at Sonny's Stables, an authentic Western outfit run by leathered Yukio Sato and his gorgeous gal. With Mt. Komagatake in the distance, I got a taste of the Wild West in the Far East! My final treat was a view of Hakodate from a tiny, almost toy-like helicopter. From far above, the snowbound city's twinkling lights, flanked on both side by black ocean, elucidated the area's fortitude and warmth.