Saturday, November 28, 2015

Hokkaido Autumn Guide: Hakodate Sightseeing and Superb Seafood at the Morning Market!

This is one post of a multi-part series covering our Two weeks Tokyo & Hokkaido Travel Guide:
    ▫ Singapore Airlines Suites Class from Singapore to Tokyo
    ▫ Three Days in Tokyo: Off the Beaten Path
    ▫ Sapporo, Otaru and Cape Kamui: Scenic Self-Drive Guide
    ▫ Furano, Biei, Sounkyou and Asahikawa: Amazing Autumn Colours
    ▫ Jozankei, Noboribetsu and Hakodate: Unparalleled Beauty
    ▫ Scoot's ScootBiz Class from Tokyo to Singapore

As a quick recap, we're starting the day with breakfast in Noboribetsu Onsen, before taking the 220-ish km drive to the port city of Hakodate! Annoyingly, much of the road has the same 50km/h speed limit as the rest of the island, so travel time is close to four hours.

Along the way, we take a lunch break at the Akaigawa (赤井川) branch of Hakodate's most famous fast food chain: Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ)!

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Lucky Pierrot

While the food's the same across all fifteen or so outlets across town, each outlet has its own unique spin on the decor. For example, there's a Santa Claus-themed outlet and an angel-themed one. They're all a little quirky in that uniquely Japanese way.

We tried the Chinese Chicken and Tonkatsu burgers (with chili cheese fries and oolong tea) and were pretty impressed: For a fast food chain, the burgers were pretty darn delicious.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Lucky Pierrot Burgers

Our hotel for the night is Hakodate Grand Hotel (formerly known as Chisun Grand). At ¥9,500/night + ¥1,000 for parking it's one of the cheapest hotels we've stayed in throughout this trip, but it's also one of the oldest. We did really feel that the hotel could use a nice refurb. View out the window was very nice, though!

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Grand Hotel
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Lucky Hakodate Grand Hotel

With our bags safely stashed, it's time to hit the pavement and see what the city has to offer!

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Map

Our first stop for the afternoon is Fort Goryokaku. Initially built as a pentagon-shaped Western-style military fort, it's since been repurposed as a remarkably attractive botanical garden / park. One of its most imposing landmarks is the 107-m tall Goryokaku Tower. On this trip we decided not to go up the tower (¥840/adult); if you do decide to go up though there are observation decks with rather nice views of the fort/park itself.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Fort Goryokaku
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Lucky Hakodate Fort Goryokaku
Photo courtesy of Travel Hakodate.

We decide to use our time exploring and people-watching in the park. There are hints of autumn colours among the maple trees, but by and large this part of the island is still green. It probably won't be until a week or two later in the month before peak autumn colours hit.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Fort Goryokaku
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Lucky Hakodate Fort Goryokaku
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Lucky Hakodate Fort Goryokaku

We then head back closer to town; intending to walk and explore the areas between the harbor and Mount Kurodake ropeway (cable car station). Hakodate was apparently one of the first towns/cities to be opened up to gaijins (i.e. foreigners i.e. westerners) after the country's era of isolation; so there's a curious mish-mash of European and Japanese influences everywhere. For example, these red brick warehouses (which have now been converted to flea market-type shopping areas mostly for tourists).

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Red Brick Warehouse

Oh, did we mention we also randomly ran across this 'award-winning' rabbit? His name is Panda (パンダくん).

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Panda Rabbit

As the sun nears the horizon we start making our way up the Motomachi area to explore the varying architecture around the many sloped streets: Modern concrete buildings dotted with traditional wooden Japanese homes, European-style churches and an old Japanese temple-like structure.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Motomachi Slope
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Motomachi
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Motomachi

To our horror, our final destination (Mount Hakodate Ropeway Station) is closed for maintenance!! Since the small, windy road up to Mount Hakodate's viewing platforms is closed to private cars from 5pm to 9 or 10pm (depending on season), our only options are to take a pricey taxi, or join the hundreds of people in the queue for the twice-hourly public buses.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mount Hakodate Ropeway Station

We decide to do neither, and head instead to Hakodate's Morning Market for an early dinner. The market stalls are closed, but one legendary restaurant is open: Uni Murakami.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Uni Murakami

For a full review of the meal/restaurant do visit our guide to 8 foods you must eat in Hokkaido. In a nutshell, though, one cannot journey to Hakodate without having a bowl of uni (sea urchin) on rice at Uni Murakami. It is simply that good.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Uni Murakami

After 9pm the road up to Mount Hakodate re-opens to public car traffic, so we hop into our Toyota and up the hill we go! We're a tad bit disappointed that we couldn't get to see the city before sunset, but the night view's pretty damn nice as well.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mount Hakodate
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mount Hakodate

Bring a jacket; it's windy and gets pretty cold up there.

One last day, one last destination. Turns out we woke up too early (the trams hadn't begun running), so we decided to just walk to the Hakodate Morning Market.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Morning Market

Most people would say this is the best morning market in all of Hokkaido; We tend to agree. There are more stalls selling more stuff - there's the standard barrage of crab, scallop, salmon eggs and other seafood, but also other groceries, fruits, and even some souvenirs on display.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mount Hakodate Morning Market
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mount Hakodate Morning Market

If you're in a decent-sized group (or have huge appetites), many of the shops have basic cooking facilities and will grill (or boil) a king crab for you. Or if you're more adventurous, do try one of Hakodate's specialities: The Dancing Squid. We decided to 'play it safe' and settled for a bowl of Bukkake Seafood Rice Bowl at Kikuyo Shokudo Honten.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate Bukkake Don Kikuyo Shokudo Honten

Sadly, all good things must come to an end; the Morning Market marking the end of our vacation. The rest of the day's spent travelling: After returning our rental car (quick, uneventful, efficient), we take a 'Hokuto' JR Limited Express train to the New Chitose Airport. If you're also planning to take the train do take note that it's not very frequent (1-1½ hours per train), and the reserved seats can and do run out, so consider buying your ticket a day or two earlier.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate JR Limited Express Sapporo

After an evening JetStar flight to Narita Airport, we spend the night at what must be the smallest hotel room we've ever seen: APA Hotel Keisei Narita Ekimae. You don't get much real estate for just under ¥7,000, I guess.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide APA Hotel Keisei Narita
Hokkaido Autumn Guide APA Hotel Keisei Narita

Dinner was a simple affair at a random izakaya: Food was decent for a 'serve everything' kind of joint.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate JR Limited Express Sapporo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate JR Limited Express Sapporo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Hakodate JR Limited Express Sapporo

With our bellies filled, we retire back to the hotel for a depressing night's sleep as it's the end of our holiday. It's not the end of this series, though. In the coming days we'll have a final post about our 'Business Class' flight from Tokyo back to Singapore on Scoot Airlines!

In the meantime, and if you haven't read it already, do visit our previous post in this series for amazing autumn colours at Hoheikyo Dam, Jozankei Onsen and Noboribetsu.

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