By Bonson Lam
Hokkaido's port city of Hakodate was Japan's first region opened up to international trade, and has grown as a tourist destination in recent years courtesy of the Hayabusa Shinkansen creating a convenient rail link to Tokyo. You'll find plenty to enjoy across the city whether you're a history buff, a foodie, a shopaholic or an architecture aficionado. If you're paying Hakodate a visit, here are five things to add to your itinerary.
1. Visit the Hakodate morning market
If you want to experience a bustling atmosphere and fresher-than-fresh eats, a trip to the Hakodate Morning Market is a great way to start your trip. It opens from 7am daily - perfect for the early birds - and offers a range of different souvenirs and a chance to sample the region's bountiful seafood.
2. Get a great view at the Goryokaku
Head up the Goryokaku Tower and you'll be treated to a stellar view of the Goryokaku Fort. The fort was cleverly designed in a star shape to maximize the number of cannons on its walls for protection, whilst also minimizing the number of blind spots where defense would be difficult. The scenery changes throughout the seasons and the area is known as a cherry blossom viewing spot in the spring.
3. Eat at a branch of Lucky Pierrot
This Hakodate based fast-food chain is a local icon, with 17 branches across the city. You'll see the stores from a distance with their weird and wacky exteriors (creepy clowns and Santa Claus, for instance), and their menu has a range of burgers, curries, ice creams and more. If you really want to go big or go home, try their "Futoccho" burger which towers 18 centimeters in height! The Futoccho burger is limited to 20 servings per restaurant each day, so get in early.
4. Appreciate the unique architecture
There are a number of churches and other public buildings in Hakodate that are distinctly European in appearance. The Old Public Hall of Hakodate in its blue and yellow tones is particularly charming, as is the Hakodate Orthodox Church. Spend some time exploring the streets and soaking up the sights!
5. Wander around the Red Brick District
Around the port area you'll find a number of red brick warehouses which were once used for merchant trading. They've since been renovated and now house various restaurants, souvenir stores, and even a beer hall.
Hakodate is easily accessible via air from Tokyo's Haneda or Narita Airports, with a flight time of approximately 80 minutes. The region can also be reached via train - take the Hayabusa Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Hakodate Hokuto, then switch to the Hakodate Liner bound for Hakodate.
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