A day in Hakodate


Location: Hakodate

Ling Tan and her family took a 11-day tour around Hokkaido in Dec 2014; here she shares with us highlight from her 2-night-1-day stay in the charming city of Hakodate.


 

 

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Our Hokkaido trip in Dec 2014 was a “reward” for our younger son, who’s been hankering to play with snow. The kid was eight, and had never seen snow, living as we do in sunny, tropical Singapore.

My hubby and I realised too that it had been over 9 years since we had a snowy vacation too.  After some research and much conversations with friends, we decided that Hokkaido, and in particular, Niseko, was gonna be our next family vacation destination.

One of the top advise I received and would now give – if you are combining sightseeing around Hokkaido with a ski holiday, try to book open jaw plane tickets.  Hokkaido is quite a big island, and distances between towns and cities quite long. Winter driving, unless you are used to driving on snow, can get tricky for folks from the tropics.  Winter days are short, and by 5.30pm, it would be dusk.  To get around, we decided on using public transport – trains or bus. Combine short days with cold weather, kids with luggage on slippery winter roads… you get the idea.  The open jaw ticket allows us to fly in from one city and out the other, thereby saving precious travelling time.

With 10 nights and 11 days, we decided to keep our itinerary simple – Hakodate (2 nights), Niseko (6 nights), Otaru (1 night) and Sapporo (2 nights).


First Stop: Hakodate.
Two nights at La Vista Hakodate

image(Photo credit:  La Vista Hakodate Hotel) 

We arrived in the airport at 2pm, after a 1am flight from Singapore to Tokyo, a 2 hours layover and an onwards hour flight into Hakodate. We were quite exhausted, and headed straight to our hotel, La Vista Hakodate.

La Vista Hakodate is located right by the Redbricks Warehouse area, in front of the bay. We headed out for lunch at the nearby Lucky Peridot (more on that later), then it was back to the hotel for the Onsen!

Yes – one of the most attractive feature of the hotel is its outdoor rooftop Onsen. It was amazing – you have a view over the bay, towards the mountain, as you soak in the outdoor tubs, snow falling gently all around you. We used the onsen twice a day during our stay. After a good soak, we adjourn to the lounge, where ice cream bars are served freely to guests – help yourself to the various flavours in the freezer. Definitely a lovely way to cool down after the hot tub!  The lounge features a floor to ceiling glass windows, with the same lovely views – I remember looking over to my son, ice-lolly in his mouth, the look of awe in his eyes as he stared at the falling snow.  That was quite the memory for me.


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Another highlight of La Vista Hakodate is their daily breakfast offerings.

We were torn on this one – we wanted to visit the fish market daily for our sushi bowls. But the online reviews of the breakfast here – a full buffet where you can make your own chirashi sushi bowl – won us over. And breakfast was really good – a wide variety, and very fresh produce! My older son is not much of a Japanese cuisine fan, and there were freshly made bread and eggs to keep his westernised palate happy too.  Of note, the Hokkaido milk (in the cute milk bottles) – creamy deliciousness! We ate way too much on both mornings.


lucky Pierrot hakodate bay areaA great fast food joint

Lucky Pierrot  is a fast food chain based in Hakodate.  We kept reading about them online, when researching where to eat. So very naturally (when you are a family who likes to eat) we headed out to the Bay Area branch for our first meal in Hakodate – a late late lunch at 4pm!  It was gooood – we were sure it was not just our hunger speaking!  We had the Ebi (prawns) burger, a beef yakiniku burger, as well as their legendary Chinese Chicken burger, amongst others.  The cheesy fries was amazing too.  Really, not to be missed if you are in Hakodate, in our humble opinion.


imageKanemori Red Brick Warehouse

We spent our first evening at the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse area, right next to our hotel. The giant Christmas tree was up, Christmas carols were playing in the background, the snow was falling.  All very charming – albeit totally touristy.

The shops inside the warehouse would be great for souvenir shopping –  but we only have eyes for Snaffles cheesecakes :) Bought two boxes… both of which were demolished before we ever made it back to Singapore.

Dinner was at the much raved about Hakodate Beer Hall, located inside the warehouse.  Freshly brewed beer was just the poison hubby and I needed!  The food was decent but really nothing very memorable – except the curry rice.  That was quite yummy.


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The Full Day in Hakodate

The next day was our full day in Hakodate.  After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we walked out from our hotel lobby and headed towards the Motomachi area.

Hakodate, sleepy as it looks now, was the first port to be opened to foreigners when Japan started trading with the west, in 1854, which resulted in the fast adoption of Western culture.  The Motomachi district was the first area to flourish then – western buildings such as foreign churches and old consulate buildings lined its streets.

The boys made their first snowman, “Tommy the Alien Snowman”, as we strolled along the cobbled street.  It was a very small snowman, but to this mummy – it was nonetheless, their First.

We chanced upon the Russian Orthodox Church and were attracted to its snow-covered garden.  The kids promptly made snow angles everywhere


day in hakodate hokkaido
We ended our walk at the Mt Hakodate Ropeway station, and took the ropeway (a big cable car) up.

The view from Mt Hakodate has a three-star rating in the Japan Michelin Green Guide.  The night view is the more dramatic; we came in the late morning as the weather was good.  It was extremely windy and chilly that day, and we were concern that they might close the ropeway in the event of a snow storm, as they do ever so often in winter.   We spent over an hour at the submit, walking around the view-point, checking out souvenirs, and having hot chocolate and coffee at the submit cafe.


day in hakodate hokkaido
Then it was back down the hills, into a cab and onwards to the Hakodate Asaichi, or morning market.

We reached the market at around 1230pm, when the crowd of the day had already left.  Many of the little restaurants in the market close at around 2pm, so our plan was to have lunch here.  We headed straight to the restaurant Uni Murakami (うに むらかみ), because we’ve heard so much about this place (they specialise in sea urchins) – but guess what! Our two days in Hakodate, were the two days they were closed for some annual stock-taking!!!  Argh.

Nevertheless, we found another little shop, just round the corner, that’s operated by two sisters.  We settled down with an assortment of dons – the uni, ikura and mani (crab) don was mine and really fresh and delicious. Hubby had one of their signature chirashi sushi don – that would be the beautifully plated set served in a wooden box.  You can’t quite see it clearly in the picture – son2 chose a don with the scallops and sweet shrimp, which he loved.  I should have remembered that Hakodate is famous for their scallops, being a net exporter.


The fish market is right next to the Hakodate JR Centre and tourist information centre. After lunch, we walked over and bought our train tickets for our onwards journey to Kutchan, the main working town of Niseko (more later – this was to be a 3plus hour journey, slated for the next day).  A note on the staff at the station – they are most helpful and we had one lady who conversed well in English to help us.

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Next up was the one attraction we’d rather not recommend…

The Hakodate Tropical Botanic Gardens.

We took a tram to the Yunokawa stop, and from there took a cab ride to the gardens. We were there to see the snow monkeys.

Of note: snow monkeys are not native to Hokkaido, and the troupe here had been imported by an enterprising local businessman.  He built an outdoor onsen for them and that is where you see the monkeys… in the hot tub, next to the children’s playground. In what’s basically a concrete enclosure.

I think there were too many of them in that space. There were several squabbles amongst the monkeys as we stood and stare. My son remarked,”they sound a little like us when we are quarrelling, right mum?”

There’s also a small botanic garden housed in a glasshouse, with a display of tropical plants. It took us 5 minutes to walk through it, but that was alright.

The entrance fee is only 300 yen; but I cannot help recalling how distressed some of the monkeys had looked and sounded. Am inclined to say – skip this. Check out the snow monkeys if and when you visit Nagano instead.


day in hakodate hokkaido tower view

It was already 4.30pm, and starting to get dark. We took a taxi to Goryokaku Fort and Tower, our next stop (costs about 2000 yen).

Goryokaku Fort (五稜郭) was the main battle field of a civil war between the Tokugawa shogunate and civil forces. It is now a public park, and most known for its views during the Sakura season, when the 1,600 cherry trees blooms. While we were there in winter, there was obviously no sakura in sight – haha!

We headed into the tower and went up the observatory. From here you could see the star-shaped fort, illuminated while we were there for the winter festival – “Hoshi no Yume” (Dream of Stars), an annual event held from December to February. The view of the city here is quite different from Mt Hakodate’s.  Both stunning, and we do think both are worth the time.

The observatory also has exhibits that shows you the history of the fort. My older son was captivated by these little showcases, and spent time reading about that civil war.

Though it was chilly outside, the soft serve ice cream cones here looked yummy. So we had a couple too :)


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Coming down from the tower, it was close to 7pm. We wandered down the streets and passed by another Lucky Pierrot – it was so tempting to stop and have our dinner there!! Instead, we hopped onto another tram and headed into town, specifically Daimon Yokocho.

Hakodate Daimon Yokocho is a food stall village, of sorts. There are a number of small restaurants in the area, 26 according to the board. The kids were tired; we got ourselves into an izakaya, order an assortment of yakitori and snacks. More beers for the hubby and I :).

It was then back to the hotel, the Onsen, and the bed for a good ZZZZZZZ after our full day in Hakodate.


Our Fave Place…

Our train for Kutchan, Niseko, leaves at 11.30am in the morning – guess where we spend our morning after the onsen soak and breakfast? :)

day in hakodate the morning market with the kids
Yes, the Hakodate Asaichi Market :) Since it was right next to the train station, and we really haven’t had enough of the place.  We told ourselves, we’d *just* be packing lunch of the journey.  The kids had lots of fun trying to fish for squids. I shopped and bought a few packs of dried scallops for mum and MIL (it’s cheap here, and both grandmas loved using these when make porridge).  We bought a couple of bentos for the road too. And yes – we sampled sweet melons, fresh uni and more from the stalls too.

Two nights and a day in Hakodate… we wished we had more time here!  Perhaps, for another day in Hakodate during sakura season, and to check out Onuma Park , which we missed on this trip.

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6 Comments on “A day in Hakodate

  1. Thank you for sharing this on Travel Tuesday! You know.. The snow monkeys at Yunokawa is actually on my to-visit places. But after reading what you said about them not being native and being imported for monetary benefits and being kept in a concrete enclosure, I do feel inclined not to visit it. But then again, I visit zoo and aquariums all the time, so….

    • Hello Bumble Bee Mum,

      Thanks for the comment :)

      We love visiting zoos too – but over the years we’ve gotten more choosy over which ones to visit. Once, in Koh Samui, we signed up for an off-road adventure. Unbeknownst to us, that came with a side trip to a visit to a Tiger enclosure and elephant trekking… The tiger was obviously drugged, the elephants were thin and not at all well treated by their handlers. We were really, really saddened by it all.

      Compared with, for example, the elephants we see in Singapore Zoo, it’s a world of a difference. You can see it in the animals’ eyes, in the way they move.

      The snow monkeys in Yunokawa didn’t look like a contented lot. But of course, it could be just our own interpretation too. :)

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  4. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing of your travel experience in Hakodate. Very helpful in my planing.

    I would like to check with you on the rooftop onsen at La Vista. Is the rooftop outdoor onsen a mixed onsen or separate onsen for male and female?

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