Known as the gateway to Hokkaido, Hakodate is a port city located at the Island’s southern tip. We used this city as a small way-station on the way to Hokkaido, travelling up from Tokyo. Originally, we had planned to take the shinkansen up towards the northern city, but as it turned out – taking flights was not only be faster and cheaper but we discovered that part of the track heading north would be closed over the New Year holiday. What we hadn’t anticipated was the chaos involved in take a domestic flight from Haneda airport – with so many flights heading off in different directions before the new year, the airport was erratically organised chaos. We quickly found out that any tickets bought overseas would not work at their electronic check-in stations and that there were definitely not enough desks for the number of check-ins. So after a lot of confusion and carefully observing a number of shouting airport staff (they shouted out the numbers of the flights to herd people towards their counter) – we found ourselves aboard a short flight to Hakodate airport.
After the 80 minute, thoroughly enjoyable, trip to Hakodate airport, I watched smugly as my friends all switched to thicker jackets (yeah, I’m smug, because I had a wool jacket on hand and hadn’t felt a smidge of cold since landing in Japan several days prior) – we took a taxi to our ryokan/hotel, where we dropped our luggage and took a taxi to a quick lunch and Fort Goryokaku (五稜郭).
Fort Goryokaku is an impressive star-shaped fort – literally, a star-shaped fort. Designed in 1855 by Takeda Hisaburo, it was based on the work of the French architect Vauban. Apparently, the star-shape allowed for a greater number of gun and cannon placements. Which is fairly snazzy. It’s famous for being the site of the last battle of the Boshin War (Goryokaku no Tatakai).
With this in mind, we decided it would be a good idea to get a view of the famed star shape from above as well as meander through the fort itself (which has since been turned into a park). To get the birds eye view we headed towards the observation deck of the nearby Goryokaku Tower – which is a 107 metre tall tower that looms over one edge of the park. After depositing 840 yen for a ticket, we took a leisurely lift to the top and were treated to a nice view of the fort. Indeed twas’ star-shaped, and impressively so. Unfortunately, due to the time of day we went, the sun was high in the sky – making it impossible to get a reasonably selfie (yeah, I know, we’re terrible tourists – the only saving grace that we have is the fact that we don’t use iPads to take pictures).
After getting our fill of Goryokaku Up High (and some delicious gelato too), we headed outside into the park. Now, for those who don’t know, BEFORE THIS POINT I HAD NEVER REALLY WALKED IN SNOW. And, it turns out, I was not alone. The friends we had brought had also not really been snow people. So we entertained ourselves by wandering about the snow, attempting to make snow people, throwing snow balls at each other, eating snow (bad idea) and generally being menaces to the public. This turned out to be great fun (although, by the end of the trip, my enthusiasm for snow began to wane).
In the center of Goryokaku Fort stands the Former Magistrate Office (Bugyosho), from where the officers of the shogunate administered Hokkaido – the original building was demolished after the fall of the shogunate in 1871, but the city faithfully reconstructed a part of the complex and opened it to the public in 2010. You can see it here all boarded up against the cold snow – we decided to pass on paying the entry fee and instead spent our time throwing snow balls at each other.
The Goryokaku Fort is actually a great place for locals to observe the cherry blossoms which are at their best in early May, so we were surrounded by out of season cherry trees. Occasionally a naked tree would drop its load of snow and woe and betide anyone that happened to be under it when it did (although hilarious). The star-shaped fort with cherry trees beautifully changes its color at the turn of each season: Pink in the spring; Green in the summer; Red and yellow in the fall; and White in the winter. Overall a fabulous place to visit for a stroll – and to cover your friends in bone-chilling snow
From Hakodate Station (函館駅)
Car/taxi: 15 minutes north-east from Hakodate Station.
Streetcar/tram: Get on the tram at the Hakodate Eki-mae (函館駅前) stop on the ‘a’ side (heading north). About 16 minutes later, get off at the Goryokaku Koen-mae (五稜郭公園前) stop and walk 15 minutes.
Bus: Go to bus stop number 5 in front of the station. Use buses 5-1, 6-2, 59, 105, 130, or 106ループ27. Get off after about 12 minutes at Goryokaku Koen Iriguchi Stop (五稜郭公園入口) and walk 5 minutes north-north-east.
Goryokaku Fort (Park area)
Admission: Entry is free.
Open: 5am – 7pm (April to October), 5am – 6pm (November to March)
Admission: Adults 840 yen, junior and high school students 630 yen, primary school students 420 yen, children under 5 free (discount for groups of 30 or more).
Open: 8am – 7pm (April 21st to October 20th), 9am – 6pm (October 21st to April 20th)
Hakodate Magistrate’s Office
Admission: Adults 500 yen, students and children 250 yen.
Open: 9am – 6pm (April to October), 9am – 5pm (November to March). Closed December 31st to January 3rd.