It had been one of my lifelong wishes to see snow in my life. When I first saw it on 2017, I was beside myself with happiness. Yet, it was not sufficient. My craving intensified, and I felt a deeper need to see even more snow. Not just mere snowflakes falling on me, but snow all around me. While it has been said that snow can still be seen in March in Hokkaido, I was immensely worried that by the time we went, the snow would have all but vanished, leaving behind only a mushy grey trail of its once magnificent existence.
My worries were immediately put to rest when we reached Hakodate. Indeed, any feelings of anxiety were transformed into unadulterated excitement upon seeing the snow-covered streets of Hakodate. Granted, the snow might look a little pitiful to any local accustomed to the white winter of Hokkaido, but I was already in my happy place.
Hakodate is a the third largest city in Hokkaido, a port city located at the southern tip of Hokkaido. Most of the major sights in Hakodate can be easily covered within one or two days, being conveniently located within walking distance from each other.
After depositing our luggage in the hotel, we made a beeline towards the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, which like the one in Yokohama, was originally a warehouse, but converted into a shopping mall selling a great variety of knick-knacks similar to those in Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. The shopping may not be anything particularly special, a little too catered to tourists in my point of view, but the Bay Area makes for a wonderfully romantic stroll along the historical warehouses with the Mt. Hakodate as a majestic focal point.
While the shopping in most of the warehouses were nothing to shout about, there are some great dessert places that make the warehouses worth checking out. The first was Milkissimo, a gelato shop famous for its rose-shaped gelato. I didn’t manage to snap a picture of the gelato, but the gelato was really rich and creamy, with many unique flavours that one can try like pumpkin pudding and sakura. The second was the famous Snaffles cheesecake. The richness of the cheese, the creaminess of the milk, and the luscious softness of a cloud all but melts in your mouth, leaving you wanting for more.
The one warehouse that really stood out was Hakodate Meijikan. The walls of the red building were entwined with curling vines that bequeathed a gothic air of mystery to the classic beauty of Hakodate Meijikan. Once inside, we found that the souvenirs sold were different from the rest of the warehouses, they were the stuff of a young girl’s romance. Psychedelic glass decorations greeted us at every direction, and when we turned into another corner, we were serenaded by the tinkling of melodious notes from intricately carved music boxes. Heading up a flight of stairs brought us face-to-face with a few life-sized teddy bears which served as the entrance decor to the Teddy Bear Museum.
As we had reached in the late morning, by the time we explored the port it was already past lunch hour, and our stomachs demanded some attention. Hokkaido, besides being famed for seafood which we had decided to stuff our faces with for the rest of stay, is also known for its soup curry. It is essentially a watery curry filled with many kinds of vegetables. Together with the deep-fried mutton fillets, it tasted very much like Singapore’s very own mutton murtabak, a stuffed pan-fried bread eaten with curry. It reminded me of home, and as I love murtabak, the soup curry was a natural winner for me. Unfortunately, my hunger must have gotten the better of me, for I totally forgot to take note of the restaurant’s name. But there are several soup curry restaurants in Hakodate, and if a random restaurant I popped into was already good, the soup curry in better known places must be really scrumptious.
Re-energized from our lunch, we continued our exploration and headed to Hachiman-zaka slope, which had a most enchanting view down the slope. You can also see Mashumaru, a ferry that was reformed into a ship museum, from the slope summit.
Once we reached the top of the slope, we turned left and found the Hakodate Orthodox Church, the symbol of Motomachi, an area where one can find many gorgeous buildings with a Western influence. The Hakodate Orthodox Church is Japan’s first Russian Orthodox Church, and when surrounded by a blanket of snow, you might just forget you are in Japan. It was the first time I had encountered a Russian church, and its unique beauty overwhelmed all other buildings in Motomachi.
When night fell, we did a bit of exploring at the Daimon Yokocho, an alley near Hakodate station lined with 26 restaurants selling a variety of Hokkaido cuisine, ranging from seafood to ramen. It was brightly lit and vibrantly coloured, and yet perfectly peaceful, the eateries were neatly aligned with ample walking space, a stark contrast to the usual izakaya alleys in Tokyo.
DH had already reserved a table in a popular izakaya, Gyosanko, near Daimon Yokocho, so after our short expedition, we went straight to have some of the freshest sashimi Hakodate has to offer. We were literally shown the live squid which would be cut and presented on the long plate with its creepy huge eyes staring at us and its limbs curling and squirming as if it was still alive. And the prawns were still very much alive and dancing, splattering water into my face with one of their vigorous thrusts. I chickened out on beheading the prawn and killing it, so DH had to do it for me. The shirako (fish sperm) tempura was unexpectedly delicious, the crispy outer layer gave way instantaneously to a tender and silky white custard.
After the lavish dinner, we returned to our hotel, duly satisfied with our first day in the charming port town. The second day would be a long day of exploring at Onuma Park, which is located just 30 minutes outside Hakodate by express train. I was terribly excited at the thought of it, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, it turned out to be the most fulfilling day trip ever for me.