On the second day, before we begun our exploration, we gave our stomachs a wonderful treat for breakfast at the Hakodate Morning Market, which is only one minute away from Hakodate station, and opens daily from 5am to noon (6am in winter). The market had all the feel of the old Tsukiji market sans the jostling crowd, so we could actually take our time to check out all the tempting seafood on display and other fresh produce lined along the hundreds of stalls. Large hairy crabs were proudly placed outside the entrance of stores to entice seafood lovers to head into the stores, and perfect cuts of yubari melon beckoned from every corner. The reason for the lack of crowd could probably be that March is the non-peak season in Hokkaido, and thanks to that I was able to find in the horizon, a backdrop of snow-capped mountains flanked by the vibrant stores.
Hakodate is famous for squid, and in Hakodate Morning Market, you can actually try your hand at squid fishing in several shops and eat your own catch where you will be able to taste the freshest squid sashimi with wriggling tentacles. Beside fresh squid, there are also tons of squid-related goods from dried squid to pickled squid, and ika-meshi (rice stuffed in squid) makes a great souvenir to bring home!
After browsing through the multitudes of stores in the market and seeing all the seafood on display, we were ready to dig in on some kaisendon (seafood rice bowl). We went straight to Donburi Yokocho Ichiba because just as it name suggests (donburi stands for rice bowl), it is a restaurant arcade with all its shops specializing in kaisendon. We settled on a quaint little restaurant that was raved by reviewers, and it didn’t disappoint. Asaichi-no-Ajidokoro Chamu is a non-descript shop that would be invisible to tourists, but DH is a huge foodie, so he had already done prior research which led us to this hidden gem.
Before our kaisendon arrived, we were presented a wonderful array of 8 side dishes, and I had never come across such a generous place in Japan. My order consisted of squid (naturally), scallops and ikura (fish roe). Biting into silky translucence of the squid, tasting the sweetness of the glistening scallops, and feeling the burst of the ocean filling my mouth as I bit down on the ruby-red ikura, I longed to be a Hakodate resident for I am a nature and seafood lover, and Hakodate people just have the best of both worlds. How lucky they are, to have a gorgeous mountain view everyday and only eat the freshest of seafoods for cheap. We also shared a bowl of crab soup, which was remarkably like the prawn noodle soup we have in Singapore, that is, you can taste the pure umami flavour from the crab meat.
Stomachs full and happy, we were finally ready to head to Onuma Park (Onuma Koen). Onuma Quasi-National Park is nature-lover’s paradise (yes, me) a little out of Hakodate. Beautiful in all seasons, with an abundance of wildlife and a great variety of activities for the different seasons, you would think it that there should be an entrance fee into this nature’s Elysian Fields, but it is completely free! It takes about 20 minutes from Hakodate station via the JR Limited Express Super Hokuto train, and 50 minutes if you take a JR local train.
When we first boarded the train, we were instantly struck by how empty the trains were, in fact, when we alighted at Onuma Koen station, almost all the passengers were tourists like us, and mainly just local tourists too. It was such a stark contrast to the daily rush hour trains in Tokyo.
Though I was already really happy to be able to witness snow in Hakodate, I was in seventh heaven upon reaching Onuma Park. It was almost completely blanketed in powdery white snow. While the snow may have receded quite a bit, and we weren’t able to do quite a bit of snow activities that would have been available mid-winter, it was more than enough fun for me to just sink my feet into the soft snow and exploring each of the islet scattered all around the vast Onuma Lake. There are 126 tiny islands in the lake, with 18 bridges to connect them all. The impressive size of the lake, coupled with the magificent Mt. Komagatake, made me feel like tiny Alice in Winter Wonderland.
The Onuma Lake was in the midst of defrosting, and thus we couldn’t try out snowmobiling, which I had really wanted to try, but the thin ice made the lake look all the more mesmerizing. I could easily picture a siren lurking underneath the thin, cracked ice, waiting for an unsuspecting passerby to take a longer pause to look into the semi-opalescent lake and into her beguiling eyes. Once she curls her finger to beckon, the man, enticed by her exquisite face and long, flowing dark tresses, falls into the lake, and into her arms. Alright, almost writing a story here, but you get my point. The lake looked as beautiful as it was dangerous .
And despite being unable to ride on a snow mobile, I managed to fulfill one of my greatest childhood dreams. I built a snowman. Granted, it was more like a snow dwarf, but according to DH, the snow was too soft to make a proper snowman. I didn’t even know there are different types of snow.
A long, draining, but unforgettably fun hike through the snow and ice made me yearn to lick some sweet, cold ice-cream, so we took the train to the next stop, Onuma station, and walked for about 10 minutes to Yamakawabokujyo (山川牧場), a cafe and farm selling fresh Hokkaido milk products. The interior was adorable, with a giant soft-serve seat right in the middle of the shop. Their soft-serve was top-notch, rich and creamy, and I also tried their soft-serve made with real fruit pulp (There were many flavours but I chose their recommendation, strawberry). The strawberry chunks added an interesting texture to the velvety cream, and the waffle was firm and had a nice crunch. The milk yogurt is also highly recommended, unlike usual yogurt drinks, it was thicker and creamier, and had the perfect blend of the richness of full cream milk and the tartness of yogurt.
When dusk fell, we headed to the renowned million-dollar view at Mt. Hakodate. Mt. Hakodate can be accessed via the Mt. Hakodate Ropeway, which is definitely a relaxing and enjoyable way to reach the summit. It is not cheap however, seeing as it is probably the most touristy area in the whole of Hakodate due to its fame. It set us back by ¥1280 per adult for a round trip.
The night view was indeed stunning, with the millions of lights on the streets glittering like multi-coloured gems. But unfortunately, we missed the best time to see the view as the crowd was unbelievably large, it was as if all the tourists in Hakodate had gathered in the spot for the view. The night view is apparently best about 30 minutes after sunset, when you can still see the mountain ranges lining the navy blue horizon, but it was pitch black by the time we reached the peak.
Besides the incredible landscape, there is also a romantic legend born out of the million dollar view, which likely also contributed to its popularity. The legend is that there is the word “heart” written as ハート in Katakana letters hidden in the night view, and if you find these letters with your partner, your love will deepen, and if you are single, you will find your true love. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about this legend when I was there so I missed the chance.
But it’s alright, for me and DH will always be connected by one of our shared passions. Food. We returned to Daimon Yokocho to try one of the restaurants, and it actually took us quite some time to settle on a place as everything looked so good. Finally, drawn by the scent of grilled seafood, we entered this tiny izakaya (informal Japanese-style pub) that sat no more than 15 people. Though we chanced upon it by fluke, it turned out to be a great find. It is a small shop that specializes in crab dishes and as I love crabs, we popped in to give it a try. We ordered grilled buttered scallop, sashimi set, crab fried rice and crab tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette).
I was thoroughly entertained by the butter melting slowly into the juices of the extremely meaty scallop, and as it is Hokkaido, needless to say, the sashimi were all plump, juicy, and immensely fresh. The crab fried rice made quite the entrance with the pincer stuck on top of the rice, and I was delighted to find that there was quite a bit of flakey crab meat inside the pincer itself. The tamagoyaki was something that I recently discovered in Japan, and has been in love with ever since. It was actually a dashimaki tamago. What makes it different from the usual tamagoyaki is that dashi (Japanese cooking stock) is added to the egg, making it moist and tender and full of umami. Bits of shredded crab meat in the dashimaki tamago added texture to the soft omelette and enhanced the flavour with its natural sweet essence.
The second day in Hakodate gave me the snowy trip of my dreams, and together with the wonderful food before and after the trip, I was one very happy, albeit tired woman. The third day and the last, was to be more laid-back after the exhilarating second day, to give us some chance to rest our aching legs and wind down a little before returning to reality.