If you travel to Hokkaidō by train, the first major city you’ll come to after emerging from the Seikan Tunnel is HAKODATE (函館), 260km southwest of Sapporo. This attractive port was one of the first to open to foreign traders following the Japan–US amity treaty of 1854. Over the next few years, ten countries including Britain, Russia and the US established consulates in Hakodate, with both foreigners and rich Japanese building fancy wooden homes and elaborate churches on the steep hillsides. Many of these late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century buildings have been preserved, particularly in the Motomachi area, which is Hakodate’s highlight.
Among the city’s other draws are the lively fish and fresh produce market Asa-ichi; an outstanding exhibition on Ainu culture at the Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples; and the night view from the top of Hakodate-yama. The Ōnuma Quasi National Park, a beautiful lakeland and mountain area with good hiking trails, is an easy day-trip. Try and time your visit for the Hakodate Port Festival (Aug 1–5), when 20,000 people parade through town performing the “squid dance”, an entertaining jig where hands are flapped and clapped in time to rhythmic drumming.
Lording it over Hakodate is the 334m Hakodate-yama (函館山). On a clear day the view from the summit is spectacular, but best of all is the night-time panorama, when the twinkling lights of the port and the boats fishing for squid just off the coast create a magical scene – though be prepared to share it with hordes of tourists. The energetic can climb to the summit along various trails (May–Oct), but most people opt for the cable car (函館山ロープウェイ), a seven-minute uphill walk from the Jūjigai tram stop. There’s also a direct bus from Hakodate Station. The serpentine road up the mountain is closed to private vehicles between 5pm and 10pm.