Heading downhill from the mountain, you’ll find yourself in Motomachi (元町), with its Western-style, late nineteenth-century architecture; combined with the steeply raked streets, it’s easy when you’re here to see why Hakodate is known as the San Francisco of Japan. The best thing to do is simply wander about, stopping to explore some of the churches, which are free (few of the other buildings merit their entrance charges). The most striking is the white Russian Orthodox Church of 1919, seven minutes uphill from Jūjigai tram stop, complete with green copper-clad onion domes and spires. Inside, there’s an impressive icon-festooned carved-wood altarpiece, and piped Russian choral music adds to the atmosphere. Nearby, the Episcopal Church, with its unusual modern architecture, is more interesting from the outside than in, while, slightly downhill, the Gothic-style Motomachi Roman Catholic Church is worth a look for its decoration, which is based on the Stations of the Cross.
Walking west for a couple of hundred metres across the hillside streets will bring you to the extraordinary Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, a sky-blue and lemon confection with pillars, verandas and fancy wrought-iron and plaster decoration. This replacement was completed in 1910 after a fire destroyed the original hall. In front of the hall is small Motomachi Park, beneath which is the Old British Consulate, from where the Empire’s affairs in Hokkaidō were looked after from 1859 to 1934. The cream-and-blue building now houses a ho-hum museum, the twee Victorian Rose Tea Restaurant and a giftshop.
Far more interesting is the Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples (北方民族資料館), in an old bank down Motoi-zaka, which leads away from the consulate. The museum’s superb collection of artefacts relating to the Ainu and other races across Eastern Siberia and the Alaskan islands has clear, English captioning and is well worth the entrance fee. Some of the clothes on display are amazing – look out for the Chinese silk robe embroidered with dragons, an example of the types of items traded between China, the islanders of Sakhalin and the Ainu.
Across the street is one more building worth a look before leaving Motomachi – the handsome Kanemori Yōbutsukan (金森洋物館), a former haberdashery shop dating from 1880 which has been faithfully restored to something of its original condition and is now a branch of the local history museum. Upstairs you’ll see some interesting photos and a diorama of turn-of-the-century Hakodate.