Explore Hakodate’s History and Culture: 5 Unforgettable Experiences
From Jomon artifacts to Ainu culture, cherry blossom viewing to tea ceremony - Hakodate is steeped in the rich culture and history Japan is famed for. Below we list five unforgettable places to visit in order to enjoy the region’s incredible wealth of history and cultural traditions.
1. Discover Jomon Japan: Hakodate’s Incredible Archaeological Treasures
The Jomon Period is a period in Japan’s prehistory traditionally dated between c. 14,000 – 300 BCE. The Jomon civilization achieved a high level of cultural complexity and is known for the development of stone tools and pottery decorated with a distinctive corded pattern.
The remnants of Jomon civilization can still be found at several sites scattered throughout Japan, largely concentrated in the northern regions of the country. Two of Japan’s most important Jomon sites, Kakinoshima and Ofune, are located right within Hakodate city itself! Both are registered UNESCO sites, and are of great historical importance.
The Kakinoshima site is one of Japan’s most notable, and was home to a long-standing Jomon settlement which lasted from 9000 years ago until 3000 years ago. The Ofune site is located about 10 minutes by car from the Kakinoshima site, and is between 4,000 and 5,500 years old. Multiple dwellings were discovered at the site.
Located right next to the Kakinoshima site, the Hakodate Jomon Culture Center is one of the best places in the country to view Jomon artifacts and get a deeper understanding of the period. The facility houses many incredible examples of Jomon craftsmanship, including a remarkable, detailed hollow clay figure, the largest excavated in Japan, and the only official national treasure of Hokkaido. Other incredible artifacts include spouted, red lacquered pottery, and clay tablets bearing the imprints of children’s feet.
The center also offers truly unique hands-on activity, as it gives visitors the chance to craft an item similar to those from the Jomon period itself! These craft workshops include making Magatama (comma-shaped beads) and Magatama pendants, colorful Angin knitting, and miniature cord-print pottery making.
*Please note that the pottery making workshop is temporarily unavailable.
2. Discover the History Behind the Iconic Star-Shaped Goryokaku Fort!
After Japan’s long isolation period lasting from 1603 until 1868, Hakodate’s port was one of the first in the country to be opened up to foreign trade. High ranking officials, known as magistrates, were dispatched to Hakodate by the shogunate (military government) in order to hold negotiations with foreign powers, take part in administrative duties, and defend the area if needed.
The unique star-shaped Goryokaku Fort was built in a style similar to European fortresses of that time, in order to defend against potential attacks using firearms. It was completed about 150 years ago, and still stands today.
In the center of the star-shaped fortress sits the restored Hakodate Magistrate’s Office, once the main headquarters of the samurai magistrates. The building is constructed in a traditional Japanese architectural style, and features exquisite wood craftsmanship and vast traditional tatami rooms. Visitors are still able to enter the building!
The iconic fortress was the site of what is considered to be the last stand of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who had retained power in Japan for over 260 years. The Tokugawa military used Goryokaku Fort as their main base, but lost to the Meiji Government during the Battle of Hakodate in 1869, ushering in a new era for the nation.
Visitors can still appreciate the incredible history and architecture of the site, which was unique in Japan at that time. The observatory in Goryokaku Tower also affords an incredible panoramic view of the star-shaped fort, one of the most famous and photographed views in all of Hakodate.
3. Delve Deep into the Incredible Indigenous Ainu Culture of Hokkaido
The Ainu people are an indigenous ethnic group of northern Japan, and were the first known settlers of Hokkaido. The Ainu have their own unique and distinctive language, culture, and traditions, which include exquisite traditional clothing, beautiful and evocative music and dance, as well as building practices.
Visitors can delve deeper into the incredible culture of the Ainu by visiting the Hakodate City Museum of Northern Peoples. Here it’s possible to see beautiful traditional Ainu clothing and items, as well as learn about the culture and history of the Ainu.
Visitors can explore their culture even more deeply by trying their hand at traditional Ainu paper crafts, or even by making and playing the mukkuri mouth harp! This unique traditional instrument makes a distinctive and unforgettable sound when played.
4. Savor Exquisite Japanese Tea
Japan’s exquisite, high-quality green tea is renowned worldwide, as is the beautiful traditional art of tea ceremony. This ancient art has remained largely unchanged for centuries, and the unforgettable experience of joining a tea ceremony cannot be recommended enough!
Visitors can enjoy an authentic tea ceremony experience at Ochanokura, a tea shop operated by Maruyamaen Tea Farm. During the ceremony guests learn the specific way that tea is prepared and served, and will also have the opportunity to enjoy Japan’s famed matcha green tea and delicate traditional sweets! It’s the perfect way to get in touch with the more traditional side of Japan.
5. Enjoy Authentic Cherry Blossom Viewing - One of Japan’s Most Popular Cultural Pastimes!
Japan is famed for its beautiful and iconic cherry blossoms, and Hakodate becomes a breathtaking sea of pink and white flowers from late April until mid May!
Hanami (or cherry blossom viewing) is one of Japan’s most famous cultural pastimes, and people here truly love to celebrate the arrival of spring by relaxing and enjoying food and sake together under the delicate pink and white flowers.
Two of the best places in Hakodate to view cherry blossoms are Goryokaku Park and Hakodate Park. Both are lined with cherry trees, and at both parks you can experience the authentic way that locals enjoy the occasion!
The view from Goryokaku Tower also offers a fantastic photo opportunity during this season, as the star-shaped moat is lined with around 1,600 cherry trees! It’s also the perfect time to take an unforgettable boat ride through the moat, while surrounded by the blossoms.
Hanami isn’t only a daytime activity, and we also recommend enjoying the otherworldly sight of cherry blossoms at night. The trees in the parks are lit up once the sun goes down, and the contrast of the white flowers and the glow of the lights against the dark night sky is truly spellbinding.
Immerse Yourself in Japan’s Culture and Traditions While in Historical Hakodate
Visitors will be fascinated and delighted by the sheer range of cultural and historical experiences that the city of Hakodate has to offer. Whether you’re captivated by Ainu culture or want to appreciate the sublime beauty of Japan’s exquisite tea, a visit to Hakodate will be truly unforgettable.