What’s Hot in Japan: An Introduction
What’s Hot in Japan: Onboard the SQ A380 SIN-NRT
What’s Hot in Japan: ANA Pokemon Jet to Sapporo Chitose
What’s Hot in Japan: Cross Hotel Sapporo
What’s Hot in Japan: Furano and Asahikawa
What’s Hot in Japan: Lake Toya Onsen
What’s Hot in Japan: A Day in Hakodate
What’s Hot in Japan: Domestic IOJ Service between HKD and HND
What’s Hot in Japan: Ramen in Japan
What’s Hot in Japan: Red-eye on the A330 KIX-SIN
From the Lake Toya Resort, we took 2 taxis to the Toya Train Station which is probably 15 minutes away on the taxi. There was light traffic in the area and no crowds at all in the small train station. We managed to purchase 2 Green Car tickets and 3 normal tickets so that at least my parents would get seats on the train since I do not know how full the train cabin would be. Fortunately the 3 of us got seats on the free seating cabin and we were able to have seats for the roughly 2 hours journey into Hakodate.
Upon reaching Hakodate, we boarded 2 taxis again for another 15 minutes to arrive at the Chisun Grand Hotel where we would be staying for the night. In comparison to Sapporo or even Asahikawa, Hakodate is a very small and quiet city. Chisun Grand Hotel in Hakodate is located about 4 blocks away from the waterfront and probably 3 and a half blocks away from the ropeway to the top of Mount Hakodate. The location is pretty good as a base for just one night. We had booked 2 rooms at the Grand Floor with one of the rooms being for triple sharing. The check-in counter was pretty standard though the lobby was nicely furnished with some tables and chairs for guests to sit around while waiting since there was only 2 person manning the small reception area.
The hotel definitely did not stand up to its ‘Grand’ moniker as it was really a basic 3-star hotel. For the rates we paid at around US$270 for the triple room and US$150 for the double room, it was quite expensive. But I guess that is what happens during peak travel season. Both rooms had very small bathrooms that was the standard in many Japanese hotel chains. For the triple room, there was essentially 3 single beds though everything else was basically very standard. The double room, though was quite small in all aspect and definitely is a squeeze for 2 adults.
Our room was situated on the 12th floor and in Hakodate, that means we get some pretty good views of the surrounding area. However we had the rest of the day planned to explore the city and off we went in search of food. Based from our server’s recommendation the night before, we checked out Ajisai Ramen in Hakodate. Shio (or salt based) ramen is popular in Hakodate and Ajisai is considered one famous chain that specializes in them. Fortunately Ajisai has a branch located in the Bay area at the Bishoku Club that is probably a 15 minute walk away from the hotel. Since the road traffic was light and the city was pretty quiet, it was a very serene leisurely stroll to the waterfront.
We did not have to wait at all for a table when we arrived probably because it was quite late in the afternoon at around 2:30pm already. As far as the ramen is concerned, we did not find it to be anything special, since our favourite type of ramen is perhaps the Tonkatsu-broth style. With our bellies filled, the rest of the afternoon was spent touring around the waterfront area and the Kanemori red brick warehouses which are a bunch of warehouses that have been converted to a shopping mall and several places of interest. It turns out that this is where all the tourist buses go to as well. Needless to say the area was bustling in the afternoon under the clear sunny weather. Along the waterfront, we also chanced upon a Canadian sailor who have sailed all the way from British Columbia, docking his sailboat along the Hakodate Bay waterfront.
Our next stop in the late afternoon was a stroll along the Motomachi 元町 district. For history buffs, Hakodate was one of the few ports in Japan that first welcomed foreigners setting up their trade offices in the country and till today, the city is one of the major ports in Japan. Thus it is in the Motomachi district where we can find some old colonial era buildings. This part of town is also slightly elevated and one of the best way to get there is to walk up one of several ascending sloped roads. We chose to walk on the Hachiman-zaka slope where visitors can get a good view of the harbour from the mid-point.
Once we reach the area of Motomachi proper, some of the more interesting sights to visit are the old Public Hall of Hakodate as well as the Russian Orthodox Church. They are probably about 10 minutes walk apart from each other. Along the way, do not forget to admire some of the quaint architecture in the area as well or get a cone of soft serve ice cream!
By the time the sun started to set, we walked towards the Hakodate ropeway base station to get tickets that will bring us to the top of Mount Hakodate for what is considered one of the top night views of the country. Visitors are recommended to camp in the summit early if they want to get the best viewing spots since the queues for the ropeway gets longer past night fall! The best time to arrive is probably slightly before the sun has fully set under the horizon during the so-called ‘blue-hour’ to get the best shots possible. Besides the outdoor observatory deck, there are also a couple of eateries up there along with photo booths and souvenir shops. The main highlight here though is just to experience the wonderful change in the sky after sunset and see how the town lights up as the night blankets the bay.
As more crowds start to come up the mountain, we decided to return to the base for dinner. With no earlier plans on where to head for dinner, we walked back to the Bishoku Club area for some revolving sushi dinner. The place was crowded though and we ended queueing about 30 minutes for a table. Fortunately the sushi was good enough and there was a foot soak area with running natural spring water that was complimentary for visitors. This meant we had a nice refreshing foot soak while waiting for our table. For those looking for an onsen visit, Hakodate is also famous for its natural hot springs which is not far from the city center so that can be planned as part of a visit to this town as well.
The next morning, we had breakfast included as part of our room rate in the hotel. Breakfast was served in a buffet style at the restaurant on the second floor. The food selection was pretty good and included the usual scrambled eggs, sausages and bacons as well as Japanese specialties. Amongst the stand-out was the Genghis Khan style beef which was basically stir-fry beef and supposedly a specialty food of Hokkaido. For those who doesn’t eat beef, there was also grilled fish, tamago (egg), chawanmushi (steamed egg), miso soup and pickles to go with rice.
For what it is worth, the breakfast is the only part of the hotel which I enjoyed. Since Hakodate has a lack of proper hotel chain accomodation (read: SPG or Hyatt properties), I am not sure if the Chisun Grand is the best. There is also a lack of options around the Chisun Grand, though visitors can also check out the La Vista Hotel right beside the Bishoku Club and the Kanemori red brick warehouses. The other benefit of choosing Chisun Grand is perhaps that the airport bus that we will be taking leaves just right outside of the hotel lobby which makes it convenient for us on our last day in Hokkaido as we leave the cool summer breeze for the heat of Tokyo!