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Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, is perhaps most alluring to the adventurous and outdoorsy, given its many ski resorts, geothermal hot springs and national parks.
But while this island’s cities are a far cry from Tokyo’s sleepless hustle, urbanites still have plenty to explore. This is especially true in Hakodate, a port city in southern Hokkaido that has much to offer every type of traveler.
EatSeafood is the name of the game in Japan, so what better way to taste the city’s freshest fare than at the Hakodate-Asaichi? Open daily from 5 a.m. (6 a.m. in winter) to noon, the morning seafood market features approximately 250 stores and street vendors.
Tourists can seek out the familiar — fish fillets, crabs, mussels and the like — or the more unusual: During my visit, a companion tried her hand at squid-fishing, which is a popular activity among tourists. Armed with a rod and hook, she caught a wriggling squid from a giant tank. Then, a chef expertly prepared her catch into ready-to-eat sashimi. Be prepared, though — the oh-so-fresh dish will likely still be squirming.
SleepPerhaps what’s most striking about Hakodate International Hotel is its curb appeal: A main street-facing exterior wall is covered in glass and geometric-shaped paneling. But step inside, and the property’s features are simple, clean and minimalistic. The 305-room hotel, located about a five-minute walk from the seafood market, is composed of three buildings (the East, West and Main), and an on-site teppanyaki restaurant incorporates traditional Japanese flavors. A cocktail lounge adds to the offerings.
My standard twin room featured white, plush linens with wood accents and — as was the case in every bathroom I visited in Japan — a Toto Washlet seat affixed to the in-room toilet, complete with a warmer, a bidet, a deodorizer and more.
PlayHakodate was the first city in Japan to open to foreign trade in the mid-1800s, and shortly after, the shogunate constructed Goryokaku, a star-shaped fortress with a surrounding moat that was meant to protect the city against Russian invaders coming to Hokkaido via the Tsugaru Strait.
From the 350-foot-tall Goryokaku Tower, a nearby observatory, visitors can catch a bird’s-eye view of the fort, along with looming Mount Hakodate and the Yokotsu mountain range. Encourage clients to venture into the surrounding park, where some 1,600 cherry trees line the moat and offer beautiful vistas during the spring. A stroll through the park will also lead travelers to the city’s Magistrate’s Office, which is a prime example of classic Japanese-style architecture.