So just when I thought I was done with the second China-Korea-Japan leg of my Grand Tour of the East, I find myself in Hakodate, in Japan’s northern-most island of Hokkaido.
Hakodate was THE very first treaty port in Japan, having been opened to trade in 1854 by the Treaty of Kanagawa, signed between Japan and the United States of America. Under the terms of the treaty – two cities were open for trade: Shimoda 下田 and Hakodate 函館. The rest of the treaty ports – Yokohama, Kobe and the like, came later.
Today’s Hakodate still retains a surprising number of buildings from the treaty port era, as well as from the ensuing Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. In particular, the city’s former foreign settlement, Motomachi, plays host to a variety of European places of worship, most notably a Russian Orthodox Church. Since it sits in the foothills of Mont Hakodate, views taken from its many parallel streets, are also spectacular.
Along the waterfront, many historic buildings from the treaty port and Meiji era also remain, including the very popular Red Brick Warehouses 金森レンガ倉庫, which have been refurbished and transformed into a shopping area. The other popular destination here is the Morning Market, where one can partake of the freshest seafood in town.
Hakodate is also known for Fort Goryokaku五稜郭, a star-shaped fortress built in 1855 by Japanese architect Takeda Ayasaburo 武田 斐三郎, after designs by French architect Vauban. It had been built by the Tokugawa Shogunate in anticipation of an attack by Russian fleets. Later on, it would be used as a fortress by the short-lived Republic of Ezo 蝦夷共和国, which sought to secede from Japan.
Hakodate is further known for another quaint landmark. This is the Trappistine Convent established in 1898 by French missionaries from Paris. It is still a working convent today, with more than 80 (Japanese) nuns leading a self-sufficient existence behind its doors. With its imposing facade reminiscent of Gothic European castles, it reminds the visitor of just how cosmopolitan Hakodate had been in the treaty port era.
Finally, and most surprisingly, Hakodate was also home to a sizeable Chinese community, so much so that even today, there exists a well-preserved Chinese Memorial, and a Chinese cemetery, both of which sit at the fringes of Motomachi.