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Exploring the land down south: The wonders of Southern Hokkaido! (Part 2)

Exploring the land down south: The wonders of Southern Hokkaido! (Part 2)

Hello dear readers, and welcome to the second part of this article on Southern Hokkaido (道南 Dōnan)! In the first half, we went on a tour of Kikonai and Ōnuma Quasi-National Park , with a plethora of both man-made and natural attractions to be enjoyed in all four seasons! In part two, let’s journey to Shikabe (鹿部町 Shikabe-chō), a small town boasting a one-of-its-kind attraction, as well as explore the most famous city in Southern Hokkaido, Hakodate (函館市 Hakodate-shi)!

 

Shikabe: Home to a geyser and excellent seafood!

Shikabe Station, as seen from the station platform. (Image credit: tirol28 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

On the other side of Ōnuma Quasi-National Park, and facing Uchiura Bay (内浦湾 Uchiura-wan), better known as Funka Bay (噴火湾 Funka-wan), lies Shikabe, a small fishing town similar to Kikonai. Unlike Kikonai, though, Shikabe is rich in hot springs, with all of the inns in town hot spring inns, and there are a few situated along the coast where one can enjoy a soak and a view of the sea at the same time.


What makes Shikabe so special compared with other similar towns is a natural attraction that is found in few other places in Japan—a geyser! There are only a total of 12 in Japan, with a quarter of them found in Hokkaido (the other two in Rausu (羅臼温泉 Rausu-onsen) and Noboribetsu (登別温泉 Noboribetsu-onsen). Spraying to a height of 15m and repeating every 10–15 minutes, its frequency means that it is easy to witness one of the most dynamic of all natural attractions happening before one’s eyes.

 

The geyser viewing area at Shikabe Geyser Park. (Image credit: 道の駅 しかべ間歇泉公園)


The geyser in Shikabe is located within its roadside station, Shikabe Geyser Park (道の駅しかべ間歇泉公園, Michi-no-eki Shikabe Kanketsusen Kōen)—for a small admission fee, visitors can access a rest area situated in front of the geyser, that also comes with a foot bath for one to soak one’s feet in and enjoy the sight, as well as a viewpoint that offers a closer view of the geyser and the Funka Bay from the second floor, and information panels on geysers on the first.

 

For another interesting experience to be had at the roadside station, why not try your hands at making onsen mushi (温泉蒸し)? It involves steaming food using the heat and steam from the hot springs for a nutritious yet tasty meal—the Shikabe roadside station sells sets containing vegetables and pork, oysters, locally reared scallops and other delights, so all you have to do is purchase a set, place it in the steamer, wait for 10 minutes or so, and voila!

 

In addition to the geyser and onsen mushi station, the Shikabe roadside station also features eateries and a souvenir shop where one can purchase locally made seafood products, making it an ideal stopover while journeying onwards from Hakodate!

Michi-no-eki Shikabe Geyser Park(道の駅 しかべ間歇泉公園)
Address: 18-1 Shikabe, Kayabe-gun, Hokkaido 041-1403
Nearest station: JR Shikabe Station (JR鹿部駅)
Access: 20-minute bus ride from Shikabe Station
Opening hours (20 March–30 November): 9am–5pm (Mondays–Thursdays), 8:30am–6pm (Fridays–Sundays)
Opening hours (1 December–19 March): 10am–3pm (Mondays–Thursdays), 9am–6pm (Fridays–Sundays)
Tel: +81-13-727-5655

 

Due to its location, Shikabe relies heavily on fishing to support its local economy, reflected in how it has three fishing ports for such a small town. A wide variety of seafood, such as octopus, flounder and atka mackerel, can be caught year-round±one particular product that stands out, though, is tarako (たらこ), the salted, preserved roe of the Alaskan pollack cod. (For those familiar with mentaiko (明太子), tarako is its non-spicy sibling!)

 

Picture of tarako. (Image credit: ガイム / photoAC)

 

Nowadays, while most tarako and mentaiko produced in Japan uses pollack cod roe imported from places such as America and Russia, the tarako and mentaiko made in Shikabe features 100% locally produced roe, a rarity amongst such companies.


So proud is Shikabe of their tarako that they have created two local dishes featuring this delicacy, tarakoramen (たらこラーメン) and tarako tendon (たらこ天丼)! Borne from a collaboration between the Youth League of the Shikabe Town Society of Commerce and Industry (鹿部商工会青年部 Shikabe Shōkōkai Seinen-bu) and a local restaurant, Ōta Shokudō (太田食堂), both dishes also feature other local produce in addition to tarako, including scallops and seaweed.

 

Shikabe’s tarako ramen. (Image credit: 鹿部商工会青年部)

 

The ramen, made with a clear seafood-based broth, makes use of specially made noodles with kombu seaweed kneaded into them, and also comes with a small bowl of rice for you to add into the ramen bowl after you have finished the rest of the dish so that you can enjoy every drop of the flavourful soup. It is recommended that you place one of the two slices of tarako that come with the ramen atop the rice to savour the umami-ness of the fish roe as is, before mixing the other half in with the soup.

 

Shikabe’s tarako tendon. (Image credit: 鹿部商工会青年部)

 

On the other hand, the tarako tendon also comes with other seafood such as locally caught cod, octopus and scallop, in addition to other tasty tidbits like prawns and shiso leaf. Tarako tempura is rare, and the gradation of textures to be enjoyed, from the crunchy outer layer of batter, to the firm layer of cooked tarako right beneath the batter, and the soft, briny uncooked core, create a symphony of tastes in the mouth. 

 

Unfortunately, the restaurant does not sell half-sized portions of both, so it would be advisable to go with someone else so that you can split the dishes!

 

Ōta Shokudō(太田食堂)
Address: 76 Shikabe, Kayabe-gun, Hokkaido 041-1402
Nearest station: JR Shikabe Station (JR鹿部駅)
Access: 20-minute bus ride from Shikabe Station/6-minute walk from Michi-no-eki Shikabe Geyser Park
Opening hours: 11am–2:30pm, 5pm–8pm (Closed on Tuesdays)
Tel: +81-13-727-2035

 

The premium tarako gozen. (Image credit: 道の駅 しかべ間歇泉公園)

 

Another place in town where one can try the locally-made tarako would be the eatery within the aforementioned roadside station. Run by the ladies’ club of the Shikabe Fishery Cooperative (鹿部漁業協同組合 Shikabe gyogyō-kyōdō-kumiai) and aptly named Hama-no-kaasan Shokudō (浜のかあさん食堂), or “Mothers-of-the-shore Eatery”, ordering the premium tarako set (プレミアムたらこ御膳 premium tarako gozen) will earn you a bowl of rice topped with an entire sac of tarako, simmered fish cooked upon order, as well as a bowl of miso soup with locally-caught seafood and pickles. The fish changes daily according to the day’s catch, so you can be assured of something different each time you visit! For those of you who would like something simpler and more home-style than ramen or tendon, but still wish to try Shikabe’s tarako, this might just be what you are looking for!

 

Hama-no-kaasan Shokudō(浜のかあさん食堂)
Address: 18-1 Shikabe, Kayabe-gun, Hokkaido 041-1403
Nearest station: JR Shikabe Station (JR鹿部駅)
Access: 20-minute bus ride from Shikabe Station
Opening hours: 11am–2pm
Tel: +81-80-6083-4855

Writer’s Note: To get to Shikabe Station, take local trains that head to Mori/Oshamambe via Oshima-Sawara from either Hakodate or Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto stations. Shikabe is approximately 70 minutes from Hakodate, and 50 minutes from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto—take note that there are only five trains per day that ply that route, though. Alternatively, there are buses running from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto and Hakodate stations that stop at Shikabe, taking one and two hours respectively.

 

Hakodate: The crown jewel of South Hokkaido!

Hakodate Station, basking in the glow of the sunrise. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)


The largest city in Southern Hokkaido, Hakodate needs no introduction, as I am sure most of you readers have been there before! The third-largest city in the whole of Hokkaido after Sapporo and Asahikawa (旭川市 Asahikawa-shi), and boasting a population of over 250,000, Hakodate is historically important as one of the first two Japanese ports to open to foreign vessels for trade in 1854, along with Shimoda (下田市 Shimoda-shi) in Shizuoka (静岡県 Shizuoka-ken), where Commodore Perry first arrived at.

 

The Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward in the snow. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)

 

Due to its status as a trading port, there were originally plans to build a Western settlement on an artificial island to house the sailors, but that plan fell apart, and the buildings were instead built amongst the street alongside pre-existing ones. That worked in Hakodate’s favour, though, as the streets exuded an otherworldly charm due to the blend of styles found in the buildings that lined the city’s roads. Today, many of these old buildings have been preserved as Important Cultural Properties (重要文化財 Jūyō-bunkazai), and many of them, like the Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward (旧函館区公会堂 Kyū-Hakodate-ku-kōminkan), also serve as tourist attractions.


Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward (旧函館区公会堂)
Address: 11-13 Motomachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0054
Nearest station: JR Hakodate Station (JR函館駅)
Access: 25-minute walk from Hakodate Station
Opening hours (April–October): 9am–6pm (Tuesdays–Fridays), 9am–7pm (Saturdays–Mondays)
Opening hours (November–March): 9am–5pm (Daily)
Admission fee: ¥300
Tel: +81-13-822-1001

 

The view from atop Hachiman-zaka. (Image credit: 函館市観光部)


In addition to individual buildings, there are two areas specially designated for preservation, the Motomachi (元町) and Suehiro-chō (末広町) areas at the base of Mount Hakodate (函館山 Hakodate-yama), as well as the bay area where the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse (金森赤レンガ倉庫 Kanemori Akarenga Sōkō) is located. The former has many slopes, with Hachiman-zaka (八幡坂) arguably the most famous—the road goes on in a straight line, and from the top, it is possible to view Hakodate Bay (函館湾 Hakodate-wan) in its entirety, making for very picturesque photos!

 

Hachiman-zaka (八幡坂)
Address: 14, 15 Hachiman-doori, Motomachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido, 040-0054
Nearest station: JR Hakodate Station (JR函館駅)
Access: 20-minute walk from Hakodate Station
Tel: +81-13-823-5440

Writer’s Note: The above telephone number is for the Hakodate City Tourist Information Centre located within Hakodate Station.

 

The buildings of the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse in summer. (Image credit: Bryan Tay)


On the other hand, the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse (金森赤レンガ倉庫) was formerly a series of warehouses built to facilitate the storage of goods in the 19th century. Boasting 21 warehouses in its heyday, a good deal of the warehouses were unfortunately either razed in the fires of August 1907 or downsized in later years due to declining business caused by the growth of aviation and the relocation of the port businesses of Hakodate Bay. Fortunately, though, the warehouses were deemed as traditional buildings, which raised public awareness, thus ensuring their preservation.

 

The red bricks of the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse standing out in the whiteness of the snow. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)


Today, the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse is a popular tourist attraction, housing many retail and food and beverage outlets, galleries for exhibitions, a history plaza, as well as a concert hall capable of seating up to 200. For those looking for a good way to spend an afternoon in Hakodate, why not head over to the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, get some shopping done and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at one of the cafes overlooking the bay? With the wide range of shops selling all sorts of things ranging from souvenirs to home interior items, and even interesting goods such as bags and scarves dyed with squid ink, there is bound to be something that catches your eye!

 

Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse (金森赤レンガ倉庫)
Address: 14-12 Suehiro-chō, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0053
Nearest station: JR Hakodate Station (JR函館駅)
Access: 15-minute walk from Hakodate Station
Opening hours (Shops): 9:30am–7pm
Opening hours (Hakodate Beer Hall): 11:30am–10pm (Weekdays), 11am–10pm (Weekends)
Tel: +81-13-827-5530

 

After all that sightseeing and walking up and down the slopes of Hakodate, a hearty meal to recharge is in order! Even though Hokkaido is known for its seafood, there is only so much of it one can take before even the most die-hard seafood lovers start looking for something else to eat. For those of you looking for something different to have in Hakodate apart from seafood, may I present to you… Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ)! (Apologies to those of you who are clown-averse…)

 

All of the Lucky Pierrot outlets are decorated according to a certain theme for each store. The Hakodate-ekimae outlet has old posters plastered all over its walls and ceiling. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)

 

A fast-food chain that is exclusive to Hakodate and its surrounding areas, Lucky Pierrot has a very sizeable fan base (including yours truly), remarkable for a local chain that has only 17 outlets. They more than make up for the lack of outlets with the personality each store exudes, though—each outlet’s interior is decorated differently from the others, and no two stores are the same.


Despite being a fast-food chain, burgers and fries are not the only things on the menu—the chain also offers things like curry rice (カレーライス), omuraisu (オムライス) and yakisoba (焼きそば). In addition, not all outlets carry everything on the menu—for instance, tonkatsu is available only at two of their outlets, and ramen and gyoza at only one, so for those who want to try everything on the menu, this might prove to be a little bit of a challenge.

 

The Chinese Chicken Burger and Original Lucky Potato. Just looking at this photo is making me drool… (Image credit: Kevin Koh)

 

The burgers on their menu are not only limited to the regular beef patty kind one would associate with fast-food—their best seller is the Chinese Chicken Burger (チャイニーズチキンバーガー), featuring fried chicken chunks dipped in a sweet-salty Chinese-style sauce and sandwiched between buns with lettuce and mayonnaise. Is it junky? Definitely. Is it good? You bet it is! Coupled with their Original Lucky Potato (オリジナルラキポテ), French fries smothered in meat sauce and cheese, it makes for a meal so sinful, yet so unforgettable.  

 

On one of my last trips to Hokkaido, before heading back to Tokyo via the Hokkaido Shinkansen, I made a stopover at Hakodate just so that I could grab a bite at Lucky Pierrot before returning—once you have eaten there, you will understand why the chain is loved by so many!

 

Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ)
Address: Hotel New Ohte 2F, 8-8 Wakamatsu-chō, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0063
Nearest station: JR Hakodate Station (JR函館駅)
Access: 1-minute walk from Hakodate Station
Opening hours: 8am–11pm daily
Tel: +81-13-826-8801

Writer’s Note: The address and access given above is for the Hakodate-ekimae location. Hakodate Station is around 25 minutes from Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station by local trains, and 15 minutes by limited express Hokuto trains, or rapid Hakodate Liner trains.

 

Closing

Southern Hokkaido is home to so much more than just Hakodate—an area rich in heritage and culture, there is plenty to see and do in the surrounding towns. I know there is a lot I want to try there once travel to Japan becomes possible again—and I hope you, dear reader, have found something to add to your list of things to do in Hokkaido after reading this article!

 

Header image credit: Kevin Koh

 

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