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Hokkaido Hakodate

Posted March. 10, 2004 22:47,   


In the recently released movie “The Last Samurai,” a hero of the U.S. civil war, played by Tom Cruise, was sold to the Japanese government in the civilized age as a mercenary to confront the Samurai of the conservatives which were opposed to the civilization. But, on the contrary, he was mesmerized by the spirit of Japanese chivalry and took sides with the Samurai.

The background of this movie, 1860s Japan, is based on the view of Hakodate, the southern harbor city of Hokkaido. It remains the Japanese international seaport in the movie where Tom Cruise entered Japan by steamship. In advance of Japan’s first official designation of an open port in 1854, the “Black Ship,” the name usually referred to steamships by the Japanese at that time, Admiral Perry of the U.S. wielded his military power at this seaport. Instead of resistance, people had to show open arms to him, suppressed by the steamships’ strength and power.

Together with Nagasaki and Yokohama, Hakodate became one of the first open seaports of Japan. But, in recent times, it has turned into a small rural town which evokes a peaceful atmosphere only under the cover of snow. It is located 320 kilometers south of Sapporo and takes three hours to reach by special express.

Travelers who want to quietly enjoy the winter landscape of romantic Japanese town should visit Hakodate. The western type village on the heights which provides a view of sea, wind scattered snow, and the trolley cars which connect the heights and the downtown area add up to the attractions of Hakodate.

It is the year of 1853 when Admiral Perry attacked Tokyo to open diplomatic relations with Japan. Only six months later, Hakodate opened its gate wide to the foreigners. In 1858, when Japan made a mutual protection agreement with several foreign countries, it became one of the international seaports of Japan together with Yokohama and Nagasaki. Until 1871, when the administrative office of Hokkaido moved to Sapporo, Hakodate had to admit the pouring-in of western culture as the gateway and center of Hokkaido.

In order to ruminate on the history of Hakodate, one should visit the promenade of Motomachi heights near Hakodate Mountain, where one can see the beautiful view of the Sugaru strait which divides Hokkaido and Honshu. The statue of Admiral Perry, the foreigner’s graveyard, and the former Hakodate town hall are scattered around the promenade.

The Seikan underwater tunnel is the pride of Hakodate. The tunnel, which connects Hokkaido and Honshu, stretches over 53.85 kilometers distance. Travelers can enjoy sightseeing in the middle of the tunnel where a pavilion and a character park are located. It takes about an hour to get there by the special express. If one makes a reservation in advance of the departure, free guidance service can be offered.

But, there is an even more special place in Hakodate. It is the scenic view of the Winter Sea which is visible by train between Hakodate station and the Seikan underwater tunnel. The peaceful fishing village and sea scenery covered with snow looks elegant enough to remind one of the movie “Poppoya.”

Onuma National Park was designed to be “Hakodate’s garden.” It can be reached by a 25- minute train ride from Hakodate in the direction of Sapporo. The national park has an active volcano, Komagadake, and three spacious swamps in it. Its scenic landscape causes it to be included among Japan’s new top three scenery attractions.

Jeong-Hun Park sunshade@donga.com