We strapped on our backpacks and disembarked from the train at the Hakodate station.
Hakodate is located south on the island of Hokkaido.
It used to be a small sleepy fishing village before it became the first port town in Japan to open to foreign trade.
Russia, America and England established their embassies there.
Now all that remains are the period architecture and the history, because Hakodate is still a sleepy port town filled with tourists and a charming atmosphere.
It takes a little leg-work to discover the beauty of Hakodate.
The “downtown” area, has only a few short streets extending out from the main street, which has the cable car running through it.
The downtown is undergoing a revival attempt, and new and cool stores and cafes, are opening there, but they are few and far between.
A few narrow streets of the downtown offer traditional dining alleys, in which you can enjoy some soba or Ramen noodles, grilled Yakitori skewers, and other local specialties that consists mostly of squid.
In fact, here in Hakodate tourists can join a fishing boat that sails out to sea at night to catch squid.
It is a nighttime activity, because the fishermen carry lanterns, and the lanterns illuminate the plankton in the sea, which the squid loved to eat.
The squid are attracted to the light and end up in the famous Hakodate fish market the next morning.
The Hakodate fish market opens every morning at 5:00 AM, and it closes down by noon.
The lady who owns the lovely Guesthouse which we are staying at, prepared for us a breakfast full of squid.
The miso soup had squid tentacles floating in it, there was squid sashimi and squid guts on our tray….
Under her watchful eye, we attempted to swallow this local delicacy, and pretended to love it.
It was not that it was badly prepared or not fresh…. It just that at eight o’clock in the morning, it is just too early for us to stomach raw squid…
But this is what Ryokan guest-houses offer, they always offer to travelers the local dishes that the area is famous for.
After breakfast, we strolled to see the fish market which was located only a few blocks away from our Ryokan, from the JR Station and from the downtown.
It had an amazing display of EXTREMELY large hairy crabs, some as big as small dogs.
The fish market was teaming with people, vendors and tourists, and many stalls were offering a taste of the local seafood.
The downtown area, is not where all the tourists spend their time.
Up the road towards Hakodate Mountain, there are a few streets by the sea which are lined with red brick warehouses.
Those old warehouses have been renovated and restored, and converted into modern restaurants and shops.
The shops do not sell high fashion, they sell dried, canned and frozen seafood from this area, sweets from around Hokkaido, a lot of teddy bears and cutesy gifts that tourists love to buy and take home.
I still enjoyed very much getting in and out of the shops and admiring the sincerity and professionalism in which things are wrapped, presented, arrayed and sold in stores in Japan.
Hakodate has a large Starbucks cafe, with a lot of very comfortable chairs to sit on and relax.
We made use of their hospitality drinking tea, resting and writing.
Under Mount Hakodate which is accessible by a rope-way gondola, is the beautiful neighborhood of Motomachi.
Motomachi is very hilly and it is lined with large trees and lovely stone streets with a cluster of European buildings dating from the mid to late 1800’s.
We had an English afternoon tea at the old British embassy that is now converted into a tearoom.
The afternoon tea was served with beautiful rose painted porcelain, tea pots covered with a tea caddy, finger sandwiches without the crust, a jam scone and cookies.
I ordered a pot of tea scented with roses.
It was lovely to sit in this tea room and to enjoy the rose garden outside, to soak the atmosphere and to imagine how this place must have looked when it was teaming with British people, instead of with friendly Japanese ladies…
Up the road was the Russian Orthodox church with green cooper roofs, a big bell and a colorful rose garden surrounding this lovely church.
The hills were dotted with a few other churches, along with some Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines.
They all looked wonderful, sitting harmoniously together under Mount Hakodate which was covered with white clouds.
This neighborhood is loved by the tourists, and you could see many Japanese people strolling around it with huge cameras equipped with long and heavy telephoto lenses.
The tourists also come to enjoy the soft ice cream on the hills, and some houses that were converted into tea rooms and shops.
Hakodate has some tourist hotels and some of them looked fairly nice, but we opted to stay at a small traditional Ryokan run by a lady who lives alone.
She spoke no English, but we were able to communicate and she offered to us her largest room which was double the size of the non-smoking room that we booked, for the same price.
It is a simple and small guest house, but very comfortable and with a warm and friendly atmosphere.
It feels very much like staying with a friend.
The large tatami mats room that she gave us has a separate sitting area with a low table.
Despite my vow not to try Italian food in Japan again, we had a light dinner at the Red-brick warehouses area of town.
It was well prepared fresh and delicious, but the risotto was served in small Japanese portions, which meant that the dish consisted of about two tablespoons of risotto rice.
It was a long day, and the sunset was painting the brownstone brick buildings in a deep tone of red… The seagulls on the port were circling the sailboats, crying in loud voices… Another lovely day is over…
We’ve promised the lady at our guest house, that we will be taking our showers after dinner.
She seemed to be concerned and wanted to know at exactly what time we plan to take our showers…. Maybe she needed to turn on the hot water heater and she wanted to be sure that we will have hot water….
Tomorrow we will be leaving Hakodate, and leaving the island of Hokkaido…. We will be heading south into Aomori on the Honshu island of Japan.
The train from Hakodate to Aomori goes via a tunnel that runs 240 meters under the sea and connects the island of Hokkaido to the island of Honshu via the Tsugaru Straits.
Tomorrow… WE also know that we’ll have to stomach another breakfast of squid prepared in six different ways…
Luckily the lady who owns the guesthouse, is addicted to soap operas on TV, which she watches as we eat our breakfast.
She laughs with the stars and have tears in her eyes, when they overreact to sad situations, as they always do in those dramatic soap operas.
We hoped that we will be able to leave some of the squid dishes untouched….
But she spotted us… And I made some lame excuse that our dinner last night was too big and that we were just too full to eat breakfast this morning…
Jules made fun of my Japanese, despite the fact that for once I used good Japanese vocabulary and mumbled something like: “Kino no Yoru-Go-Han wa, totemo Oki deshta… ”
But Jules said that I may have had good intentions to explain that we were too full because of last night’s big dinner, but I’ve probably told her that we cannot eat because the big bell at Orthodox church fell on us… Or something of this sort….
That boy just cannot remember his Japanese enough to appreciate my fluency….. and besides……. everybody knows that it is hard to make lame excuses in a foreign language…