Motomachi district – a time slip to the Meiji era

When Hakodate was opened to foreign trade in 1854 after Japan’s era of isolation, the Motomachi district which is situated at the foot of Mt. Hakodate became popular among traders from all over the world. Hakodate was one of the few ports who were allowed to trade with foreign countries and as such hosted a small foreign community and quickly westernized. The influence of Western-style architecture is hard to miss while walking the steep, cobbled slopes of the historical district, that offer a beautiful view over the city and bay.

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It was late December and the streets and roofs were all covered in snow. I’m not sure whether it was because of New Year’s holiday or because of all the snow but most shops and cafes were closed. We decided nevertheless to get to the Motomachi area by foot and noticed many old buildings in both Western- and Japanese-style which blended in uniquely. Finding architectural influence of different cultures is something which is often seen in seaport cities that have had an impact in the past or may still have and it always fascinates me. Although Hakodate’s harbour isn’t as important anymore for trading as the harbours of Tokyo and Osaka Bay it played an important role in Japanese history so the historical buildings are mostly well preserved and open to the public and some of them were made into restaurants or souvenir shops.

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Even the Coca Cola vending machine matches the colourful houses!

There were so many sceneries when I found myself questioning the reality of what I was seeing and while strolling through the snowy streets between the bright colors of the houses against the white snow it all felt so unreal. Don’t get me wrong, I really loved it and every spot felt like out of a perfect Japan-related tumblr blog. Some structures and colours even made me feel like I was in a Scandinavian country. Japan is really great at incorporating foreign attributes in a very authentic and exquisite manner which makes it look almost like the originals. If you look closely though you’ll notice that many of the buildings still have something Japanese about them and that’s what makes everything blend in so nicely I think.

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The Ōtani Hongan-ji Hakodate Betsu-in is the first temple in Japan built with reinforced concrete

The Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward was built in 1909 after a fire in 1907 had burned down the former town hall and other buildings. It is a symmetrical, yellow and light grey, two-story wooden structure in the Western-style of the Meiji era featuring Japanese elements. Today the hall is used for concerts and is a popular destination for tourists. While we actually didn’t get a glimpse from the inside it is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in Art Nouveau. Visitors may also try on typical dresses from that time and take photos in it.

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The Russian Orthodox Church

What’s probably most fascinating about Hakodate is the unique location on the sandbank of the Kameda peninsula. The city is surrounded by water from three sides providing delicious fresh seafood. Seen from above by night the sparkling sea of lights looks like a hand fan. Unfortunately we didn’t make it on top of Mount Hakodate to see the citie’s view, which is ranked under the “Three Great Night Views of Japan”.

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