Ah, Hokkaido. Japan’s great white north. The country’s mysterious, Northern-most island draws skiers and ice sculpture enthusiasts from all corners of the world. (It’s a hotspot for ice cream lovers, too.) Furthermore, the island has some truly intriguing points of interest to check out. If you’re in Hakodate, definitely drop by the city’s massive 6-pointed star fort. Originally designed to thwart the Russian Navy, Fort Goryokaku now serves a much more peaceful purpose. These days, visitors and locals alike drop by to enjoy its 1,600 cherry trees, network of scenic moats, and observation tower. Read on to learn more.
The Origins of Hakodate’s Star Fort
While Goryokaku’s design is gorgeous, it’s also a clever response to the threats of the industrial age. After a long period of seclusion, Japan opened its borders to foreign nations in 1853. Just two years later, the ruling Tokugawa shogunate had become increasingly aware of the danger posed by Russia’s navy. Thoughts of a Russian invasion loomed and Goryokaku was the Shogunate’s solution. It’s lead architect, Takeda Ayasburo, completed the design in 1855. Furthermore, its shape cleverly capitalized on the new, industrial-era weapons flowing into the country, increasing cannon cover and reducing blind spots.
The Russian invasion never came. However, the fort did serve as the final battleground between the samurai of the Tokugawa shogunate and the rising Meiji government. In total, their battle lasted for seven entire days. Its conclusion marked the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate and total ascension of the new Meiji government.
The Star Fort’s 1,600 Cherry Trees
In 1910, Hakodate’s star fort officially transitioned from a military outpost into a public park. Celebrators planted over 1,000 cherry trees to mark the occasion. Currently, the fort’s cherry trees number over 1,600. Unsurprisingly, this means that the area is absolutely stunning in late May. It’s one of Hokkaido’s top cherry blossom viewing spots. Furthermore, visitors can scrabble all over the fort’s ruins, picnic in its grassy areas, and even tour its moats by boat.
Those wishing to catch a bird’s eye view of the area should head to the 107-meter Goryokaku Observation Tower. From its deck, visitors can take in the fort’s design, as well as the nearby Mt. Hakodate and surrounding Tusagru Strait and Yokotsu mountain range. Not bad. If you’re visiting during sunny weather, definitely stop by the tower’s gelato stand on your way out. It’s the perfect way to cool off.
Drop by the Shogunate’s Office
Finally, head to the center of the fort to explore the site’s last point of interest: the former magistrate office. After the fall of the Shogunate in 1871, the original building was razed. However, a reconstruction opened in just 2010. Inside, you’ll find some interesting historical displays, in addition to the building’s expansive, traditional tatami rooms. It’s a quick, pleasant visit.
Regardless of your reasons for venturing up to Hokkaido, no visit to the island is complete without a pilgrimage to Hakodate’s 6-pointed star fort. To make the most of it, time your visit for the spring. Then, kick back with some gelato under Goryokaku’s 1600 cherry trees.