The Motomachi area of Hakodate is the city’s historic neighbourhood, where Japanese and Western architectures are uniquely blended into a mish-mash of styles. Hakodate, located on the northernmost Japanese home island of Hokkaido, was one of the first ports in the country to open its doors to international trade in 1854. Traders, consuls, and government officials from western countries flooded into the city, and they brought their comforts from home with them.
As a result, some truly impressive buildings from those times remain, such as the ostentatious gold-trimmed Old Hakodate Public Hall, the Russian-Byzantine styled Orthodox Church, and The Old British Consulate, where visitors can sit down for a cup of tea and scones. For those who love exploring charming streets, and soaking up Hakodate’s history, the Motomachi neighbourhood is the best place to visit! Motomachi is located right at the end of the spit of land that gives Hakodate its characteristic layout. It is sandwiched between Mount Hakodate, and the port area.
Old Hakodate Public Hall
The most magnificent building in Motomachi is the Old Hakodate Public Hall, a lavish residence completed in 1910. It replaced the old town hall, which stood at the same location until it burned down in 1907. The architecture is in the colonial style of ornate columns and window features, with eye-catching symmetry, grand balconies overlooking the city, and yellow-painted highlights that make the building seem all the more ostentatious.
One of the best ways to enjoy the splendour of the grand ballroom is to dress up like a lord or lady in costume. For ¥1000, visitors can put on a tuxedo, bowler hat, elegant billowing dress, have your hair and makeup done, and even rent a costume for kids!
Russian Orthodox Church
The Hakodate Orthodox Church was first built in 1859, just 5 years after the opening of international trade in Japan. Because of newly arrived Russian consuls taking up residence in the port city, their state church was built for them (as well as priests, sent from Russia). The current building dates back in 1916, as the original was also lost in a fire in 1907. It is nicknamed gangan-dera (ding dong temple) by locals, after the sound of its bells. The church is built in the Russian Byzantine style, and is still in use today. It is the oldest Russian orthodox church in Japan, and an important cultural property.
Catholic Church Hakodate
Originally built in 1859, and rebuilt in 1923, the Gothic-style church was another victim of fire in the Motomachi area. It features a grand altar which was given to Hakodate as a gift from Pope Benedict XV as a sympathetic gesture following the fire. The catholic church is worth visiting at night time, when illuminations light up the entire building.
Hakodate St John’s Church
St John’s Church in Hakodate is an Anglican church built in 1874. It was envisaged by English priest Walter Dening, with an unusual cross-shaped roof that allows onlookers to see a cross no matter which angle they view the church.
The Former British Consulate
This mansion in Motomachi served as the British Consulate from 1859 until 1934, with the current building built in 1913. It was one of the first consulates built in the city, along with the Russian and American consulates. The consulate underwent a major restoration in 1992 to include a restaurant and a tea room, a main hall, and an information centre about the history of the area. Visitors can check out some of the different rooms, such as the consul’s office, and enjoy a cup of tea in the restaurant.
Restaurant Sekka-tei, Gotoken Restaurant
When it’s time for lunch or dinner, stop at the Gotoken Restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1879. They specialise in western dishes such as beef stew, as well as a great range of curries.
Hakodate Chinese Memorial Hall
The only Chinese-style building in Motomachi, Hakodate Chinese Memorial Hall is a red brick building historically used as a meeting hall. It was used by Chinese traders, and kept the shrine of Lord Guan (Guan Yu), which is magnificently decorated in gold. The reportedly very expensive building was built in 1910 by Chinese builders, carpenters, sculptors and lacquer craftsmen, who travelled to Hakodate to complete the grand project.
For lovers of history and architecture, or for people who enjoy exploring interesting neighbourhoods and taking photographs, Hakodate’s Motomachi area is a beautiful place to appreciate the city’s unique character. The area is unlike anywhere else in Japan, and reflects the fascinating historic fusion between Japan and its first western contacts in centuries.