Hakodate is a port city in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido. Because of its history as a squid fishing port, the city has embraced the humble cephalopod as the official mascot. Squids appear everywhere in Hakodate – live squids in marketplaces, cartoon squids on manhole covers, squid ink ice cream, even dancing squids on your bowl of rice (yes, really)! Let’s take a look at some of the best homages to the humble squid in the city of Hakodate.
Squid City Mascot – Ikaaru-Seijin
Japanese mascot are called yuru-chara, and are popular all over the country for everything from cities, to events, to businesses. They are cute promotional characters used to embody the culture, industry or sights of a place. Hakodate’s city mascot is an alien squid named Ikaaru-Seijin. Sometimes he is depicted as a friendly and cute squid waving hello, other times as a menacing threat with piercing eyes. According to his official story, ‘the man from planet squid’ comes from the planet Ikaaru, and came to earth to conquer it.
Hakodate Squid Letterbox
Located out the front of Hakodate Station (Hakodate-eki), this kawaii squid letterbox is often one of the first squid-related items that arrivals in Hakodate see. The cute little red squid sits on top of a box welcoming visitors, with cartoon depictions of Hakodate’s trams, Motomachi area, Mount Hakodate and the port. What better place to post your Hakodate squid postcard on the way home!
Dancing Squid Bowl
If you were to order a dish of Katsu ika odori-don from a restaurant in Hakodate, you would be served a bowl of rice or noodles, with fish roe and a squid with the head removed, tentacles splayed. It’s a strange sight, but things get even more strange when soy sauce is poured over the top. The salt from the sauce activates sodium channels in the dead squid’s muscles, causing the tentacles to move and flail around. While it’s just a chemical reaction, the squid looks like it’s alive and thrashing, sometimes even escaping the bowl! But soon, it stops, and it’s fine to eat.
Squid Ink Ice Cream
One of Hakodate’s most popular desserts is soft serve ice cream, known locally as ‘soft cream.’ To truly enjoy the spirit of Hakodate, soft cream shops sell squid ink ice cream, which has a vague umami fishy taste, and a shocking black colour. Despite the strange appearance, the taste is mild, making the squid ink ice cream a delicious treat to try with a Hakodate twist.
Fishing for squid is a big industry in the waters surrounding Hakodate, making it one of the best places for fresh seafood in Japan. But for those who want to try a bit of squid fishing for themselves, Hakodate offers a chance to hook a squid from one of their live squid tanks! Hakodate Asaichi Ikatsuri Taiken fishing stall will then prepare your fresh squid, ready to eat right away.
Squid Manhole Covers
Japanese manhole covers throughout the country are works of art. The designs reflect the culture, sights and industry of each city, and in Hakodate, the manhole cover features three cute waving squids. Putting a touch of colour and city identity underfoot gives Hakodate a unique character.
Hakodate Squid Fishing Monument
Along the waterfront in the port area, not far from the famous Red Brick Warehouses is Ika Square. It’s a small paved square with not much to do, but it’s where we find the elegant swooping sculpture known as the Squid Fishing Monument. The monument pays homage to the fishermen and the industry that launched Hakodate as a major fishing centre.
It’s not unusual for a Japanese city to go all-out with filling the city with images of their city mascot. Whether it be eating squid ink ice cream, admiring a giant squid statue, or even using a squid post box, the city embracing these animals helps build a local identity that gives a city a unique and endearing personality. In the case of Hakodate, it’s a delight to spot the love for the humble squid scattered throughout the city!