Every August, the Japanese city of Hakodate celebrates the humble squid with an annual squid festival. That’s right, an entire festival to honour the tentacled cephalopods of the region! The city of Hakodate is located on a southern outcrop of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. Presided over by the dominating Mount Hakodate, the city is perhaps best known for its squid. Fishing is a major industry, and the city has embraced all things squid – there are squid markets, an annual squid festival, and the city’s mascot is an (alien) squid as well!
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The Hakodate Annual Port Festival
Hakodate’s largest summer event is the Hakodate Port Festival (Hakodate Minato Matsuri), which has been running since 1935. A matsuri is a type of festival in Japan typified by a group of 10-20 strong people lifting a one-ton mikoshi (a form of shrine) on their shoulders. A parade follows with floats and dancers. The city celebrates the squid festival from the 1st to the 5th of August every year, and is known for its fresh seafood and lively ‘squid dance.’
The Doshin fireworks kick off day 1, launched from the artificial Green Island, out in the waters of Hakodate Bay. People put on their best yukatas, and walk around the port area to eat food and watch fireworks. With an okonomiyaki in hand, or perhaps a kaki-koori (snow cone) or choco-banana, festivalgoers can watch the fireworks from all around the bay. For the best views, you can hike to the top of Mount Hakodate, or book rooms in the surrounding hotels to watch.
Hakodate Squid Dance (Ika Odori)
The parade is called the Wasshoi Hakodate, and takes place on the 2nd and 3rd day of the festival. There are three parts to the parade. The most recognisable part of the parade is the squid dance procession.
The squid dance (ika odori) is performed by costumed dancers, with a special song and a choreography to dance to. The song is a lively, 80’s synth video game-y sound, with lots of energetic vocals. The dance involves clapping and waving fans in the air, and is easy to learn. The dancers dance for an hour or so in the parade, after which all of the audience members can participate as well!
In addition to the festivities, the Hakodate Squid Festival is all about great food, especially squid and seafood. In fact, Hakodate is known for a different kind of squid dance, which takes place on the dinner table…
Katsu Ika Odori don
One of the specialities from Hakodate is the odori don, appropriately known as the ‘dancing squid rice bowl.’ A fresh squid is placed on top of rice or noodles, and when soy sauce is poured over the squid the sodium activates the squid’s muscles, making it flail and dance on the bowl. The result is amazing and grotesque, and even if the animal is not alive, it is certainly an interesting sight.
Hakodate is one of the largest cities in Hokkaidō, and has plenty to keep visitors occupied, when they’re not visiting for the festival.
Hiking Mount Hakodate
Mount Hakodate rises up 334 metres, offering amazing views of the city of Hakodate, along the narrow strip of land of the peninsula. The summit can be reached by car, bus, the Hakodateyama Ropeway, and of course by hiking (about 45 minutes). The view from the summit is especially beautiful at night.
Motomachi Roman Catholic Church
Japan’s oldest Roman Catholic church is Motomachi, originally established in 1877 (but rebuilt in 1923 after a fire). It is built in Gothic style, and is located at the top of Daisan-Zaka. In Motomachi, a Russian orthodox church dating to 1859 can also be found.
Hakodate’s most spectacular fort is Fort Goryokaku, a western style star fort. Set on all sides by moats, the star-shaped fort walls are a great place to wander around. Now considered a public park, the planting over over a thousand cherry blossoms makes Goryokaku one of Hakodate’s best Sakura watching spots.
Hakodate’s squid festival is a celebration of the city’s main industry, and the local love for seafood. For those visiting in August, the festival is a great way to get to know this amazing city!