Hakodate Fish Market - The little squid that could

Gotcha! Our cameo fisherman gets his prized squid. Photo: Bonson Lam
Gotcha! Our cameo fisherman gets his prized squid. Photo: Bonson Lam

Hakodate Fish Market - The little squid that could

by Bonson Lam
Japan Travel

If the thought of eating a still "alive" squid makes you squirm, there are other ways to get close to the freshest seafood this side of Toyasu. In the middle of this diverse collection of market stalls, there is a small oval like aquarium, a large blue tank with see through windows where you can see squid swim in a circular motion, a bit like a kindergarten racetrack where none of the "racehorses" will do as they are told.

What happens next is a tragi-comedy. The class clown in your group, or just someone who pulled the shortest straw, is given a simplified fishing rod with a small bit of bait. His or her job is to catch one of the few squid are swimming around. There are not that many squid, so you just have to be patient. It isn’t an impossible task, but one that takes long enough to build up a bit of drama. Remember, Hokkaido is a place where people, and possibly squid, slow down. They didn’t even have bullet trains here until March 2016.

Hakodate, like the endearing squid swimming happily around the tank, is a little city that could. Despite being six times smaller than Sapporo, this compact port of 270,000 packs its punch with attractions like the Victorian-era mansions of Motomachi, the Beer Halls on the waterfront, the Mount Hakodate ropeway and Yunokawa Onsen. If you are staying at the onsen, imagine the delights of bathing when gazing at the fishing boats nearby, their lanterns attracting these miniature squid to the surface. It is just as well that our cameo fishermen stayed on shore, for over the horizon, giant squid rule the waves with two hearts and eyes the size of dinner plates.

Back on shore, the local ma and pa stalls gives an authentic old school feel to the market, though you would not see the live auctions and wholesale traders that Tokyo's Tsukiji are famous for. As Hakodate is a popular cruise ship port, the markets can be swamped with waves of tourists. There are many parallel alleyways that make up this market, so there are always an option to go off the beaten track should that happen.

While the Japanese call this the Asaichi or morning markets, many stalls stay open for lunch, making it a treat for late-risers. Like Tsukiji, there are various sections from fish to vegetable markets, as well as a number of restaurants on the side streets. There are plenty of things to do here, from fishing, to eating at the food court, or chatting with the local vendors. In honor of our playful squid, maybe it should be renamed the "Fishing Markets".

The Hakodate Fish Market (otherwise known as the Ashaichi or Morning Market) is a 10 minute walk from JR Hakodate Station, Hakodate Bus Terminal or the Eki-mae Tram Stop.


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