If you find yourself in Hakodate and you’ve seen all there is to see in the city, I recommend taking a trip to the town of Matsumae. There, you’ll find the only medieval castle in Hokkaido.
Matsumae was about an hour and a half trip from Hakodate, and the ride is quite pleasant as you go up the mountains as well as drive along the seaside cliffs.
The castle is built on a hill, which encompasses a beautiful park. Admission to the castle was about ¥500 and you can go up the three floors and learn about the Matsumae clan and the castle’s history. The views from the castle are amazing as you gaze across the ocean.
Many people go in the spring to see the cherry blossoms. This particular tree was right on the lawn of the castle that overlooks the sea. However, the park itself is surrounded by thousands of cherry blossom trees. As with anything involved with sakura, it gets really crowded during cherry blossom season.
The area has a lot of different temples as well. They’re open to the public, and the gardens are quite beautiful. The temples and shrines are very small and not as majestic as those you would see in Honshu, but they’re good for a quick stroll.
For me, I spent the most time looking at the wooden carvings on the walls and the ceilings. The detail in the work was quite spectacular. This dragon carved on the wooden gate was so intricate, I spent almost twenty minutes just observing it.
Because Matsumae is very close to Honshu, this town has a lot of history. The Matsumae clan also played a very strong role in the history of Hokkaido. If you’re interested in seeing it, I recommend renting a car and going for a visit.