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

Hakodate Fish Market

The little squid that could

Gotcha! Our cameo fisherman gets his prized squid (Photo: Bonson Lam)
Bonson Lam   - 3 min read

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 Toyosu. 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, 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. Their job is to catch one of the few squids that are swimming around. There aren't that many squids, 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 there until 2016.

Hakodate, like the endearing squids swimming happily around the tank, is the 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, waterfront Beer Halls, the Mount Hakodate ropeway, and Yunokawa Onsen. If you are staying at the onsen, imagine the delights of bathing while gazing at the fishing boats nearby, their lanterns attracting those miniature squids to the surface.

A variety of ma and pa stalls create a friendly local atmosphere
A variety of ma and pa stalls create a friendly local atmosphere

Back on shore, the local ma and pa stalls give an authentic old-school feel to the market, though you won't see the live auctions and wholesale traders that Tokyo's Toyosu are famous for. As Hakodate is a popular cruise ship port, the markets can be swamped with waves of tourists. There is a network of alleyways that make up this market, giving you the option to go off the beaten track.

While the Japanese call this the Asaichi or Morning Markets, many stalls stay open for lunch, making it a treat for late-risers. Like Toyosu, there are various areas--from fish to vegetable markets--as well as a number of restaurants on the side streets. There is plenty 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".

Getting there

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.

Bonson Lam

Bonson Lam @bonson.lam

I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric laneways of Kyoto last century.  I am humbled to have met many distinguished people during this time, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperia...