By Sonia Schlesinger
Walking through the uptown Motomachi district of Hakodate, it's hard to miss the wonderful Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward, which crowns the flower lined street of Motoizaka. The pastel blues and yellows of this striking Western-style mansion is quite a sight, even compared to the other European-style houses dotted throughout the area.
The Old Public Hall dates back to 1909, being constructed following the destruction of the previous town assembly amidst the Great Fire of Hakodate of 1907. It was set up by local residents from voluntary funds of ¥58,000 (a great cost at the time), and acted as an assembly point, concert hall, and guesthouse for important public figures — It offered accommodation to future Taisho and Showa emperors, Crown Prince Yoshihito and Crown Prince Hirohito, in 1911 and 1922 respectively.
A ¥500 visit to the hall (¥250 for students) will grant an insight into the political and social life of Hakodate in this period, painting a picture of the strong communal mentality which bound these residents. They were supportive and passionate in their efforts to bring this space back to life, and incredibly cosmopolitan for the era in their embrace of Western design and culture. On the second floor, visitors may also access the balcony, which offers a sweeping view of the port and greater Hakodate area below.
The architecture and interior design really is a key selling point for the hall. Before going in, stop by Motomachi Park, resting at the mouth of the hall, and take a few moments to take in the pastel colours and symmetrical, column-bound structure designed by Asajiro Konishi. Inside, explore the distinctively 19th century furnishings and room layout, including some of the original photography gear used by Japanese photography pioneer, Kenzo Kobayashi.
For travellers to Hakodate who want a sharp idea of the essence of the city, this is a great site to stop by.