Hakodate: Streetcars and Nostalgia

The first impression many visitors have of a city in Japan is its train station. Hakodate is the southernmost and third-largest city of Hokkaido in Northern Japan, and this is its train station:

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Don’t be fooled by the ultra-modern design. Hakodate is still very much a small city, its low-rise, sprawling cityscape interspersed with shops and residential properties without any real downtown core. Despite this, I found it to be one of the most charming cities in my trip to Japan, which lasted almost two months.

One of the main things that adds to the charm: streetcars. Many other small Japanese cities of similar size like Nagasaki and Kumamoto have trams, and bigger ones like Sapporo or Hiroshima have preserved part or all of their tram system.

The trams in Hakodate are all of the ‘one man’ type, meaning the driver doubles as the conductor and drives a one-carriage streetcar, collecting the fare from each passenger at the front door when they exit. You enter from the back door, and exit from the front door.

Of all the cities, I like Hakodate’s tram system the best, probably because of the one-man car system (Hiroshima’s tram system feels too modern to me!) and also because I used it the most, having bought a one-day pass(Y600, about S$9, purchase from the driver of any streetcar).

There are only two tram lines in Hakodate, so navigation is a breeze. Trams bring you to all the major tourist spots, but not directly to the doorstep, so you usually have to walk about 5-10 minutes after getting off (a pleasure though, as Hakodate has one of the most unique streetscapes amongst Japanese cities).

I’ll lay easy on the explanation for this post and let the pictures do the talking.

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Don’t trams just add that nostalgic feeling to any city?

Trams come in so many different designs in Hakodate, and its really enjoyable just looking at them and admiring the exteriors. Some are obviously taken over by commercial advertisements (but even these are done in such a way that the entire retro feel of the streetcar is still preserved) while others have public education messages or unique themes painted on them.

One of my favourite moments in Hakodate is just sitting in a tram, feeling the jerky movements of the car and listening to the cranky sounds of the engine as it rumbles along the snow-covered tracks, whilst admiring Hakodate’s unique Western-inspired architecture from the misty windows.

Another great travel moment to treasure.