Discover the Enchanting Autumn Foliage of Hakodate with a Hokkaido Tour



 Hakodate is currently the third most populous city in Hokkaido. Located in the southernmost part of Hokkaido, Hakodate has a population of approximately 250,000. A policy of national isolation meant Japan was closed off from the rest of the world for approximately 200 years, from 1641 to 1853. It was a time when there was little interaction with foreign countries, and people could not visit Japan for sightseeing as you do today. In 1853, American Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan to open the country to the outside world and, from that point on, things changed dramatically in Japan. At that time, Hakodate Port was one of the first international ports in Japan. It was a period of great change, as without this opening up of the country, you would not have been able to visit Japan for tourism as you do now. Everyone who can come to Japan as a tourist now is lucky!

 Hakodate was one of the top 10 most important cities in Japan at this time, as it was the first international port to open in Japan. In 1920, it ranked 9th in Japan in terms of city population. Later, people moved north, and today Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, but about 100 years ago Hakodate was one of the most important cities in Japan. Because of this historical background, Hakodate’s streetscape and culture are very unique. Since Hakodate was one of the first cities in Japan to open up to the outside world, people from many different countries visited and settled in Hakodate, resulting in a fusion of Japanese and Western cultures, and a beautiful landscape that cannot be found in any other city.

 In this column, we will introduce you to how to enjoy autumn in exotic Hakodate, focusing especially on places to see in October and November. Be sure to include it in your autumn travel itinerary!

1. Hakodate Kosetsuen
2. Goryokaku
3. Motomachi Area in Hakodate
4. Hakodate Meijikan
5. Hakodate Park
6. Sasanagare Dam and Dam Park
7. Onuma Quasi-National Park

Japan’s Autumn

 Autumn in Japan generally refers to the months of September, October, and November. It is a good season for travel, as the weather is relatively calm, autumn leaves can be seen all over the country, and many foods are in season. October and November are the best months to enjoy autumn in Hokkaido. Although the timing varies depending on elevation and geographical factors, this is the best time to enjoy the autumn foliage in Hokkaido. Japanese people have the idea that “autumn in Japan” includes autumn leaves, autumn fish, chestnuts, sweet potatoes, ginkgo nuts, and grapes. Autumn is also the harvest season, so there are many delicious foods in the lineup! Cherry blossoms in spring and autumn leaves in fall. In Japan, with its four seasons, we place great importance on sensing and enjoying the seasons through the way plants change during the course of the year. Make a trip to Hokkaido to see the autumn leaves and enjoy the flavors of fall, the harvest season! This travel itinerary will be the best choice of your life!

Awesome Places to See Autumn Tints in Hakodate

 Japan is known for its rich nature, but Hokkaido is especially exceptional! The majestic mountain trees change colors. Seeing the autumn leaves beside the rivers along with the beautiful streams of water, you can feel nature with all five senses. Autumn colors seen while boating on a lake. Taking in history and autumn tints in a historic park. Autumn leaves in colors that best match the beautiful cityscape.

 We will now introduce the best places to see the autumn foliage in Hakodate and its suburbs, and also provide details about each of these places. The best season for viewing autumn foliage in Hakodate is from late October to early November. Let’s make an itinerary to visit Hakodate, Hokkaido during this season!

Hakodate Kosetsuen

 Kosetsuen is known to Hakodate locals as the best place to view the autumn leaves. If you have a chance to visit Hakodate in autumn, this is a must-see place. The Hakodate MOMI-G Festa is held every year from late October to early November, and this year, 2023, it is scheduled from October 20 to November 5, 2023. The dates change every year, so you will need to check again. During this period, the park will be illuminated from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and visitors will be able to see fantastic autumn leaves in a special light, which cannot be seen in the daytime. Of course, the colored leaves during the daytime are also very beautiful. If you are coming to Hakodate in the fall, I recommend including this place in your itinerary.


 Why is the event named “Hakodate MOMI-G Festa”? In Japanese, the word for “autumn leaves” is “紅葉”, but it can be pronounced in two ways. There are two ways to read the same kanji: “KOUYOU” and “MOMIJI”. When read as “MOMIJI”, it refers to the maple tree or leaves themselves. On the other hand, when read as “KOUYOU”, it refers to green leaves turning red or yellow, and is not limited to maple trees. It is somewhat complicated, but “KOUYOU” and “MOMIJI” have different meanings. “KOUYOU” refers to a natural phenomenon that occurs in autumn when the temperature changes dramatically from cold to warm, and the leaves turn red or yellow. Therefore, the term “KOUYOU” is used to refer to a variety of plants that change color in autumn. “MOMIJI” is also used as another name for maple leaves. At the same time, it seems to be used for leaves that change color to red or yellow in the fall. This means that it also has the same meaning as “KOUYOU”. In other words, it can be said that maple leaves become MOMIJI by KOUYOU. It is surprising how many variations there are in Japanese expressions. Both “KOUYOU” and “MOMIJI” are used to describe autumn leaves, so if you take this opportunity to learn them, you will become an expert on Japan!

History of Hakodate Kosetsuen / Miharashi Park

 Miharashi Park is located on a hill near the Yunokawa hot spring resort area in Hakodate. It includes Kosetsuen, a landscape garden created in the 1890s by the Iwafune family, one of the city’s wealthiest merchants, as a second home in the mid-Meiji period. The vast site of approximately 13.3 hectares has an appealing mix of Japanese and Western styles. Some locals call it “Kosetsuen,” while others call it “Miharashi Park” to describe the park in its entirety, including Kosetsuen.

 Kosetsuen is a full-scale landscape garden created by Minejiro Iwafune in around 1898, as the site of a second home for the Iwafune family. The name “Kosetsuen” is said to have been given to the park by a high-ranking priest of Chion-in Temple in Kyoto, the head temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, when he visited Hakodate, and it means “plum-scented garden in the snow”.

 Kosetsuen was opened to the public free of charge in 1927, courtesy of the Iwafune family. The property was made open to the citizens in return for their business. In 1955, Hakodate City signed a free lease agreement, and in 1959, the city acquired the land. In 2001, the garden was designated as a “place of scenic beauty” under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, making it the only nationally designated cultural property garden in Hokkaido. The garden is unique and beautiful because of its various spaces, including a teahouse-style garden pavilion, a mountain stream, and a brick greenhouse. Today, it is the largest comprehensive park in Hakodate, and includes the adjacent golf course.

 There are many cherry trees in the park, and the lawn area, which is often used as a field trip site for children, is surrounded by flowers in full bloom in the spring. In summer, fireflies fly around the clear stream and cicadas can be seen hatching. In addition, the brick greenhouse and the shoin-style garden pavilion, which is decorated in the style of a tea ceremony house, provide a relaxing space with many other attractions.

Characteristics of Autumn Leaves in Kosetsuen

 The best part of the park’s foliage is the 100 meter-long row of maple trees. During the daytime, beautiful red and yellow leaves can be seen. At night, when the leaves are lit up, they look very different from how they were during the day. Many garden trees, including yew trees and pine trees, are planted here, and Kosetsuen is said to be the park with the largest number of trees in Hokkaido. According to one theory, there are about 150 species of garden trees here! When the leaves are at their best, the scenery is like a bright red carpet.

 The authentic Japanese-style building in this park is in the style of a tea ceremony house, which is very rare in Hokkaido. The interior can also be toured, so it is a great place to see the beautiful autumn leaves and enjoy the atmosphere of the time when it was built as a villa for a wealthy merchant.

 Covered resting areas are provided throughout the park. Visitors can rest their weary feet while enjoying the surrounding foliage, allowing everyone from children to the elderly to view the autumn colors at their own pace. The rest area has benches near the large windows, allowing visitors to view the autumn leaves from inside the room as well. There are also vending machines, so you can enjoy a warm drink while waiting for the illuminations to come on.


 Goryokaku was Japan’s first Western-style castle built in Hakodate, Hokkaido in the late Edo period. It was built by the Edo shogunate to prevent invasions from foreign countries.

 Goryokaku is written as “五稜郭” in Japanese characters. “五” means ”Five” and “稜” means “Edge”, so it means “a castle with five edges (corners)”. When viewed from above, it has a beautiful pentagonal/star shape. Therefore, it is also called “Star-shaped Fortress” in English.

History of Goryokaku

 Goryokaku was planned by the Shogunate, which was about to open up the port, to defend the northern part of the country. Protected by a star-shaped earthwork and moat, the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office was built in the center. After being used as the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office for about four years, it became a base for the former shogunate forces during the Hakodate War, and was demolished in 1871 after the war ended. Today, about one-third of the building has been restored with its original design, construction method, and size, and in the same location, restoring the building’s stately appearance. Visitors can tour the interior and enjoy architecture that utilizes the finest building materials and craftsmanship of the time, and also experience this historic site where Shogunate officials and members of the former Shogunate army spent their time. There is also a room where you can find out more about the end of the Shogunate and the Hakodate War.

Goryokaku Today

 After the Hakodate Magistrate’s Office was dismantled, the area was opened to the public as Goryokaku Park in 1914 and has become a popular place for citizens to relax. Particularly busy is the cherry blossom viewing season from late April to early May. When the more than 1,600 Someiyoshino cherry trees planted inside and outside the moat come into bloom, a beautiful pink landscape can be seen. It is the most famous cherry blossom viewing spot in Hokkaido. The leaves of these cherry trees turn red in the fall from late October to early November, creating a beautiful orange landscape that differs from that in spring. Goryokaku Park has a 1,800-meter walking path around the perimeter of the moat, and visitors can enjoy the beauty of nature in each of the four seasons.

Autumn in Goryokaku

 Goryokaku is a star-shaped Western-style fortress, but it is difficult to get a full sense of it while walking through the park. If you go up to the observation deck of the adjacent Goryokaku Tower, you can get a panoramic view of the beautiful sight. Goryokaku Tower was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the construction of Goryokaku, and the current one is the second generation tower, newly built in 2006. It is 107 meters high, and the observation deck is approximately 90 meters high. The observation floor is surrounded by a 360-degree glass window, offering a wonderful view of Goryokaku below, Mount Hakodate and the port on the other side, and the city of Hakodate all around.

 Goryokaku is a place where you can see not only the autumn leaves, but also the history of the samurai. On the observation floor of Goryokaku Tower, there are bronze statues of samurai associated with Goryokaku and an exhibition area that shows the history of samurai and Goryokaku. While enjoying the fall foliage, visitors can take a trip back in time and wonder at what happened here during the samurai period. It is also interesting to experience a time-slip feeling. Goryokaku is a famous place that has appeared in Japanese movies, TV dramas, and manga. Goryokaku has a wealth of attractions such as history, cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, strolling, and winter illuminations. We recommend that you include a visit to Hakodate and its samurai history along with the autumn foliage in your itinerary.

Motomachi Area in Hakodate

The Motomachi area of Hakodate refers to the area around the foot of Mt. Hakodate, where you can see Western-style buildings such as churches and the former Old Public Hall of Hakodate Ward etc. Hakodate is a popular travel destination in Hokkaido. The Motomachi area is one of the must-visit places for tourists in Hakodate. Hakodate opened up as the first international trading port in Japan. Until then, Japan had been closed off to the rest of the world, but the opening up of the country was an opportunity for various foreign cultures to enter. Hakodate prospered from the Motomachi area, centered on the port of Hakodate.

 In this neighborhood, there are still buildings that are Japanese style on the first floor and Western style on the second floor. These unique buildings blend in with old Japanese houses, churches, and Western-style buildings. It can be seen that new things coming from the West were incorporated into the old architecture. Hakodate’s unique architecture, the slopes stretching from the foot of Mt. Hakodate to the coast, the trams, and the cobblestone pavements. These landscapes together make up the scenery of the Motomachi area. The cityscape is beautiful all year round, but it is especially beautiful during the fall foliage season from late October to early November!

Churches in the Motomachi Area

 Hakodate was one of the first international trading ports after Japan opened up to the outside world. As it was a place open to foreign countries, many foreigners moved to Hakodate. Religion was an essential part of their lives. There are churches of various denominations. It is rare in the world to find so many different denominations in such a small area. The Motomachi area is close to the port, where Western-style buildings and churches were built for foreign residents. The sense of exoticism in Hakodate is grounded in the reality of the area.

 Here are three churches that are particularly famous in the area.

Hakodate Orthodox Church

 Japan’s first Russian Orthodox church. With its beautiful contrast of white walls and a green roof, it is one of Hakodate’s representative historical buildings. The present church was built in 1916. It is also famous for its bell, which plays a beautiful sound on weekends, and has been nicknamed “Gan Gan Temple” by the citizens because of the sound. The sound of the bell has been recognized as one of the 100 Best Soundscapes of Japan. A missionary arrived in Hakodate in 1861 and the Orthodox Church used this place as its base to proselytize for the first time in Japan.

Catholic Church Hakodate Motomachi

 The first church building was built in 1859. The present building was rebuilt in 1923. The altar set inside the church was a gift from the Pope. It is located in the corner of a group of churches, a typical scene in Motomachi. It features a large bell tower, and a spiky roof in the 12th century Gothic architectural style. It is one of the oldest churches in Japan, along with the Catholic churches built in Yokohama and Nagasaki, and is a symbol of the resumption of Christian missionary work prior to the abolition of the Christian ban issued by the Tokugawa Shogunate. In 1859, a French missionary moved to Hakodate, where he held mass for foreigners in the church building and taught foreign languages to samurai, while the missionaries learned Japanese and Ainu themselves. The building was lost in several large fires, but the present building was completed in 1923. The central altar and side altar were a gift from Pope Benedict XV as a gesture of sympathy after the fires.

Hakodate St. John’s Church

 In 1874, an English missionary landed in Hakodate and began missionary work, pioneering the Anglican Church in Hokkaido. Successive generations of missionaries established schools and hospitals in the city and made great achievements in the fields of education and welfare. The first church was built in 1878 at the bottom of Motoizaka slope. Like the other buildings, it was destroyed by fire several times and had to be relocated. The present church, completed in November 1979, is of a modern design, using the construction methods of European churches in the mid-20th century.

Walking around This Area in Autumn

 The church area where these are located has many beautiful trees that change color in the fall, such as many maple trees, ginkgo trees, and Japanese rowan trees, making a visit to this area in the autumn a wonderful experience! It is a great place to visit in the fall and is sure to be a photogenic experience. Also in the immediate vicinity of these churches are Otani Hongan-ji Hakodate Betsu-in Temple, Hakodate Gokoku Shrine, and other uniquely Japanese buildings that should definitely be on your itinerary! Historic trees, vines wrapped around trees, and historic Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are all integrated with the autumn foliage. A trip to the Motomachi area of Hakodate in Hokkaido, an exotic area, to see the unique autumnal scenery here will be an unforgettable experience on your trip!

Hakodate Meijikan

 A 15-minute walk from the churches in the Motomachi area takes you to Hakodate Meijikan. This facility is housed in the former Hakodate Post Office, which was built in 1911. The building is still in its original state and has a nice historical brick appearance. Now a commercial complex, it offers a wide variety of stores selling souvenirs, including glassware and sundry goods. It is a fun place to stop by between sightseeing tours on your itinerary, as it is also a seafood market. You can purchase music boxes and crafted glass items, experience making them yourself, and rent authentic kimono and dress costumes! You are in luck if you can make it here in October! The ivy on the outside walls of Hakodate Meijikan, which has become an iconic part of the museum, turns brilliant red in the fall. The bright red ivy covering the entire wall is truly beautiful! The foliage at Red Brick Warehouses in Bay Area, located a 2-minute walk from Meijikan, is also beautiful.

Hakodate Park

 Hakodate Park, rich in nature, was created by citizens in 1879. There is also a mini amusement park and mini zoo. Citizens and tourists enjoy viewing cherry blossoms in the spring and the changing colors of the leaves in the fall, and playing in the water of the fountain square in the summer. During the fall foliage season, from mid-October to early November, the leaves of the cherry trees change to fall colors, and a wide variety of other foliage, such as azaleas and maples, can also be enjoyed. The classic buildings of the Hakodate City Museum, Old Library, and the stone masonry Taiko Bridge are a superb match with the autumn leaves.

 Richard Eusden, the British consul in Hakodate at the time, suggested that “Sick people need hospitals, healthy people need places to rest,” and four businessmen in the city took the lead in collecting donations, with the full cooperation of the citizens. The park opened in 1879, one year and seven months after construction began. It was one of the earliest urban parks established in Japan, and valuable reminders of its original appearance still remain.

 Hakodate Park is known for its cherry blossoms, and over a five-year period beginning in 1889, a local merchant personally planted 5,280 cherry and plum trees in Hakodate Park in order to make the park famous for its cherry blossoms. Most of those trees were destroyed in a large fire that raged there during the early Showa period, but today there are approximately 400 cherry trees, mostly Someiyoshino, planted in the park. These delight us with their very beautiful foliage in the fall.

 A great place to see the autumn leaves is a short distance from Hakodate City.

Sasanagare Dam and Dam Park

 A 30-minute drive from Hakodate Station, a short distance away, is a secret autumn foliage viewing spot unknown to tourists and enjoyed only by locals. That is Sasanagare Dam and Dam Park. Sasanagare Dam is one of the water sources that support the lives of local residents. The size and power of the dam is surprising, but in the garden in front of the dam, the Japanese maples turn bright red in the fall. Strolling among the trees, you will feel a red curtain of sunlight spilling over your head and a comfortable cushion of fallen leaves under your feet. If you want to visit a secret fall foliage spot, we suggest you include it in your itinerary.

Onuma Quasi-National Park

 A 40-minute drive from Hakodate. Onuma Quasi-National Park is a natural park covering an area of approximately 9,000 hectares in the central part of the Watashima Peninsula, straddling the three towns of Nanae, Shikabe, and Mori. The park area includes Mt. Hokkaido-Komagatake (1,131 m), an active volcano, and the three Onuma lakes (Onuma, Konuma, and Junsai-numa) scattered along the foot of the volcano. The combination of the wonderful view of Mt. Hokkaido-Komagatake and the autumn leaves is truly picturesque.

On a windless day, the autumn leaves reflected on the surface of the lake are exceptionally beautiful. Enjoying the views from a sightseeing boat or canoe, or cycling along the lakeside path, are also recommended for your itinerary. The best time to view the leaves is usually from mid-October to early November.

 We hope you have enjoyed finding out about the charms of visiting Hakodate and the surrounding area in autumn as part of your itinerary. In this blog column, we have introduced “The Best Places for Autumn Leaves in the Hakodate Area”. Hakodate is a great travel destination, especially in autumn. If you can visit local places during your stay in Hokkaido, Japan, and include such a beautiful city, it can be a fun and special part of your trip!

 If you would like to get to know Hakodate and Southern Hokkaido or find a special tour in Hokkaido Japan, just contact us. Together we can make the perfect travel plan for your Hokkaido trip. You can always contact us through the ’contact us’ button below.