Goryokaku Park in Hokkaido
On the island of Hokkaido, Goryokaku Park (五稜郭公園; Goryōkaku Ko-en) enjoys an unrivalled tranquility. The park, which is growing in popularity, welcomes flocks of visitors who come to view the cherry blossoms and to catch the unique star-shaped design of the park annually.
However, the history of this peaceful park isn’t as beautiful. In fact, Goryokaku Park wasn’t even meant to be a park – it was built as a battle fort initially. The fort saw bloodshed between warring factions in the Battle of Hakodate during the Edo Period. It was only rebuilt into a recreational park after being decimated by the battle.
A fort during the Battle of Hakodate
Blueprint of Fort Goryokaku
Image credit: Goryokaku Tower
Star forts emerged in Europe during the mid-15th century when cannons were introduced to the battlefield. Because cannon balls make smaller impacts when hurled at walls that are angled, like those of a star fort, such bastion forts became increasingly common.
Image credit: @goryokaku_tower
Taking inspiration from these Western forts, Ehime-born scholar Ayasaburo Takeda designed Fort Goryokaku for the Tokugawa shogunate (Japan’s hereditary military regime), the ruling power at that time. The fort took 7 years to construct and was completed in 1864.
Artistic interpretation of the Battle of Hakodate
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, the Boshin War broke out in 1868 between the shogunate and parties who wished to restore power to the imperial rule. During the Battle of Hakodate, the fort was the military forces’ last hope. However, it was not enough to protect them. The shogunate surrendered a year later.
A park where cherry blossoms bloom now
Image credit: @mfn078405
The damaged fort was transformed into a recreational park in 1914. Fast forward a century later, Goryokaku Park now boasts about 1,600 cherry blossom trees across the 25.2 hectares of land it occupies.
This year, the sakura trees will expect their first bloom on 24th April. They will then reach full bloom 4 days later on 28th April. These dates are accurate as of 16th April 2021 – click here for regular updates about the sakura season in Goryokaku Park.
Image credit: @sandy.ysl
Besides hanami (花見; cherry blossom viewing), another highlight when visiting Goryokaku Park is to witness the breathtaking view of the entire star-shaped park from the observatory located on 2F of the Goryokaku Tower.
Do remember to snap a picture as you can’t easily find another park as unique as this. After all, the only other 5-point star fort you can find in Japan is at the Tatsuoka Castle in Nagano – located over 900km away.
Getting to Goryokaku Park
The cherry blossoms in Goryokaku Park will reach full bloom soon, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on the annual festival of pink hues happening at this special star-shaped park. As you enjoy the company of falling sakura petals, you can also take some time to appreciate the hard-earned tranquility of this place.
Getting there: From Hakodate Station, take buses 25, 19, or 33 and alight at Goryokaku Park Entrance. The park is a 10-minute walk from the entrance.
Address: 44 Goryokakucho, Hakodate, 040-0001 Hokkaido
Opening hours: 5AM-7PM, Daily (Apr – Oct) | 5AM-6PM, Daily (Nov – Mar)
Opening hours: 8AM-7PM, Daily (21st Apr-20th Oct) | 9AM-6PM, Daily (21st Oct-20th Apr) | 9AM-7PM (Around 1st Dec-28th Feb)
Admission into observatory: ¥900 (~USD8.26) for the general public; ¥680 (~USD6.24) for middle and high schoolers, and ¥450 (~USD4.13) for elementary school students.
For more places to visit in Japan, check out:
- Diorama restaurant in Osaka lets cats roam around freely
- Tozan Shrine – a torii gate made of porcelain
- Awashima Shrine houses over 20,000 dolls
- Otaru Canal which inspired Canalave City in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
- Cherry blossom spots in Tokyo
Cover image adapted from: Emmy Wang