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Following Perry's footsteps: Part II, Hakodate

When Commodore Matthew Perry steamed into Shimoda Bay and demanded that Japan to the rest of the world, the Japanese government (led by the Tokugawa Shogunate) realized that it could no longer afford to remain closed off, lest it leave itself vulnerable to the Western colonization efforts that were consuming other areas of Asia.  The Shogunate opted instead to limit the ports which could be available to foreign traders.  Nagasaki already had limited access to Dutch and Chinese traders, so it was a logical option.  So was Shimoda, which was Perry's choice for landing when he first arrived in Japan.  Still, the Japanese had to accommodate the Russians, who also wanted access.  So the government selected Hakodate, which is an amazing town with countless fun and interesting sights and experiences.  Still, for today's article, I'll focus on Perry's travels to the wonderful and vibrant port city of Hakodate.

When Perry arrived in Hakodate, it was world's apart from the tropical Uraga in Okinawa and the temperate and beautiful Shimoda bay.  Hakodate, like many regions of northern Japan, spends a large portion of the year blanketed in snow, but it benefits from its large harbor that can accommodate a variety of vessels bringing in fish, goods, and other items.  As a result, it was ideal for a port town, and Perry steamed up to Hakodate to ensure that it was indeed opened up for foreign entry.  A good account of his visit is retold through miniatures in the Goryōkaku.

The Goryōkaku is a fantastic spot to visit when following Perry's trail through Japan, since it was the product of the internal turmoil that followed the opening of the country in what is now known as the Boshin War.  For those of you readers who have seen Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, you will know that the Boshin War was the samurai uprising against a modernizing Japan, split between the warriors who favored the ways of the Shogunate and those that followed the Meiji emperor in favor of a modern Japan.  Hakodate was the setting for one of the last major battles, fought at this French-designed fort. 

Now, the fort offers a serene park through which to stroll and a tower from which to view the fort grounds and the rest of the city.  Still, it serves as a tangible reminder of the Japan that emerged following Perry's arrival and the opening of the borders.

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We should go back to the Goryokaku when it's snowy!