The Hakodate Morning Fish Market is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting the city of Hakodate in the southern area of Hokkaido. Why? Because the market is geared toward tourists.
Markets like the Tsukiji Fish Market (found in most guidebooks for Tokyo) don’t seem to like tourists. Let’s face it, we ask a lot of questions, get in the way, and occasionally interfere with “regular” customers. The Hakodate Morning Fish Market, on the other hand, is specifically for tourists. They like talking to foreigners, love explaining their products, and don’t mind foreigners poking around the booth.
With around one million tourists in the summer alone, the place is always bustling (while rarely being “over crowded”). The market opens at 5am and closes in the early afternoon, just after the lunch rush. They sell dried goods, fresh produce, fresh fish, live fish, and omiyage souvenirs at very affordable prices.
Hakodate Morning Fish Market: Top Five Things to Do
With over 450 shops and nearly 1.8 million annual visitors, the Hakodate Morning Market is fun and tourist friendly. While not nearly as large as the Tsukiji Fish Market, I found it much more tourist-friendly. The stall owners loved to chat with tourists, even if you made it clear you had no intention of buying anything.
We told them “We’re broke college students,” and they just laughed and asked us about our trip. One particularly friendly shop keeper told us how to distinguish between cheap and expensive crabs (cheap crabs have four spots on their back, expensive crabs have six spot). He even let me pet a crab.
The highlight of the morning market are the donburi rice bowls, fresh fruit, omiyage souvenir shops, and the ability to send fresh produce anywhere in Japan.
1. Eat a Donburi Rice Bowl
The donburi rice bowls vary in size, portion, and quality. Some of the shops advertise very cheap (albeit somewhat poor quality) donburi rice bowls for only 500yen. You can get salmon, ikura fish eggs, or tuna on top of rice. The more expensive, fresh, and delicious places typically charge around 2000yen per bowl – nearly four time the price! However, you really can taste the difference.
I recommend the ikura fish egg donburi rice bowls.
2. Send Fresh Fish/Produce to Friends all over Japan
Surprisingly enough, Japanese postal services are cheap. They also have very few restrictions for sending things through the mail. As a result, shop keepers in the Hakodate Morning Fish Market make a fair amount of money off of tourists who want to ship cheap, fresh fish all over Japan. For only 300yen of shipping fees, you can ship an entire crab overnight to your grandmother. Or you can ship a couple bottles of ikura fish eggs to your boss. Nearly every single shopkeeper has ample postal packing slips for you to fill out.
You have limited options for shipping internationally – depending on the country. I wasn’t able to ship any produce, meat, or seeds to America (which basically meant the only thing I could ship was Hokkaido Royce chocolate).
3. Try some Fresh Fruit and Ice Cream
While the average international tourist is unable to buy fresh fish or produce to send back home (import/export restrictions), they can enjoy fresh fruit and ice cream at the market. Hokkaido is famous throughout Japan for their high quality and deliciously fresh milk. The ice cream is made fresh from Hokkaido dairy cows and tastes heavenly. The shopkeepers at the Hakodate Morning Market peddle a variety of ice creams ranging from normal (vanilla and chocolate) to “Japanese” (black sesame and melon).
If you are lactose intolerant (like me) you can instead munch on some delicious, fresh fruit – especially green melon. Japanese melons are very expensive; at the market you can see single melons selling for as much as 5000yen ($55). Or you can taste a slice for around 200yen ($2)
4. Go Ika Squid Fishing
My favorite part of the Hakodate Morning Fish Market was the ika squid fishing section. All throughout the market, you can see squid swimming in small tanks. When I asked a shopkeeper about it, he laughed and told me “Ika squid is best served fresh.” Little did I know that “served fresh” meant “served still wiggling.”
For 1000yen, some shopkeepers will hand you a pole with a barbed end and let you fish for ika. Fishing itself is easy. You are supposed to hook the barbed end to the frontal, triangular section of the squid and pull upward. I caught one on my first try.
The shopkeeper took the pole with the attached squid and went into the back room. My fiance and I took out seats at one of the nearby tables to wait. Less than two minutes later, the shopkeeper returned, carrying a plate with fresh ika squid sashimi. The tentacles were still wiggling.
Part of me felt awful for killing the ika squid. I literally singled it out to die. But then I actually ate the squid and felt great – because it was absolutely delicious. Fresh ika squid melts in your mouth and has an outstanding flavor.
You really ought to try ika squid fishing at the Hakoate Morning Fish Market.
5. Check out some of the cool Hakodate Omiyage souvenir gifts!
The morning fish market is marketed toward foreign travelers. Naturally, they have some great souvenirs, ranging from dried fish to chocolates. I recommend picking up a pack of dried fish for a loved on back home (or so you can just snack on it in your hotel room like I did)
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