Fort Goryokaku, meaning ‘pentagonal’ from its star shape, was constructed in Hakodate from 1857 to 1864 as Japan’s first Western style fortress. Its ruins are now the site of Goryokaku Park, which in May becomes one of Hokkaido’s most popular spots for cherry blossom viewing with its 1,600 trees. In the hundred foot wide outer moat, where Japanese Carp live, rental boats are popular amongst locals and tourists alike, though from what I could tell it was more of the latter. The Hakodate City Museum Annex is also in the park displaying weapons, uniforms and other historically related articles.
The fort and the park can be viewed from the Goryokaku Tower, who stands about 50 meters (over 160 ft.) high by the park entrance. There, you can also learn why pentagonal forts were constructed, and where such forts are located elsewhere in the world. The tower is open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm and admission is 520 yen.
The fort was originally built by the Tokugawa shogunate to guard against attacks from the northern region, along with the Benten-Houdai battery (near Hakodate Dock). The two structures combined took seven years from 1857 to build. A “rangaku” (Dutch studies) scholar by the name of Takeda Ayasaburo designed the fort by researching the European forts and castles. The fort was planned to ready for the modern weapons such as guns. The pentagonal shape of the fort was chosen to minimize the blind spots by placing cannons in each of the corners.
In 1868, when the Meiji Restoration led to the overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate, loyalist rebels fled to Hokkaido and used Fort Goryokaku as their headquarters in the resulting civil war against the Imperial forces. The rebels intention was to declare the establishment of an independent country to be known as the “Republic of Ezo”. For various reasons they were quickly defeated and surrendered in May 1869.
From JR Hakodate Station, take a tram to the “Goryokaku Koen Mae” stop (10 minutes). From there, the fortress is another 5-10 minutes on foot.