Hakodate

The bay of Hakodadi is spacious and majestic in its sweep, and for facility of entrance and security for anchorage it cannot be surpassed by any other in any part of the world. For our purpose it is worth a hundred such narrow, contracted harbors as that of Simoda. It will make a grand and safe retreat for our whaleships—a number of which have already been there—to recruit and refit, procure wood, water, &c., and thereby avoid the long run from those seas to the Sandwich Islands; and it will also make as good a coal depot as Nangasaki, especially for the line of steamers that ere long will ply between San Francisco and China. The view from the ship, as I glanced around, reminded me very much of the famous Gibralter rock and bay. The town contains between four and five thousand houses. The number of inhabitants on the island is estimated to be about twenty-five thousand. The most prominent objects of interest are the temples,—one or two of which are between two and three hundred feet square,—the roofs of which are covered over with tile. The streets are quite wide, and run parallel with the water: they are rolled with gravel, and are kept quite clean; the cross streets being narrower, and closed with gateways of wood. The houses are all of wood, one and two stories high, and are closely packed together. They all bear the mark of having been built a great many years. A few of them are painted; but they are not so good-looking as they are in Nangasaki, the ground floors being all occupied as stores or shops for business. The roofs are covered with clapboards of two or three inches in width, and are secured to their places by a large number of cobble-stones, some of which weigh fifteen or twenty pounds. These stones answer the purpose of nails, and to the stranger present quite a ridiculous sight. Around and on top of many of these houses are barrels and tubs of water, ready in case of fire. The citizens have several little engines of their own invention, which are stationary. The police or mandarins are very numerous; turn which way you will you are sure to come in contact with them.

A Cruise in the U.S. Steam Frigate Mississippi (1860)

Hakodadi is situated on a high island-like peninsula, protruding from the south shores of the island of Yeso into the Straits of T’zugar, and containing several peaks from 500 to 1,000 feet in height. It was one of the first ports opened under the American treaty, and was much visited by the vessels of the allied squadron during the war. Until then only a miserable fishing village, it is likely to become a place of considerable political and commercial importance, both from its geographical and its local position. ... If ever any European power wishes to obtain a pied à terre in Japan, no better spot could be chosen than Hakodadi. Easily fortified, with good anchorage, and a delightful climate, it offers all the advantages required for such a purpose.

The houses are of miserable appearance. They are built of fir-wood, and thatched with reeds and bark, upon which large stones are placed to prevent their being blown off during the hurricane-storms which sometimes visit the islands. Over each roof is a tub filled with water, as a precaution against fire, but it is more for show than for use, as its contents would be about two pailfuls. Narrow ditches, filled with nastiness, surround each house and line the streets. The mildewed appearance of all the woodwork shows the occasional dampness of the climate. Within doors all is perfectly clean, as, in fact, are all the houses, even of the poorest class, in Japan.

Japan, the Amoor, and the Pacific (1861)