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The Star-Shaped Enigma of Goryokaku Fortress

8 March 2024

Goryokaku Fortress, a star-shaped citadel located in Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan, is rich in history and beauty. Here are the top 10 things you should know about this iconic fortress:

1. Star-Shaped Design:

Goryokaku is Japan's first Western-style fortress, uniquely designed in the shape of a five-pointed star. This design was intended to provide a higher level of defense compared to traditional Japanese fortifications, allowing for more guns to be positioned along its walls and offering no blind spots for attackers.

2. End of the Samurai Era:

The fortress played a significant role in the Boshin War, specifically during the Battle of Hakodate. It was the final stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate's forces, marking the end of the samurai era and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration.

3. Construction and Purpose:

Constructed between 1857 and 1866, under the orders of the Tokugawa shogunate, Goryokaku was designed to protect against threats from the north and to control the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu.

4. Public Park:

Today, Goryokaku has been transformed into a public park, known for its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring. The site attracts visitors for its historical significance as well as its natural beauty.

5. Goryokaku Tower:

Visitors can enjoy a bird's-eye view of the fortress from the Goryokaku Tower. The observation deck provides panoramic views of the star-shaped citadel and its surroundings, making it a popular spot for photography, especially during cherry blossom season.

6. Hakodate Magistrate's Office:

A reconstructed building within the park serves as a museum, offering insights into the fortress's history and the daily life of its inhabitants. The Hakodate Magistrate's Office is a faithful replica of the original government office, showcasing the Meiji period architecture.

7. Cherry Blossom Spot:

Goryokaku is one of Hokkaido's most famous spots for cherry blossom viewing. With over 1,600 cherry trees lining its moats, the fortress becomes a stunning sea of pink in late April to early May.

8. Historical Significance:

The fortress is not only a testament to Japan's transition from feudalism to the modern era but also a symbol of the country's early interactions with Western technology and military strategies.

9. Peaceful Retreat:

Despite its militaristic origins, Goryokaku now serves as a peaceful retreat for both locals and tourists. Its spacious grounds offer a serene environment for leisurely walks, picnics, and seasonal events.

10. Cultural Icon:

Goryokaku has become a cultural icon, frequently depicted in art, literature, and media. Its unique shape and historical background continue to fascinate and attract researchers, history enthusiasts, and travelers from around the world.

Goryokaku Fortress stands as a bridge between Japan's past and present, offering a unique glimpse into the country's rich history while serving as a beloved public space for relaxation and recreation.