HAKODATE • A statue of the Merlion stands tall in Hakodate as a symbol of the strong friendship between Hokkaido's third largest city and Singapore.
But the Japanese cousin to Singapore's Merlion, exactly the same height at 8.6m, is not at all touristy.
It is located beside a welfare home, sports centre and a public bath, far from the city's tourism hot spots, such as Hakodate Bay, Goryokaku fort and the Yunokawa hot springs.
It was erected on Nov 18, 1989, with the blessing of the Singapore Tourism Board's predecessor, at the Nanaehama beach as a guardian deity for navigation safety, watching over ships that travel to the port of Hakodate.
Mr Akihito Kazuyori, a manager for international tourism at the Hakodate city government, told The Sunday Times: "The statue overlooks the beach where four ships had capsized during a major typhoon in 1954, killing 1,430 people."
The Merlion was set up to also mark what was then the 130th anniversary of the opening up of Hakodate's port to foreign ships.
This was at the initiative of the late local hotelier and philanthropist Masaru Yanagisawa, who was a big fan of Singapore and was key to the strong ties between the two cities.
Mr Yanagisawa, who died in 2007 at the age of 65, had in 1992 founded the Hakodate-Singapore Society that promotes tourism exchanges between the two cities.
Hakodate and Singapore continue to enjoy regular exchanges. Craft beer brewery Hakodate Beer last year held a Singapore food fair in the city that featured dishes such as assam fish, beef rendang and chicken rice to mark the society's 25th anniversary.