Hamamatsu, the second largest city in Shizuoka Prefecture, is not necessarily known as a centre for tourism and sightseeing. However, the city, that grew in importance during the Tokugawa era as a trading town with the major Tokaido and Shinano highways meeting there, has plenty to recommend it.
Surrounded by the Akashi mountain range to the north, the Tenryu River to the east, the Enshu Sea to the south and Lake Hamana to the west, the city forms an amalgamation of breathtaking scenery, historical importance, industry and original cuisine.
Just a short hop on the shinkansen bullet train from Nagoya, below are a few suggestions of what to see and do in Hamamatsu.
Hamamatsu-jo is best known for being the second home of the warlord, and eventual shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who moved his base from nearby Okazaki Castle to Hamamatsu in 1570 and lived here as a young man for a further 17 years.
Unfortunately the original Hamamatsu Castle (Shussei Castle) was destroyed in World War II, along with much of the rest of the city, and was rebuilt in 1958. Despite this, the small, three-story recreated donjon still holds great interest, with displays of samurai artifacts and information on the life of Tokugawa, much of which is in English.
The castle grounds, which are now a nice park, are a popular location for cherry blossom viewing, with over 360 trees. Also within the park is the Hamamatsu City Art Museum, the Shoin-tei Tea House and the Hamamatsu Literary Memorabilia museum
In the west of the city is Hamanako (Lake Hamana), Japan’s 10th largest lake and a popular summer resort for boating and water sports such as kayaking, wind surfing, fishing and water skiing. From mid-May to the end of September you can even take part in nighttime spear fishing.
Hamanako is well known for its seafood, including oysters, pike conger, blowfish and soft-shell turtles, but it is eel (unagi) that it is most famous for. For more than 100 years the lake has been the number one producer of freshwater eel in Japan, and due to its central location you can find many restaurants selling both the Kansai and Kanto styles of unagi.
All around the lake there are different attractions for you to enjoy, including the Hamamatsu City Zoo, Hamamatsu Flower Park (more on which later), Kanzanji Ropeway, Kanzanji Temple and Kanzanji Ukimido, Hamanaka Pal Pal amusement park. On the northern shore is Hamamatsu Fruit Park Tokinosumika, with fruit picking, tropical greenhouses, barbecues and a winery.
Where: Lake Hamanaka, Shizuoka (map)
To Hamamatsu’s south, where the city meets the Pacific Ocean, are the Nakatajima sand dunes. The sand dune area measures approximately 0.6 km from north to south and 4.0 km from east to west, and is considered one of Japan’s three largest sand dune areas along with the Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori Prefecture and Kujyūkurihama in Chiba Prefecture.
The sprawling sands make for a delightful place to walk at all times of the year, but particularly around the Children’s Day celebrations (May 3 to 5), when people come from far and wide to fly kites from the dunes. Nakatajima is also a popular place for watching the first sunrise of the New Year.
Locals and tourists are not the only visitors to the dramatic dunes. Every summer, loggerhead turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, but as they are an endangered species the local conservation society requests that visitors pay especial care when coming at this time.
For something a little different to your average sightseeing trip, head to the Ryugashido Cavern on the south slope of Mt. Ryugashi.
First discovered in the 1980s, this limestone cavern that is over 1,000 meters long, is thought to be over 250 million years old. The cave features beautiful multi-colored limestone rock formations, and enormous stalactites covering the ceiling as well as an underground waterfall. The Golden Waterfall, or Ogon no Taki in Japanese, is 30 meters high, making it one of the biggest underground waterfalls in Japan.
The cave, open between April and October, features 400m of developed walkways with lighting and a safe path to walk on, making it a safe place to take the whole family. If you grow tired from your exploration you can relax in cool foot baths that are free to use and indulge in Shizuoka’s best ice cream.
On the north-eastern coast of Lake Hamana you can find the sprawling 30,000 square meters of Hamamatsu Flower Park, a botanical garden home to some 3,000 different plant species, with stunning displays throughout the year.
The splendor begins with the with the early yellows of rapeseed blossoms and daffodils followed by the red, white and pink plum (ume) blossoms in February. These in turn give way to the vibrant tulips and cherry blossoms of April, some of which cannot be found anywhere else in Japan, making it a popular spot for hanami. In June the avenues are lined with explosions of hydrangeas, which make way for the October roses, and then in November the park plays host to the Hamamatsu Chrysanthemum Committee. Finally, in December there are of course Christmas events, with illuminations, concerts and a Christmas tree.
Indoors there is the Crystal Palace greenhouse in the park’s center, with gorgeous flowers everywhere you look, and a large fountain, the location for musical performances every 30 minutes, at which the water appears to dances in time to the music. Elsewhere in the park you can take in the view from the Ferris wheel, ride the ‘Flower Train’ (complete with guide) or have fun with your family in Children’s Plaza.
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