If you’re looking for traditional atmosphere, unbelievable vistas and one of the greatest seafood-eating opportunities Japan has to offer, then Hamamatsu might just be the perfect destination for a short getaway. Located in Shizuoka Prefecture, this city provides a wonderful array of nature hotspots and peeks into old Japan.
Hamamatsu has no shortage of striking views, so why not start by taking it all in? The Tenryu Hamanako Railroad (known locally as the Tenhama Line) runs along the north coast of Hamana Lake for around 67 kilometers and 38 stations. The line and its buildings have remained largely unchanged since 1935, giving the round trip a strong nostalgic vibe. Consisting of single diesel-powered cars, even the trains themselves take you back in time. If you’re a fan of Japanese television or cinema, chances are you’ll recognize the scenery, as several shows and movies have been filmed along the line.
After working up an appetite, try one of the city’s 100-plus eel restaurants. Near to Lake Hamana, Hamamatsu is the birthplace of Japan’s eel farming. A hundred restaurants is far too many, you say? Whittle down the choices by first deciding if you want to go for Kanto or Kansai-style eel. Kanto eel is prepared by slicing open the eel’s back, grilling it, then steaming it in a basket. Prepared like this, the eel comes out tender and moist. Kansai eel, perhaps in reference to the residents’ habit of “talking with their bellies split open” (that is, very frankly), is sliced open at the stomach, seasoned, then skewered over an open flame. This process lends to their crispy and distinct flavor.
Next you can get in touch with the region’s traditions by visiting Okuyama Houkouji, the head temple of Houkouji’s sect of Rinzai Buddhism. As you journey up the mountain toward the temple, be sure to notice the 500 stone arhat statues dotted along the trail. When you reach the top, four more will greet you. (Or perhaps five, as per local legend…)
What makes this temple extra special is that you can take part in some of the spiritual practices yourself. Among several other activities on offer, registering for a one-day Zen experience will let you experience a session of Zazen meditation. The program is mindful of beginners, with one of the temple’s monks giving helpful instruction on posture and technique.
After all that deep contemplation, perhaps you’ve worked up an appetite for dinner. Japan is famous for its seafood cuisine, so how does making your own sound? Every night from May to September off the shore of Lake Hamana, the town’s residents go out and fish for their dinner. For a small fee you can join them, renting a boat and venturing out for your claim, fishing spear in hand. What’s more, you can eat your catch onboard a raft known as Takiya-tei. The boatmen will cook up your fish for you to enjoy right out on the lake.
While Hamamatsu is known for its gorgeous landscapes, the town also has a long-standing industrial history. As the world’s largest instruments manufacturer, Yamaha has in particular played a large part in the city’s industrial development, producing more than 100 types of musical instruments. To get a look at the variety they’ve produced, head to Yamaha’s Innovation Road exhibition.
After a musical morning, enjoy an afternoon at Hamamatsu Flower Park. This garden on the edge of Lake Hamana is home to over 3,000 different kinds of flowers. From cherry blossoms to hydrangeas, new varieties are blooming all year round, ensuring the park is always a colorful place. You can take a tour on the park’s Flower Train. While onboard, a guide will direct you to the park’s landmarks and share interesting information about the flowers currently in season.
Plan your trip right and you can experience one of the park’s special events. If you visit between March and early June, you’ll be able to catch the annual Lake Hamana Flower Festival. Every year the park arranges a variety of new plantings to celebrate the beauty of spring. Later on in October as the fall flowers flood the garden, members of the Hamamatsu Chrysanthemum Committee host a convention and display all the flowers they have raised. In November, a traditional Hyakushu Tsugiwakegiku is put on display. This horticultural feat, popularized in the Edo period, is a plant to which over 100 other chrysanthemum varieties have been grafted.
For indoor exhibits, the park’s Crystal Palace houses the Garden Theater where new arrangements are regularly introduced to match the changing seasons. At the Palace’s fountain, you can enjoy a music show every hour, while at night a light show creates a magical way to end the day.
Sponsored by Hamamatsu City