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This is a special post dedicated to Hamamatsu City of Shizuoka prefecture, and also the final post of my Tokai journey. This most populated city of Shizuoka prefecture may be unbeknownst to many travelers who are too eager to make a beeline for the magnificent Mt Fuji, but if you scratch the surface just a little deeper, you will find Hamamatsu itself full of allures with plenty to offer, from the niche legacy for avid musicians to fun resorts for the entire family of all ages. Think avant garde vocaloid keyboard, fresh mandarin-orange-picking, and delicious eels.
Now let’s take a look at some of the city’s many charms.
Yamaha Innovation Road Museum
Let’s cross the zebra keyboard to discover the historical path of music in Hamamatsu, shall we?
It’s obvious. This will be the ultimate paradise for anyone who passionately plays music.
Anyone who owns a musical instrument will have heard of the name Yamaha. This world’s largest piano manufacturing company actually started in the humble city of Hamamatsu back in year 1887, by Mr Yamaha himself.
Despite how corporate-looking the facade of the building is, you will meet these adorable polar plushies comfortably taking a snooze upon entering the hall.
Did you know that Yamaha manufactures not just musical instruments? Striving to be a leader in innovation, Yamaha makes full use of its expertise in the technology it has cultivated throughout history for various businesses that are not music-related, including sports equipments and car interior parts.
The exhibition is split into 12 areas, and introduces Yamaha’s favorite products, their innovative developments, and latest technology. The best thing about it is that you get to learn, see, touch and play all sorts of latest instruments and technology in the music industry right here. Be sure you don’t miss your train for strumming that vocaloid keyboard for too long!
Hamamatsu Fruits Park Tokinosumika
This was the photo I posted on Instagram when I introduced Hamamatsu Fruits Park, and it is rather misleading because this park is so much more than just fruits!
First of all, it is very, very large. For people who are familiar with the bizarre Japanese metric of measuring places in “Tokyo Dome”s, it is 9 times the size of Tokyo Dome. Don’t get it? Never mind. Neither do I. Let’s try again. The park is 430,000 square-meter in size, with orchards featuring all sorts of seasonal fruits where you get to enjoy picking in their respective seasons.
Since fruit is a major theme here, the entire park is rendered tutti-fruity, complete with a fruitilicious playground where your kids will go wild at. Pineapple slide, anyone?
Know that the park is so massive one day might not even be enough to fully absorb all the fun, so you may want to consider staying a night outdoor – yes, glamping style!
I know… it’s tiring enough to chase after your excited kiddos all afternoon, let alone deal with all the camping mess, right? Well, no worries. Everything is thoughtfully prepared for you – the food and utensils… you just have to do the grilling… (and perhaps more chasing around after the little bodies are filled up with more energy…)
There are so much more to explore in the park, for example a winery where you can design your own bottle label (makes such a great, affordable gift – only JPY1400 – including the wine!!), night illuminations in winter time and pool fun in summer time, and some interactive dinosaurs, if your children enjoys a roar from Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Meijiya Soy Sauce Brewery
Shoyu – soy sauce in Japanese, is indispensable in almost all Japanese cuisine. Sushi is not sushi without it by its side. Have you ever thought about how shoyu is made?
With F&B giants like Kikkoman and Yamasa, it is easy to imagine enormous factories with robot machines bottling every last drop of this fragrant liquid magic to perfect umami taste.
And so I could not believe what I saw when I arrived at Meijiya Soy Sauce Brewery.
The building looks like it’s straight out of a period drama from a century ago… but it is exactly that – Meijiya, is indeed, established in the Meiji Era (1875).
I had to pick my jaw off the creaking, ancient floor board when I entered the brewery – yes, behind-the-scene is allowed, if you are in for a factory tour! This was not what I had in mind for a factory.
I mean, look at the century-old wooden beams, structures and barrels that contained the actual product…they look so well-seasoned (haha geddit??). I simply could not believe my eyes.
The brewing process remains unchanged since Meiji era, too. I was told that the longest maturing process takes 910 days before it goes into a bottle!
I was very pleased to know that visitors could experience hands-on shoyu-squeezing – the last step of shoyu brewing process before it goes into a bottle. I’m all in for authentic cultural experiences, especially a super precious one like this!
So what you will do is you will scoop the “moromi”, which is the result of the above-mentioned 910 days of fermentation, into layers of cloth, and slowly and manually squeeeeeeze it until droplets of fragrant shoyu starts dripping out from the cloth. And you will be shocked how much moromi it takes to make that tiny bottle of shoyu you are about to label proudly with your name on it and bring home.
At as reward for your hard labor and bicep training, you are then treated to a warm cup of tea and some shoyu-flavored cookies (really delicious, by the way). And all of these, the entire experience, costs only JPY1650 including tax and the bottle of dark magic liquid that will be going into your yummy homemade fried rice.
I have the utmost respect for shokunin (Japanese artisan/craftsman) who take the effort to preserve a beautiful tradition from dying despite how much more laborous it is compared to having things mass-produced the modern way in cold, steel factories. I am sure that you will be able to taste the love infused into the bottle of 910 days of tender loving care.
Where to Stay in Hamamatsu
Hotel Wellseason Hamanako
It takes only one word to convince me that this hotel is worth my stay – eel.
Granted, the room was generously spacious and ultra comfy, and it has a kickass hotspring facility so big you would think you have just entered an onsen theme park.
But I had my eyes fixed on the buffet: sashimi, beef steak, Hamamatsu gyoza…
And eel. Yes. Eel infinity. All-you-can-eat. It looks more burned than it tastes in this photo (very delicious!) but I was so speechless when I saw the eel buffet counter. High quality, flavorful, plump, fluffy Hamamatsu-produced eels. On buffet… how is this even possible?
Go. Your unagi awaits you.
Located pretty much just opposite the above-mentioned resort hotel, Hamanako PalPal is a resort theme park with around 30 attractions spread out around Lake Hamana.
Perks of staying at Hotel Wellseason Hamanako? Free entrance to the theme park! (Note that certain rides or attractions in the park require separate tickets).
While the theme park is targeted at young children of school age, the grown-ups will be able to enjoy lots of other attractions too such as a smashing view of Hamamatsu city from Kanzanji Ropeway – the only ropeway in Japan that travels over a lake!
It would make a really fun family holiday with the comfort of Hotel Wellseason Hamanako and Hamanako PalPal just a few steps away from each other.
Nakatajima Sand Dunes
Yes, you already knew from my posts that Japan has sand dunes, smackdab in the city of Tottori, but did you know that Tottori Sand Dunes aren’t the only ones in Japan??
Right. Since we are in the Tokai area now, why don’t hop over to the one right here in Hamamatsu?
Sand dunes appear in many parts of Japan, although very few of them are as large and magnificent such as the ones in Nakatajima. They are sandy hills formed over many years when wind blown sand is trapped, and play a vital role as a barrier in protecting inland areas from storm surges, hurricanes and strong winds that could cause severe damage.
Just as you can see from the photo, Nakatajima Sand Dunes is actually one of the largest sand dunes in Japan, running 4 kilometers long.
You can catch Hamamatsu Festival in May and enjoy hundreds of color kites floating in the sky, or you can come in August and if you are lucky, you may even witness baby sea turtles hatching!
I am beginning to think that Hamamatsu has endless educational fun for school-aged kids and an ideal destination for family vacations.
Mirai-Ra is a newly refurbished “science basecamp”, where visitors get to participate in active learning by interacting with various exhibitions.
How many Cheesies makes it enough cheesy?
One explores the theme of “nature”, “sound”, “light”, “power” and “space” in the respective zones. You can also find collaborations by Hamamatsu-born brands such as Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, and more. Isn’t it impressive how many of these world famous big brands are originated right here in Hamamatsu city?
Mirai-Ra aims to fosters scientific literacy in the community while also nurturing young science lovers. Why not spend an educational afternoon here with your little avid professor-wannabe?
If you have been to Shizuoka before, you would probably have heard or seen “unagi pie”, a really famous traditional snack perfect as souvenirs to bring home. Here’s their newly opened cafe, “Nicoe” – so sweet you will risk melting!
Other than super instagenic photo spots, the food totally exceeded my expectation too!
From pink-tile walls to all sorts of adorable sweets, Nicoe is the girly dream for all stylish cafe hoppers.
The final attraction I’d like to introduce is Ryotanji Temple, an ancestral temple with a history of over 1000 years, honoring 40 generations of the Ii samurai clan in the region since Nara period. (AD 710 to 794)
Basically, you could say that this is a family temple for the Ii family, maintained over a millennium till present day. How impressive is that?
There are so much history to delve deep into, including stories of Ii Naotora (井伊直虎), a female lord and Kanazawa Bunko, a collection of books believed to be some of the oldest in the world, if you love that kind of stuff. But for now I will spare you the nitty-gritty, and lead you to the main highlight of the temple instead.
This is the zen garden in the temple, a designated National Site of Scenic Beauty. It is said that the pond is designed in the shape that resembles the kanji “kokoro” (heart), with the rock formation carrying deep meanings for one to ponder. The garden changes its expression comes different seasons, and is best viewed from the temple’s veranda.
When in Hamamatsu, gyoza.
In a very close tug-of-war with Utsunomiya city of Tochigi prefecture, both rivals are vying for championship in being the gyoza capital of Japan. In 2011, gyoza sales in Hamamatsu were the highest in the country – overtaking Utsunomiya, which had held the top spot for 15 years. (This year however, a dark horse rose to prominence, and it is Miyazaki city, to everyone’s surprise.)
One distinctive characteristics of Hamamatsu Gyoza is that you will find boiled beansprouts in the center of the circular pan-fried dumpling, making it rather refreshing than its counterparts from other cities.
Japan-born unagi is so rare these days and sadly, wild-caught unagi is even harder to come by (most Japanese unagi are farm-raised these days), so I was ultra surprised to see the unagi buffet in Hotel Wellseason Hamanako. Most of the unagi you find in Japanese restaurants are important from other countries, unless proudly stated otherwise. For me, Japanese unagi tastes completely different. It may as well be a different fish.
For over a century, Lake Hamana has been the one of top producers of freshwater eels in Japan, so it is no wonder local restaurants here are able to offer really, really fresh eels in great volume!
When you come to Hamamatsu, remember to slot in at least a an unagi meal! There are many famous unagi specialty restaurants in town, and usually are really popular that some may require reservation in advance. I wanted to visit “Atsumi”, however there was a really long queue so I hopped over to “Unagi Yaotoku” (うなぎ八百徳) instead, which is very spacious and has enough seats to accommodate visitors quickly.
That’s all for my Tokai journey. Thank you for reading all 6 posts starting from Mie, Gifu, Aichi to Shizuoka (with Nagoya city and Hamamatsu city getting their exclusive highlights). I am off to explore even more places in Japan, and meanwhile, check out JAPAN by Japan for travel ideas, itinerary and a chance to win a pair of return flight tickets to Japan!
Also! Final announcement! I will be hosting an online talk session about my Tokai experience early next year, so follow me on Instagram to get updated!