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Exploring central Japan

4-day roadtrip through central Japan

Day 2 of 4: Outdoor fun by Lake Hamana and Achi Village in the mountains

The following itinerary is the second day of a 4-day road trip through Central Japan.

Continuing where I left off, Day 2 began with a drive and ferry ride across Ise Bay to Lake Hamana. Today's journey took me along the Pacific Coast and inland to Achi Village tucked away in the mountains near the southern Japanese Alps, where I would spend the night.

Lake Hamana, Shizuoka Prefecture

Lake Hamana is a lake in Hamamatsu City at the western edge of Shizuoka Prefecture. The lake used to be a freshwater one until about 500 years ago when an earthquake connected it to the Pacific Ocean. The brackish lake is home to an abundance of sea life that have thrived in its waters like unagi, freshwater eel, seaweed and suppon soft-shell turtles, which make up some of the local delicacies in the area. Lake Hamana has a circumference of about 130 kilometers, and sightseeing attractions on its shores include a hot spring town in the eastern end and flower parks.

Hamamatsu is known throughout Japan for its unagi, freshwater eel, and this delicious delicacy has been farmed in the waters of Lake Hamana for over a hundred years. My day around Lake Hamana started at the southern end of the lake for an unagi activity. My destination was Kaikokan, the center where the activity took place. A pick up service to Kaikokan from Hamamatsu Station or any of the hotels in Hamamatsu is available as well as an English-speaking translator during the activities, so you can be sure of a full understanding. Note that advance reservations are recommended for the activities.

The three-hour unagi activity I joined had some unique experiences like catching the slippery eel and grilling it. Of course, the highlight for me was eating the grilled unagi. I found the entire activity to be an eye-opener and left with much appreciation for the farmers rearing unagi and the chefs who prepare this dish at restaurants.

With my stomach full, I headed a short ways north along the shores of Lake Hamana for my next activity at ISK Hamanako, a go-karting facility. Go-karting is fun for all ages and does not require a driving license, although there is a minimum height requirement. There are a number of kart engines with top speeds ranging from 40 km/h to over 80 km/h. While these speeds may seem pretty tame in a car, sitting in an open kart means that even the lowest speed feels like driving at around 80 km/h, and gives anyone driving an adrenaline rush.

Raring to go, I picked my kart, sat through a short lecture on safety and the circuit, got my helmet, and I was off! The approximately 500 meter circuit provided a good variety of straights, curves and turns, enough for me to pretend that I was a great Formula One driver. I started off with five laps, and after a short break and review of my first run, added another five laps to my session. I had lots of fun and could see this being a really enjoyable activity for groups who can then race against one another.

End of Day 2 in Achi Village, Nagano Prefecture

As it approached late afternoon, I left Lake Hamana and made my way to Achi Village in Nagano Prefecture, where I would spend the night. Located in the mountainous region between Nagano and Gifu prefectures, Achi Village is known to be a great stargazing spot thanks to low light pollution in the area. My destination for the night was Hirugami Onsen, a hot spring town in the village.

I took a stroll after dinner to see some stars and was not disappointed at all. For those who want to have an almost 360 degree view of the night sky, there is a night tour, which takes visitors up to the nearby mountain by cable car. Those who wish to participate should check the tour schedule and weather before going.

Access

The Central Nippon Expressway Pass is the best and most economical pass for overseas travelers who are planning to explore central Japan by car. The pass is an expressway toll card (ETC), which is to be inserted into the ETC reader in the car, and allows the holder to use the expressways in central Japan for a flat fee. This fee varies depending on the number of days the pass is valid for, which is from 2 to 14 days. Detailed information is available on the official website.

Approximate driving times

  • Ago Bay to Lake Hamana: 200 minutes
  • Lake Hamana to Achi Village: 150 minutes

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