In this episode of Solo Female Travel, I headed to Shizuoka Prefecture which is about 60 minutes away from either Tokyo or Nagoya. Its convenient location makes it a great spot for first time solo travellers who do not want to stray too far from the major cities. For this overnight trip, I visited Shizuoka and Hamamatsu - the two biggest cities in the prefecture in terms of population and size - on the first and second day respectively.
Shizuoka and Hamamatsu are both coastal cities that offer views of the Pacific Ocean, and their location along the ocean means that winters and summers tend to be mild. I visited at the end of February towards the tail end of winter and found the weather to be very pleasant. My itinerary for this trip started in Shizuoka where I went looking for views of Mount Fuji, went fruit picking then headed to the port for some seafood, before going to Hamamatsu where I would spend the night. On the second day, I went to see one of Japan's top three sand dunes, visited a museum, and rounded off my trip at Lake Hamanako.
From Tokyo, I took a short bullet train ride on the Tokaido Shinkansen to Shizuoka where my adventure would begin. I caught some views of Mount Fuji from the shinkansen, which pumped me up for the rest of the day to come.
At Shizuoka Station, I headed over to the bus terminal on the north side to catch a bus to the Nihondaira Plateau. The bus ride from the station to the last stop, Nihondaira Ropeway, takes about 45 minutes and costs 580 yen one way. From the last stop, I made my way to the nearby Nihondaira Yume Terrace which opened in November 2018. Designed by famous architect Kuma Kengo who is also in charge of the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Stadium, the Yume Terrace offers visitors views of Mount Fuji when the weather is clear as well as panoramic views of the plateau. There is also an exhibition area inside the terrace that is free to enter, and a cafe where visitors can have a leisurely drink while enjoying the scenic view.
After taking in the views, I took the Nihondaira Ropeway down to Kunozan Toshogu Shrine. The shrine is considered to be a spiritual spot in Shizuoka and is dedicated to Japan's first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who unified the country. He and his descendants governed Japan for the next 250 years in what is known as the Edo Period (1603 - 1868). The main hall at the shrine is quite an interesting structure which incorporates styles and techniques from the Momoyama Period (1573 - 1603). The structure was completed in a short span of 19 months in 1617, and 19 years before its more famous counterpart, the Nikko Toshogu.
There are lots of steps to climb on the grounds as the shrine is built on Mount Kunozan, and at the very top of the grounds lie the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Not far from the ropeway station is the Kunozan Toshogu Museum which I found to be quite interesting personally. There were swords and armours belonging to the various Tokugawa shogun on display, and I couldn't help thinking that people had really small frames back in the day!
Next on my itinerary was strawberry picking at the base of Mount Kunozan, and I went down over a thousand stone steps to the bottom. As a side note, before the Nihondaira Ropeway was constructed, the only way to access the Kunozan Toshogu Shrine was to climb all these stone steps from the bottom. There are supposedly 1159 stone steps between the torii gate at the base and the mausoleum at the top.
About eight kilometers of the coastline around the base of the mountain is lined with numerous strawberry farms and aptly nicknamed Ichigo Kaigan Street, or Strawberry Coast Street. I picked one that wasn't far from the shrine. Advance reservations are recommended, but if you're planning to try your luck on the day itself, your chances for a walk-in session would be higher during the first half of the day. Strawberry picking season along the Ichigo Street officially starts from January and lasts all the through to mid May, and picking prices vary during the season with January and February being the peak. Prices range from 1200 to 2000 yen for 30 minutes of all-you-can-eat strawberries at the farms.
Having gotten my sweet fix, I got on the bus back to Shizuoka Station and took a train to Shimizu Station. My destination there was Kashi no Ichi which is a fish market along Shimizu Port. I took a short walk along the port, taking in the sights of familiar canned food brands that had their warehouses at the port. One of the brands that stood out to me was Hagoromo Foods Corp which is a local company and a major player in the food industry. The company is also responsible for the term Sea Chicken - their registered trademark since 1958 - which has become the generic term to refer to canned tuna in Japan.
Another fun fact to know about Shimizu Port is that it brings in a large percentage of tuna in Japan in addition to other seafood. For the average traveller, this translates to the fish market and the nearby restaurants having a wide variety of seafood to choose from. I went to check out the fish market before eating at one of the restaurants there. There were a lot of options to choose from and all at affordable prices, and I had a hard time picking a restaurant to eat at. In the end, I went for one that gave me an opportunity to do a taste comparison of the different cuts of tuna, and it was quite interesting to try the different parts that aren't usually served at most seafood restaurants.
From Shimizu Station, I took the train back to Shizuoka Station where I changed to the Tokaido Shinkansen for Hamamatsu, and my total train journey took about 45 minutes. I checked in to my hotel not far from the station and walked around a little before calling it a night.
My second day began in Hamamatsu, a windy city that is also known as the City of Music. Top piano and musical instruments brands like Kawai, Yamaha and Roland were founded and have their headquarters in Hamamatsu, contributing to the city's musical reputation. Act Tower, which is right by Hamamatsu Station, is the tallest building in Shizuoka Prefecture at just over 200 meters and is shaped like a harmonica in homage to the city's reputation.
Keeping with the musical theme, I visited the Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments which is a short walk from the station. The two-story museum carries an impressive 1300 musical instruments from all over the world. It was the first time for me to visit such a museum where I got to see so many different kinds of musical instruments that reflected tradition and culture. There were also audio recordings of some lesser known instruments that visitors could listen to. I had a great time at the museum and also enjoyed going to the hands-on room to try my hands on all the instruments they had there.
After my solo concert to some unwitting museum visitors, I headed out reluctantly (and perhaps to the relief of my audience) to catch the bus to the Nakatajima Sand Dunes, considered to be part of one of the top three sand dunes in Japan. The bus ride took only ten minutes one way, and it was great to be able to access the beach so easily and conveniently from the city center.
One of the big festivals in the city is the Hamamatsu Festival that happens over three days during the Golden Week holidays in May. The festival is quite impressive and feature day and night time activities. From about 18:30 in the evening, about 80 festival floats are pulled through the city at night and on which children play traditional musical instruments and sing. In the daytime, there is a kite competition at Nakatajima Sand Dunes and teams would utilise the tension of the line on their flying kite to cut the lines of other kites. The kites are typically massive and have a diameter of around two meters, and the competition is quite a sight with many of these massive kites flying in the sky and the teams running around trying to control them.
Unfortunately for me, I wasn't there during the festival and had to settle for a view of the sand dunes and the Pacific Ocean. It was slightly difficult to tear myself away from the beach, but I was ultimately successful.
If yesterday's specialties of strawberries and tuna have gotten you hungry, be assured that Hamamatsu can hold its own and offers its own unique local specialties as well. Gyoza is common as a side dish at ramen or Chinese restaurants in Japan, but here in Hamamatsu, there are dedicated gyoza restaurants that serve it as a main dish. I went for a quick lunch of Hamamatsu gyoza at the station and found out what made the city's gyoza stand out. The ingredients that go into Hamamatsu gyoza typically consist of only cabbage, onions and ground pork, and the conventional way of serving it is in a circle with blanched beansprouts in the middle.
Next on my list was Lake Hamanako. There were a few things on my list to see here: the observation deck at the upper station of the Kanzanji Ropeway and the Hamamatsu Flower Park. Frequently departing local buses from Hamamatsu Station go to Kanzanji Onsen, and the one way journey takes about 50 minutes. I took the bus to the Hamamatsu Pal Pal bus stop from where it was a stone's throw to Kanzanji Ropeway. The ropeway ride took less than five minutes, and I soon found myself with a gorgeous panoramic view of Hamanako. From the observation deck, I could see Hamamatsu city and Act Tower to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the south, including the long bridge that the Tokaido Shinkansen crosses where the lake meets the ocean. I spent some time admiring the view before taking the ropeway back down and going for a short walk along the lakeshore.
I walked from the bottom ropeway station along the lake towards Kanzanji Temple and passed a footbath as well as a small floating hall in the lake, before making my way to Hamamatsu Flower Park. The flower park is relatively small, and a leisurely stroll through would take about one to two hours. Plum blossoms as well as early flowering cherry blossoms were in bloom when I was there, and I also saw the park gardeners preparing for the upcoming tulip and rose seasons. The greenhouse had some tropical plants, providing ample flora to see at the flower park.
For my final meal in Hamamatsu, I went for unagi, freshwater eel, which the city is famous for. Unagi in Hamamatsu is typically farmed in the waters of Lake Hamanako. There are a number of unagi restaurants and places serving the dish in the Hamanako area as well as in the city. I decided on an unagi restaurant in the city with a history of over 100 years and had a very delicious eel dinner. It was the perfect way to end my trip, and I look forward for coming back again perhaps during the festival next time.
Getting There and Around
Shizuoka and Hamamatsu stations are served by the Hikari and Kodama trains along the Tokaido Shinkansen. Local buses with regular departures from these two stations provide further access to the sightseeing spots mentioned above.
The Entetsu Burari Kippu, a one day pass, is available for 1540 yen in Hamamatsu. The pass covers all the local buses to the attractions mentioned in this article as well as the Entetsu Railway which runs between Shin Hamamatsu and Nishi Kajima stations.