For a hot minute now, Shizuoka Prefecture’s city of Hamamatsu has been on my bucket list. Though I first got to visit back in 2021 for Tokyo Creative’s #HostTownRelay, I really never had enough time to thoroughly explore all of Hamamatsu. Thankfully, the gods of Japan recently deemed that it was time for me to set things straight and finally see what the city had to offer. For a work assignment, I was tasked with heading down to Hamamatsu to shoot a series of shots for their social media. Seeing as I circled enough locales to source a full area guide, I figured I might as well also recount my adventures here for everyone.
Before we get into the weeds, allow me to first preface the following three-day reminiscence of my time in Hamamatsu by stating that I don’t dare suggest you spend that long in the city. As amazing as Hamamatsu is, there’s so much more of Japan to explore. At most, I’d recommend that you give Hamamatsu a solid day and half. In the upcoming sections, I’ll detail everywhere I went during my trio of days in Hamamatsu. Rather than look to mimic my route, I’d instead encourage you to pick and choose from the attractions that best match with your interests.
Note that unlike with most of my other area guides, I’ll be opting to write in the first person when retelling my outing in Hamamatsu. While I realize that this might be less informative for you, the reader, I still don’t really have a solid grasp on what a good route is due to the nature of my visit and my reliance on taxis. As such, you’d do well to do some planning and digging on your own to concoct something that is logistically sound…
How to Get There
Speaking of important logistics, let’s start off this exposé on Hamamatsu by first explaining where the city is located. Basically, Hamamatsu is sandwiched halfway between Tokyo and Japan’s former capital of Kyoto. If you’ve ever been to Kyoto or Osaka on the bullet train, you’ve gone through Hamamatsu; It’s that part of the Tokaido Shinkansen route that goes over a large lake. Known in English as Lake Hamana (or Hamanako in Japanese), this brackish lagoon sits on the westernmost edge of the city and is deeply connected to many of Hamamatsu’s top attractions.
Seeing as the bullet train literally goes right over Lake Hamana, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising to hear that the city of Hamamatsu is easily accessed from both Tokyo and Nagoya. Unfortunately, most overseas visitors to Japan just whizz by en route to the temples of Kyoto. Especially for holders of JR rail passes though, I cannot more highly recommend that you hop off at a city like Hamamatsu and experience a part of Japan that many tourists skip. While it need not necessarily be Hamamatsu itself, there’s a ton of locations to see in between Tokyo and the Kansai region!
To reach Hamamatsu, you’re going to want to take one of the Hikari or Kodama bullet trains as the super express Nozomi-class trains skip Hamamatsu Station. Assuming that you’re coming from Tokyo, the entire journey should clock in at around 80 minutes or so. Seeing as the city of Hamamatsu can be found relatively equidistant between Tokyo and Osaka, you can expect similar travel times if you’re approaching from the west. All in all, getting to Hamamatsu is quite easy. Alas, transportation gets a little bit trickier after you arrive as much of the region is serviced only by buses.
In terms of accomodations, there are a number of places where you could spend the night. Which you go with will largely depend on what you’re planning to see. During my three days in Hamamatsu, I stayed over near the edge of Lake Hamana on the first night and then at Okura Act City Hotel Hamamatsu on the second. Of the two, I vastly prefer the latter. Though it was rather pricey, the view of Hamamatsu City from this 145-meter-tall skyscraper is truly to die for.
Hamamatsu City: Day One
The first location on my Hamamatsu itinerary was the Yamaha INNOVATION ROAD Corporate Museum. Located a few stops away from Hamamatsu Station, this interesting facility chronicles much of Yamaha’s long corporate heritage and culture. Inside, you’ll find homages to the company’s history as well as the areas where it is looking to innovate in the near future. If you’re a fan of creating music, this is definitely a place that you should consider checking out. For everyone else though, I’d wager the Yamaha INNOVATION ROAD Corporate Museum is somewhere that would be safe to skip.
After snapping plenty of shots of the vintage guitars and mind bogglingly complex music mixers on display at the Yamaha INNOVATION ROAD Corporate Museum, I headed over to Hamamatsu Castle. Though the present day incarnation is naught but a mere reconstruction, the site has a lot of symbolic significance as a historical landmark. To make a rather long story short, many of the keep’s stewards (one of which was Tokugawa Ieyasu himself) became incredibly prominent figures. Inside of Hamamatsu Castle, you’ll find a small museum which is great for the history buffs out there.
When I had concluded my exploration of Hamamatsu Castle, it was time to head over towards Lake Hamana. While the more urbanized parts of Hamamatsu are indeed appealing, the majority of the city’s allures lay around Lake Hamana. Chief among these is of course Hamanako Pal Pal. This amusement park can be found on Lake Hamana’s eastern banks and has about 30 different attractions to enjoy. Included amongst the fun is a mega roller coaster, a rapids ride and shooting games that are quite popular with kids. If you’re traveling with your family, Hamanako Pal Pal is definitely one to consider.
I, for one, am not really the type that is into amusement parks so I opted to skip Hamanako Pal Pal. Instead, I took the chance to explore the temple grounds of Kanzan-ji. Allegedly established by the storied monk Kukai in the year 810, this ancient temple is a good alternative to the roller coasters for those of you who are like myself. The grounds have a footpath to follow that will take you past a number of smaller shrines and other objects of worship that include a 16-meter-tall effigy of Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion.
In addition to being home to Kanzan-ji itself, the area around the temple is also a hot spring town. Oh so creatively named Kanzan-ji Onsen, this is an excellent place to stay the night should you be looking to follow in my footsteps. During my stint in Hamamatsu, I was actually slated to stay at a place atop the 723-meter-high Mt. Okusa called KAReN HaMaNaKo Kanzan-jiso. Formerly a national inn, this recently renovated facility was designed to inspire innovation and help its patrons better achieve mental and physical health. All in all, it’s definitely a unique place to stay with incredible views.
Now, as you might expect, getting up to KAReN HaMaNaKo Kanzan-jiso is not exactly easy given that it’s located atop a small mountain. While you can make the hike on foot, the better way of reaching the summit is to take the Kanzan-ji Ropeway. It’s the only one of its kind in all over Japan that travels over a body of water and the ride up has some amazing views of the lake and even Mt. Fuji on a clear day. What’s more, the ropeway will also let you off at the Hamanako Music Box Museum which has some amazing relics from a bygone age. If you stay at KAReN HaMaNaKo Kanzan-jiso you absolutely shouldn’t miss it!
Hamamatsu City: Day Two
After spending a relaxing night at KAReN HaMaNaKo Kanzan-jiso (and enjoying a soak in one of its baths with a view), I started my second day off with a visit to the lovely Hamamatsu Flower Park. Comprising over 30,000 square meters, this space is home to a myriad of plant species. Here, you can enjoy all sorts of flora throughout the year. That said, the best time to visit Hamamatsu Flower Park is between the middle of February and the early weeks of March. Around this time, many of the plants in the park start to bloom. Some of the top Hamamatsu Flower Park highlights are plum and cherry blossom variants that can only be found on the grounds.
After thoroughly enjoying Hamamatsu Flower Park, I hopped in a taxi and headed north to Hamamatsu City’s Tenryu Ward. Here, I was tasked with photographing a number of the many museums that are in the area. My first stop was the Honda Soichiro Craftsmanship Center which honors the life and craftsmanship of the founder of Honda (yes, the car company). Thereafter, I took a short walk over to the Huku Akino Art Museum. Here, in the forested hills of her birthplace, you’ll find a wonderful curation of many of Huku Akino’s best works. Note that photos are forbidden inside so I’ll direct those wanting a visual to Google instead.
While the aforementioned museums were indeed nice, what I was really looking forward to in Tenryu Ward was the Tenryu-Futamata Station’s turntable and rail museum. As can be seen above, this site was recently used for inspiration in the animated film Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time. As you might imagine, it’s become something of a pilgrimage site for fans of the franchise. Unfortunately, Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time was released during the pandemic. That means that overseas lovers of the series have yet to be able to enjoy Tenryu-Futatama Station. If you love Evangelion be sure to add it to the list once the borders reopen!
After getting a chance to see the turntable in action, I hopped aboard one of the Evangelion-themed trains that run on the Tenryu Hamanako Railway. My last stop for my second day in Hamamatsu City was Meijiya Shoyu. First established in the late 1800s, this soy sauce maker has been passed down within the family across the generations. Those who venture inside will feel like they’ve been whisked away to a bygone era where little has changed since the 19th century. What’s more, Meijiya Shoyu also offers tours where you can learn about the intricacies of making soy sauce which I highly recommend.
Once I had been thoroughly shocked at just how similar the moldy process of creating soy sauce is to that of making nihonshu and shochu, it was time to head back to downtown Hamamatsu. As mentioned, I’d be staying at Hotel Okura Act City Hamamatsu in the iconic ACT CITY. This tower is one of the most iconic buildings in all of Hamamatsu and affords killer views of all of the city. Though it will cost you a pretty penny to stay here, the epic vistas that await you are more than worth it. That said, there is an observatory on the top floor that’s open to all too should you elect to lodge elsewhere…
Hamamatsu City: Day Three
My final action-packed day in Hamamatsu City was by far my favorite. I started the morning off by visiting an ancient Zen temple called Ryotan-ji with over a millennia of history to its name. Found in Hamamatsu’s Kita Ward, this tranquil space was considered to be a family temple of the Ii clan that ruled over Shiga Prefecture during the Edo period (1603–1868). It features a special floor that was designed to mimic the cry of a nightingale that was supposed to alert worshipers to any intruders. Along with a dragon in the main hall, this security measure was crafted by none other than Hidari Jingoro, one of Japan’s most iconic woodworkers.
Directly next to Ryotan-ji was the quaint Iinoya-gu. Founded in 1872, this shrine is dedicated to Prince Muneyoshi, the son of Emperor Godaigo. These days Prince Muneyoshi is believed to be a guardian deity of academic achievement, success in school, longevity, disaster prevention, and good fortune. The omikuji fortune slips here actually have eel-like characteristics in homage to the fact that eel is one of the meibutsu or famous dishes of Hamamatsu. While you’re in city, I highly suggest you give eel a try. It’s supposed to be super nutritious and is really tasty too.
Anyway, in addition to the pair that is Ryotan-ji and Iinoya-gu, I also suggest you check out the nearby Iyi Shrine. Behind the main hall, you’ll find a hill known as Yakushiyama. Here, there are a number of large boulders that are beautifully strewn about the hillside. It’s believed that these stones are the remnants of an ancient ritual site known as Tenpaku Iwakura. Allegedly, these behemoth-sized boulders were thought to be stones that held the spirits of deities during the early midsts of time. While the site was once in disarray, scholars have been studying it over the past few decades and have found all sorts of artifacts around the megaliths.
After enjoying Hamamatsu’s more historical and spiritual sides, I hopped into yet another taxi and made my way to Shunkado’s Unagi Pie Factory. The eel-flavored confections are a symbol of Hamamatsu and are therefore a popular souvenir to bring back from the city. At the Unagi Pie Factory, visitors can see how the unagi pies are made and learn the secret to their delicious taste. Additionally, the second floor of the Unagi Pie Factory is also home to a posh cafe. Here, you can enjoy cute parfaits that make extensive use of, you guessed it, unagi pies! While I am not that much of a sweets connoisseur, even I enjoyed my dessert-for-lunch!
Full of unagi pies and dairy products that I knew I’d later regret, I hailed yet another taxi and made a beeline for Hamamatsu’s beautiful isle of Bentenjima. While I could never recommend this route to normal travelers, the powers that be were footing the bills and I was on a mission to photograph as much of the city as I could. Specifically at Bentenjima, I was attracted to the iconic vermilion torii (pictured above) that seemingly floats above the water à la the archway at Miyajima. In addition to this Instagrammable torii, many tourists also flock to Bentenjima for its onsen facilities and beaches.
Note: The best shots can only be taken during the winter when the sun sets between Bentenjima’s torii.
Once I had taken a few too many shots of Bentenjima’s iconic torii, it was time to start making my way towards my final destination in Hamamatsu City. En route though, I needed to first make a pitstop at the Hamamatsu Festival Museum in Enshunada Coastal Park. This facility showcases a number of artifacts related to the Hamamatsu Festival, an annual celebration that is held from May 3–5 every year. The revelry is known nationwide for its impressive festival floats and epic kite-flying battles. Even if you can’t make the festival in person, you can still learn about it via the curations at the Hamamatsu Festival Museum.
Eventually, after promising myself that I’d one day return for the Hamamatsu Festival, I at last hoofed it the final few minutes over to the Nakatajima Sand Dunes. Easily mistaken for the famous Tottori Sand Dunes, the Nakatajima Sand Dunes are one serious hidden gem. The sandy expanse extends 0.6 km from north to south and 4 km from east to west. While I of course encourage people to visit the ever-iconic Tottori Sand Dunes, getting to a prefecture that rural is often quite hard for many tourists. Thankfully though, the Nakatajima Sand Dunes are an easy to reach alternative for those going to Kyoto.
By the way, if you happen to be visiting during the summer, you might just have the rare chance to catch some loggerhead turtles laying their eggs on the Nakatajima Sand Dunes. These are then protected and later released by a local nonprofit organization so that the babies are not harmed by the threats of modernity. Additionally, the Nakatajima Sand Dunes are also often used as a filming location for movies and dramas. If you’re lucky, you just might come across a shoot in progress.
Other Nearby Attractions
Would you believe that, despite being now around 3,000 words into this treatise on my adventures in Hamamatsu, there’s still more to the city that I didn’t cover? That’s right! I’ve honestly only begun to scratch the surface of what is on offer here in Hamamatsu, a city that most overseas visitors just whizz by on Kyoto-bound bullet trains. Though there’s a lot of overlap with what I’ve written, you can find some additional inspiration in this article by the Hamamatsu & Lake Hamana Tourism Bureau. That piece should be a good start and will combine well with the locations that I’ve introduced.
One other spot that was long on my bucket list was Akihasan Hongu Akiha Shrine (pictured above) in the northern reaches of Hamamatsu’s Tenryu Ward. This ancient sanctuary is actually comprised of a pair of upper and lower shrines. Of these, the upper shrine is the one that you see most often featured on social media. Perched atop of the nearly 900-meter-tall Mt. Akiha, Akihasan Hongu Akiha Shrine’s upper shrine boasts a golden gate called the “Torii of Happiness” that is perfect for the Gram. If you’re on the hunt for a great, off of the beaten path attraction to add to your itinerary look no further!
Until next time travelers…