Quenching your need for speed and gyoza.
Hamamatsu in the western part of Shizuoka Prefecture is the most populated city in the entire prefecture, yet it’s often bypassed by travelers whose eyes remain fixed on the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji in its eastern half.
But if you just scratch the surface, there’s enough in this central Japan city to keep you occupied all weekend. Hamamatsu can satisfy almost any traveler — the discerning foodie, the matsuri (festival) diehard, the nature seeker, the amateur gambler, and the castle photographer. What exactly does the city have to offer? Let’s dig in!
Food and drink in Hamamatsu
Hamamatsu holds its own when it comes to delicious local food. In fact, Hamamatsu’s gyozas (dumplings) rank as one of the five famous foods you’ll find in Shizuoka. The city is the nation’s capital for the highest consumption of gyozas per person.
Hamamatsu is also home to Hananomai Sake Brewery. Founded in 1864, the brewery uses pure groundwater from the Southern Alps and Shizuoka-grown rice to make its quality sake. Tour the facility to learn about sake production firsthand, taste the good stuff, and receive a complimentary bottle of sake. Even if your Japanese isn’t great, guided tours, complete with a bottle of sake to take home, are available in English, Chinese, Indonesian and Portuguese.
The city is also well known for unagi (eels) which live in Lake Hamana. The eel served here is not only fresh but also a fraction of the price you’re likely to pay in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas in Japan. Even if you’re not that keen on unagi, you can take your taste buds on a mini adventure with the unagi pie. Although it sounds strange, this eel pie is not what you would expect. First off, it’s a cookie rather than a pie and the eel extract is virtually undetectable. Unagi pies make the perfect omiyage (souvenir) and you can even tour the Shunkado Unagi Pie Factory for free.
Or how about learning the secrets of shoyu (soy sauce)? Meijiya Shoyu has been in the soy sauce brewing business in Hamamatsu since 1875 and allows behind-the-scenes tours for interested travelers. At this family-run business, you can even experience pressing and tasting your own soy sauce.
Sightseeing in Hamamatsu
Hamamatsu Castle should not be missed. The original castle was built by Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate (military government). Here, you’ll find a museum and observation deck for clear views of the city. Although the current structure is a reconstruction, the grounds are quite stunning during sakura (cherry blossom) season and are a popular spot with locals for hanami (flower-viewing) parties.
Nakatajima Sand Dunes is also a great place to check out nature and one of the city’s most famous festivals — Hamamatsu Festival takes place here every year during Golden Week, from May 3-5. Locals hold a friendly kite-fighting competition to celebrate a tradition that started over four centuries ago. The festival culminates in a night parade of floats in the city.
Another major festival in Hamamatsu is the Enshu Hamakita Hiryu (Flying Dragon) Festival. It celebrates the Tenryu River’s ruling dragon god, Ryujin. One of the festival highlights is a massive dragon kite that flutters by day and sparkles by night.
After the summer festival fun, between August and October on the dunes, don’t miss the release of loggerhead turtle hatchlings into the ocean.
If you have a need for speed, Hamamatsu is also the place for powerboat racing, one of the few sports you can legally bet on in Japan. Experience Japanese speedboat racing at Boat Race Hamanako stadium where you can take a tour of the facilities, learn how to place bets, watch four thrilling races, and maybe, just maybe, make some extra cash!
Because Hamamatsu is the capital of musical instrument production in Japan, boasting of big brands like Kawai, Yamaha, and Tokai, it’s no surprise that the city also has plenty to entice music lovers. Every three years, Hamamatsu hosts an international piano festival. There’s also the well-stocked Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments where you can get hands-on with many instruments, including the Japanese reed organ, djembe drums and the steelpan from Trinidad and Tobago.
Hamamatsu might not be the first place you think of journeying to in Japan, but there is truly more than meets the eye here to make for an authentic Japan experience.