Shizuoka: Exploring Beyond Mt. Fuji

Eastern Shizuoka has so much natural beauty to offer including the famous Mount Fuji. So I struggled to find a reason to keep exploring further into the prefecture. But if you look beyond the Fuji area, you will find a whole other world of travel possibilities. New discoveries await you from Shizuoka City down to the city of Hamamatsu. Read on and explore the coasts and mountains of the western part of this prefecture with me.

Releasing Turtles Into The Sea In Hamamatsu -- Photo by Diego Rojas
As a huge fan of the mighty "Fuji-san" (Mount Fuji), my knowledge about the rest of Shizuoka was embarrassingly close to zero. Lucky for me, Odigo sent me on a mission to try some cool hands-on experiences in the Western Shizuoka area. Pen in hand, I began to make a list of all the recommended activities -- things you could DO not just see!
Quickly, I realized that the four days assigned for this trip would not be enough to try everything the Shizuoka tourism office recommends. I went ahead and chose the most outdoorsy and interactive spots. Seeing that this region offers appealing art as well, I added a couple of art-related detours to the plan.

On The Road In Western Shizuoka -- Photo by Diego Rojas

Road Tripping

I like being on the road and truly enjoy road trips so I rented a car rather than taking the Shinkansen. Based on how spread out all the activities were, I figured driving was the best option to see as much as possible in the short time I had. I also cherish those moments when I drive down a desolated road in the countryside or through the mountains. I enjoy stopping at my own leisure to take a photo or simply take in all the beauty.

Pottery Class at Acty Mori -- Photo by Diego Rojas
From Tokyo, I headed out on the Tomei Highway. This road tends to be packed on the weekends. But during the week, the highway is pretty empty and simply awesome for driving. The scenic stop overlooking Suruga Bay in Numazu was the perfect place for a much-needed break from the driving. The vista was a good preamble of the stunning nature that awaited me ahead.

Art in Sumpu Park in Shizuoka City -- Photo by Diego Rojas

Shizuoka "Art City"

I started out in Shizuoka City, which technically is not in Western Shizuoka. But as it lies on the way to Hamamatsu and the prefecture's capital I wanted to include it. And I am glad I did -- the city is small, yet big enough to keep you entertained. The central part of the city around Sumpu Park was especially charming. To my surprise, downtown had a diverse display of art along the sidewalks, in the parks and along the pedestrian Gofukucho-dori Street. Both the Shizuoka Prefectural Office and City Hall also caught my attention and deserved a closer look. Oh, and the soba buckwheat noodles in this town are delish, making it a great stop to fuel up on the way to Hamamatsu.

The Prefectural Office in Shizuoka City -- Photo by Diego Rojas

Exploring Hamamatsu

Leaving Shizuoka City behind me, I got closer to my destination. The mountains got greener and I began to see the countless fields of green tea plantations adorning the hills in every direction. Once I reached Hamamatsu, the air completely changed, indicating that I had arrived at a coastal town. This small city was my base for the days to come. And although the area is more industrial and less attractive than the surrounding countryside, the downtown is still vibrant night and day and offers many interesting options for travelers. A couple of highlights worth mentioning besides the hands-on activities I set out to do were the Maisaka Torii at Bentenjima Seaside Park and the Daiichi-dori night district. The former is a great summer spot and low tides even allow shell digging. The latter is where locals gather until well into the night for dining and drinking. I particularly recommend Nakanosho Restaurant for mouthwatering eel, the Lord Nelson British Pub for local craft beer, and Za-Watami if izakaya food is your preference.

Picking Nashi Pears at Hamamatsu Fruit Park Tokinosumika -- Photo by Diego Rojas

Trying New Experiences

For the next three days, I felt so fortunate while I was taking part in many fun activities. I joined a pottery class and tried my hand at Soba making in the town of Mori or, as the locals call it, Morimachi. I went green tea leaf picking in Shimada City and rode a Yamaha speed bike simulator in Iwata. Releasing loggerhead turtles and picking pears and blueberries in Hamamatsu were wonderful experiences. Along the way, I got to taste Shizuoka's green tea, gyoza and the fresh-water eels of Lake Hamana, for which the prefecture is especially known. I also had the chance to sample a local, traditional dish at an authentic farmhouse: Ochazuke, which is basically rice in green tea with topped pickles. I visited temples and walked around the famous Nakatajima Sand Dunes, the third largest sand dunes in Japan. The art fan that I am, I even got my art fix at the magical Akino Fuku Art Museum in the Tenryu area north of Hamamatsu.

Learning How to Make Buckwheat Noodles at Hottori Soba -- Photo by Diego Rojas
But most importantly, I rejoiced in interacting with locals every step of the way. This trip reaffirmed the idea I had of the friendliness, love of a simple life and humbleness that the Japanese people of the countryside hold in their spirit. I am definitely sold on this region of Japan. And I am looking forward to heading back there in the near future to continue my explorations of its hidden gems.

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Diego Rojas