Friday, September 22, 2023

[SHIZUOKA] Another Castle and Mount Fuji from Afar

To say that there is nothing to see in the prefecture of Shizuoka is a gross exaggeration. After all, isn’t the majestic Mount Fuji itself straddling its border with Yamanashi? But I don’t want to climb that dormant volcano. All I wanted was to see it from afar, and Shizuoka the city has a handful of options for that. Unfortunately, just like any other tourist activity reliant on weather, whether the mountain will show up is totally up to the sun and the clouds. When I went to Miho no Matsubara, Fuji decided to stand me up.

Nah, it’s not the first time. Imagine me half a decade ago dragging myself all the way to Iceland to see the northern lights just for the weather not to permit it. That is the caveat, children. So, my suggestion is to stay a few days so you will have more chances. What is Miho no Matsubara anyway? Well, let’s start with Shizuoka. This prefecture is halfway between Kanto and Kansai, in a region aptly referred to as Chubu, whose Kanji literally translates to “Middle Region”.

Shizuoka is the name of the prefecture as well as the capital city, but it’s Hamamatsu close to Nagoya that is the largest. This might give you a dilemma as to where to build a base in the prefecture. All I can say is that if you come here for Mount Fuji, then Shizuoka is the best place to book accommodations. It’s closer to the mountain if you plan to actually go and climb. At the same time, the city itself offers several areas where the mountain can be seen from afar. Again, weather permitting.

Since I landed at Nagoya’s Centrair airport in the neighboring Aichi prefecture, I took advantage of the direct bus to Hamamatsu. Entetsu’s direct bus costs JPY3,200 (~PHP1,200) and takes two hours. Hamamatsu has its own castle and the train ride to Shizuoka takes just an hour for a measly JPY1,340 (~PHP500) if you opt for the slower Tokaido Line. The Shinkansen costs more than double but cuts the travel time to just half an hour. Choose accordingly. As for me, what’s the rush?

Hamamatsu castle is your typical Japanese castle with green and gold stylings. It is atop a low hill overlooking a park. The premises offer you the similar Japanese castle experience but to a smaller scale. You have a red tori, a statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu and, of course, the castle itself. As with most castles in Japan that were destroyed either during the second World War or way beforehand, the building is now just a restoration and the interior has been converted into a museum. The 360 degree view of downtown Hamamatsu from the rooftop will defo serve as one of your highlights.

Since I still had to head to Shizuoka because my capsule hotel is there, I just admired the façade of the ACT City tower on the terraces right next to it. From there, you can just use the footbridge to go back to the main train station. What really tickled my fancy about Hamamatsu, though, is the ubiquity of Portuguese signs everywhere. Unlike Macau, though, Hamamatsu is said to be home to the bulk of Nipo-Brazilians who immigrated back to Japan, so I guess the language serves more than a token ceremonial function here.

Shizuoka the city is way smaller. It did bore me but I can’t complain because Japan, no matter where you are, places a premium on convenience. Shizuoka was supposed to be the highlight of this trip if only I managed to see that Mount Fuji backdrop from Miho no Matsubara. Since that did not happen, I guess it’s safe to declare Hamamatsu Castle as this trip’s climax. But you should defo check out Miho no Matsubara if you are already in the area anyway.

From Shizuoka’s main train station, take any train to Shimizu for JPY240 (~PHP90). That’s a mere ten-minute ride. It’s the 257 bus ride from Shimizu to the East Orido stop that takes more than half an hour and costs JPY340 (~PHP130). From there, you just have to take a stroll through a residential area until you see the pine trees. The pebble beach itself is lackluster and full of gravel of different sizes. There are three viewpoints that are clearly marked. Walking along the bay all the way up to Tokai Uni’s aquarium at the north of the peninsula will take you more than an hour.

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