Let’s go to Hamamatsu City, Japan
First stop, Nukumori no Mori
Within Hamamatsu City located at Shizuoka prefecture lies this quaint little village fashioned after medieval Europe called Nukumori no Mori, which means “The warm forest”. It was designed by Shigeyoshi Sasaki, an architect who had a flair for this type of architectural design. Stepping into this village would make you feel like you wandered into a Ghibli-inspired movie as the whole area was marketing Totoro and other Ghibli items. It’s not very big, but you can feel the heart and soul poured into making it.
To get there, you can ride the shinkansen to Hamamatsu Station, which is around 2 hours from Tokyo and Osaka. Once you arrive at the station, there is a tourist information center where you can obtain the bus timetables and get more information about the other areas in Hamamatsu. You can also view the timetable here. You have to take the bus heading towards Kanzan-ji and get off at Sujikai-bashi. The bus ride takes around 20 minutes. Once you get off Sujikai-bashi, the village is a short 3-minute walk. Almost everyone who gets off at this station is headed towards Nukumori no Mori, so you can’t miss it.
Nukumori no Mori has a number of shops selling Ghibli paraphernalia, and Mori-inspired clothing. You have to take note that the area is closed on Thursdays and a number of stores are closed on Fridays.
It has a cafe selling sweets, a restaurant, and a motor garage museum. While strolling the area, we also ran across this lady who was grilling sandwiches the old-fashioned way: using an iron stove. Of course, we just had to try one and it was grilled to perfection!
They have a restaurant called Douceur which offers 2-hour meals for lunch and dinner. The lunch timetable is 11:30~13:30 and 13:30~15:30. It’s required to make a reservation as their seating capacity is very small. We tried to get lunch here by just walking in but it was already full before it even opened and they didn’t accept any more customers (as noted on the sign by the door). You can contact them at 053-486-3868.
The area only has a few buildings but every one of them is picturesque and Instagram-worthy. Before leaving, we decided to have a snack in their cafe and bought some sweets to take home.
Step into a flowery world in Hamamatsu Flower Park
Another notable area in Hamamatsu is Hamamatsu Flower Park. To get there, you can return to Sujikai-bashi station again and ride the same bus heading towards Kanzan-ji. Make sure to step off the Flower Park bus stop.
A good place to eat unagi here is the mom-and-pop restaurant located right in front of the flower park. Hamamatsu is known for its eels from Lake Hamana, which are ranked highly in Japan, and I would have to agree that the eel served to me here is among the best I’ve tasted. They are said to have soft but well-developed muscles, the right amount of fat, and has a uniform quality all throughout. Some of them are cooked in the eastern style, which are split from the back and is served steamed with plain sauce, while others are cooked in the western style where they are cut from the belly, grilled, and then served with sweet sauce. You can find a lot of unagi restaurants in the area; there’s no shortage of them. This city is really full of little surprises.
Hamamatsu Flower Park is a 30,000 square meter area filled with 100,000 plants of 3,000 different species. It costs Y500 – Y1000 yen to enter (the price depends on the flowers blooming) but if you visit from July to September, entrance is completely free! Upon entering the flower park, we were greeted by a beautiful flower lady.
You can walk the whole park on foot (which may take quite a while since it’s a really big area) or you can ride the “Flower Train” which costs Y100 per ride and it stops on designated areas in the park.
The park is separated into multiple areas depending on the type of flowers growing. They have an indoor garden with a nice balcony and background you can take nice photos in. Upon walking in the indoor garden, aptly named the “Crystal Palace”, you can see the patio adorned with gorgeous flowers to welcome you.
They have elegant flower displays, and you can see old couples strolling in a whimsy around the area. The flower park is best enjoyed by spending a day there, because of the sheer size and variety of flowers that you can experience.
A taste of history at Hamamatsu Castle
Our last stop for this city is Hamamatsu Castle, or it is also called as Shusse Castle, a Hirayama-style Japanese castle, which is around a 20 minute walk from Hamamatsu station, or you can take a short bus ride to it again. The castle was first built on the site in 1532 by the Imagawa clan and was called Hikuma-jo, or Hikuma Castle. Tokugawa Ieyasu then conquered the castle in 1568 and he moved in permanently from Okazaki-jo in 1570. 7 years later, Tokugawa renovated and expanded the castle where it has now become known as Hamamatsu Castle. The main keep of the castle is just a reconstruction, but the stone palisade is the original from Tokugawa Ieyasu’s time.
I’m sure there are more surprises in store in this offbeat city of Japan, and I would definitely visit it again to sniff out more unknown treasures in the area. It’s brimming with history and culture, and I would definitely recommend this to people who want to experience something new in Japan.