Where do you live and what’s it like?
I live in Hamamatsu, which is a large city in Shizuoka Prefecture, right in the middle of Japan. Despite a population of over 800,000, Hamamatsu is not considered a major city by many people, and it’s certainly not somewhere that the average tourist would visit. However, Hamamatsu is an exciting and very international city. There are around 19,000 Japanese/Brazilians working in Hamamatsu, and a large number of expats from Brazil and many other countries living and working here. There is a really strong Brazilian influence in the city, and you can even catch small Brazilian street carnivals and events sometimes. Hamamatsu is a lot more spread out than Nagoya (where I used to live). There’s a lot of countryside in the surrounding areas and I can even see mountains in the distance on a clear day. People say that you need a car to get around, but I’ve been managing pretty well on the buses and trains, which have a fair bit of signage in English.
What is your town known for?
Hamamatsu is famous for two things: eel and the Hamamatsu Festival. Eel (unagi) is famous here, and eels are caught in nearby Lake Hamana. Even if you feel a bit squeamish about trying eel, I recommend hitsumabushi (grilled eel on rice), which is absolutely delicious. The Hamamatsu Festival happens annually from May 3 to 5. It’s a spectacular event, including a kite battle on the beach during the day, and parades of large floats around the town at night. The city comes alive with the sounds of the festival, and doesn’t sleep for three days!
What do you think are some must-do attractions in Hamamatsu?
Some people are very negative about Hamamatsu because, let’s face it, it’s not Tokyo. But there are actually so many things to do here. There’s a small castle that is a good spot for autumn leaf viewing, the Hamamatsu Festival, which I mentioned above, and the Museum of Musical Instruments where you can play instruments from around the world. If you’re willing to be a bit adventurous, there are also a lot of off-the-beaten-track attractions that you can reach by bus, such as the Ryugashido Caves, Kanzanji Hot Springs, Birdpia Hamakita Bird Park, and Nakatajima Sand Dunes. The Tourist Information Centre in the station has a great pamphlet in English that gives more information about these places. Also, Hamamatsu is known as the “city of music.” There are often musical events, such as taiko drumming or local bands playing by the station, and many of these events are free.
Where is the best place to buy the food you miss from home?
There’s a foreign food store called Seijyouishii in the basement of May One, which is the department store connected to Hamamatsu Station (it has a red sign and just says supermarket in English). It’s not huge, but I think it covers all the main things. I always find it hard to get food from England in Japan, but I can find a lot of American and Australian food here, and they do also stock my beloved Dorset Cereal (for homesickness emergencies!).
Where can you buy books and media in your native language?
My life generally revolves around the May One department store in the station. There’s a bookstore on the eighth floor called Yajimaya, which has the best selection of English books in town. They also have a fairly large selection of Japanese study books. I mean, it’s nothing compared to the selection you would find in Tokyo, or even Nagoya, but it’s enough to tide me over until another care package comes from home. Another good thing about Yajimaya is that there’s an Excelsior Caffe attached to it, so you can relax and read your newly purchased books over a coffee and cake, or meet your friends there to chat or study.
Where do the expats hang out in your area? There are two Starbucks coffee shops in town. The main one is nicknamed Zaza Starbucks because it is on the first floor of the big shopping complex called Zaza City. Nine times out of ten, when you go in there you will run into another foreigner you know. If you happen to be in town on a Monday night, the place is usually overridden with foreigners, who generally meet there once a week to hang out before going on to a bar or restaurant. There is a huge expat community in Hamamatsu. Most of those whom I have met have been working as some kind of teacher, but I’m sure there are also other groups around, as I have seen women with children meeting at Starbucks during the day to catch up with a friend over coffee.
Where do you get your hair done?
I always get my hair done in Toni & Guy, a British salon located in Zaza City. The staff are so kind and friendly and, up until recently, they had a lovely guy working there who spoke English. Unfortunately he’s left now, but the other staff do try their best to help foreigners. Hamamatsu is known as the windy city with good reason. It really blows here! So, when you get your hair done, make sure you find a weather-friendly style!
Best place to grab a pint with friends? Brunch?
There are a few foreigner bars in town (such as Liquid Kitchen, an Australian bar), but if you want somewhere nice to chat with some girlfriends I would highly recommend Passeretti (www.passeretti.jp), which is perfect for brunch with a mouth-watering selection of desserts (as well as main dishes, of course). If you want to try something a bit different for lunch or dinner, I would recommend Surabaya, which is an Indonesian restaurant near the station. It’s worth visiting for the décor alone, which makes me feel like I’m in Bali.
Anything else you would want BAB readers to know about your town?
Don’t dismiss it! Hamamatsu is so easily classed as an industrial city in the middle of Japan, but it’s also a lot more. So, if you happen to be passing through Shizuoka with some time to spare, why not make a stop, buy some unagi pie as a souvenir, and try to spot Mount Fuji from the top of Act Tower?
For more information about the city, visit www.city.hamamatsu.shizuoka.jp/foreign/english/index.htm.
Getting here: Hamamatsu is a stop on both the Tokaido line (some hikari and all kodama trains), as well as the Tokaido Shinkansen line. The nearest airport is Shizuoka Airport, roughly 40 kilometres away.
Many of the places mentioned above are featured in my blog, Haikugirl’s Japan (www.haikugirl.wordpress.com), so please check it out. If you have any questions about Hamamatsu, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.