Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Shizuoka weekend road trip - Hakone, Numazu, Mishima, Hamamatsu & Gotemba

Let's go on a weekend road trip! Going towards Numazu in Shizuoka has been on my to-do list for a little while, but I wanted to plan a few activities around it to make the drive over worthwhile. Our original itinerary was only 2 days/1 night but this particular weekend happened to coincide with a spearfishing activity that our friends planned in Hamamatsu, so we made a small adjustment to join in and had so much fun!

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Day 1
We pack up and leave our house in the morning at around 07:45, getting out onto the road with no issues and not expecting any traffic. It's now a somewhat familiar drive towards Hakone as we aim for our first stop after getting through the winding roads of Hakone Pass. 

Hakone Sekisho/Checkpoint
Although Hakone is mainly known for its ryokans/onsens, since we were just passing through on our way towards Shizuoka, we wanted a short (not overnight) activity. Hakone Checkpoint was perfect for this! Arriving around 09:15, we parked at the Hakone Checkpoint Travel Story Hall which features a few restaurants, a shop, opportunities for dressing up in kimono or preparing matcha, and also where you can purchase tickets for a boat tour on Lake Ashinoko. We made a few purchases and got our first glimpse of the lake. 

We continued on towards the little Checkpoint street with a few more shops selling local specialties and snacks with a lot of interesting things to purchase!

The actual Hakone Checkpoint is at the end of it with a 500yen/adult entrance fee. 

This is a reconstruction of the original with all the details considered and lots of informative placards to explain how the spaces were utilized or what was going on during the Edo Period. I think there are guided tours available (in Japanese), but we opted to just walk around and explore ourselves. There are staff around to provide tips or answer questions as needed. 

Up a steep set of stairs, you can climb to the watch tower to get a great view of the lake!

Continuing out of the Checkpoint facility, we also stopped at Gobansho Chaya which has a popular soft serve and dango item, but my husband was most interested in the watermelon-themed dango on a stick! It's watermelon juice infused dango covered in chocolate. Both were cute little snacks that were an ideal size for a small pick-me-up, easily purchased through their vending machine.

Mishima Sky Walk
On our way towards Numazu, I noticed that we were passing signs for the Mishima Sky Walk. It was on our itinerary for the next day, but since the weather was good (no view of Fuji but at least it wasn't raining) and we were literally driving right past it, we made the unplanned stop.
Midday on a Saturday, we didn't have any trouble finding parking, especially with the parking attendants directing us to a lane and the large amount of spaces. 
We paid our 1100yen/adult entrance fee and headed straight for the bridge. Mishima Sky Walk is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan at 400m in length. You can feel the walkway moving just a little bit while traversing, but it's nothing like the wooden swinging bridge in Hanapepe on Kauai and felt quite safe to me. 

You're able to freely enter/walk at your own pace. There is a line down the middle to separate inbound and outbound direction walkers, but that's about it. While there was a constant flow of people, it never felt too crowded or rushed. I'm sure it would be a bit different and slightly more picturesque when Fuji is in view though!

On the far side of the Sky Walk are a bunch of outdoor activity sign ups including a zip line, outdoor adventure courses and even off road segways, atvs and bikes. There was also a small petting zoo, a restaurant and some food stalls - way more than I was expecting lol. We opted out of signing up for any of the activities but noted them for a future visit with friends! 
You return the same way you came on the bridge, and it is a bit of a thrilling walk, especially if you're not super comfortable with heights. 

Outside of the ticketed area, there's a number of shops and restaurants. We went up the escalator to the Sky Garden area which just features more omiyage shopping and small counter service restaurants to make some small purchases before leaving. 

Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium
The Numazu Deep Sea Aquarium was my initial motivation for coming to this area, and I built the weekend itinerary around it. I visited once before in 2018 with my parents but I thought it would be worth another look because I enjoy aquariums, and this one has a unique hook. My husband has also never been to the area, so while we are living within a reasonable driving distance, I wanted to check it out. 
But first - lunch! While I was researching for things to do in the area, the Numazu city website recommended Shofuku Ramen! We do love eating noodles, so trying out this popular local chain was of interest to me. As a bonus, it's just across the street from the aquarium, so it seemed to just make sense! To note, Numazu is mainly known for their seafood, especially being a port city, but unfortunately for my husband, I don't really eat fish or shellfish, so my first choice was ramen lol. 
We parked in the paid parking structure (300yen for the first hour then 200yen for each additional hour) near the water since the aquarium doesn't have a designated lot and then walked over to Shofuku Ramen. 

There is a large vending machine with pictures outside, but this is just for take out items. Enter the restaurant to find another vending machine with many more options available. 
I chose the umai ramen and my husband decided to get the tonkotsu ramen which has unlimited kaedama (extra noodles), a 5 piece gyoza and a half size fried rice. We were lucky to be seated right after purchasing our meal tickets. The next few people after us had a small 10-15 minute wait. The counter seating here reminds me a lot of Hamura Saimin in Lihue, Kauai where there's a space for the server in the middle but you can just stare at other customers from across the counters.

Sufficiently full, we went to buy our tickets for the aquarium. There was a small line, but it moved at a decent pace and we entered at around 13:45. Admission is 1600yen/adult.

Just like last time, the small displays at the beginning are crowded and the viewing line is slow moving, but at least we could take our time to look at them a bit. Aquarium photo dump!
I love seeing all the coelacanth stuff here and thinking about how old they are. Unfortunately, no flapjack octopus at this time but supposedly there's a better chance of them having one in the winter (October+). 

There's actually a bunch of shops and restaurants/stalls along the road behind the aquarium that I had never seen on my last visit bc we had caught the bus over. 
Lots and lots of fresh fish and things like oysters or other sea-themed cafe goodies. We were still full from lunch so I didn't end up getting a coelacanth-shaped taiyaki :| but at least my husband got a small, refreshing drink!

Numazu View-O Water Gate/Observatory
View-O was another landmark I just happened to see on a map and figured it might be interesting to check out, just a short walk away from where we parked. Apparently it's a large water gate that will shut if there is an anticipated tsunami. The observatory is 30m above, and visitors can pay 100yen to enter and get a 360degree view of the area. 
It was pretty hot when we went with the sun streaming in and not very strong AC, but it was still quite interesting to walk around and not too expensive. Too bad no view of Mt Fuji bc it was still covered with clouds. Supposedly this is especially cool at night as well! 

Toyoko Inn Fujisan Mishima-eki
Not wanting to pay for an additional hour for our parking, we rushed a bit to the car and got out within minutes of our last hour, haha. We decided to just head straight for our hotel in Mishima, about 30 minutes away. I had initially planned to get an Airbnb someplace fun but because we're just two people and only staying 1 night, it made a lot more sense for cost and location to stay in a hotel. I booked us a 1-night stay at the Toyoko Inn Fujisan Mishima-eki hotel. 
It's a bit low frills, but we mainly needed some place with parking that had a clean bed and bathroom which it was perfect for. Parking was not included in the price but just 500yen which I thought was quite reasonable (although maybe I'm just used to like $20-30 parking in Waikiki lol). This hotel is very close to the north gate of Mishima station, so it would be quite convenient if you caught the train as well. 

We took some time to relax while we browsed through the internet/Google Maps to look for some restaurants within walking distance. We ended up deciding on gyoza! Since we couldn't walk through the station, it took a little longer since it was on the opposite side, but still not too bad once the sun had set a bit. 
The restaurant is called 301餃子. Ordering is done by writing on a little notepad which was nice for us to have as much time as we needed to decide what to get. 
We ordered the shiso gyoza, pan fried gyoza, meatball gyoza, shrimp gyoza and deep fried gyoza - all super good! My husband particularly liked the shiso gyoza. 

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a 7-Eleven for some drinks and dessert and then just relaxed in the room. It felt like a quite a full day, especially with all the driving and lots of new experiences!

Day 2
Toyoko Inn offers a complimentary breakfast with your stay. This location had it in the first floor lobby and it included a selection of like 5-6 different breads, eggs, fish, sliced meat, (arabiki) sausage, karaage, curry, rice, soup, consommé and even a little salad bar. They also had containers if you wanted to take it to go or eat in your room. I was very impressed with the selection but didn't get a chance to take a photo because it was so crowded. 
After breakfast, we packed up, checked out of the hotel and headed out for the day. 

Izu Fruits Park melon picking
First stop, Izu Fruits Park in Mishima, about 10 minutes away from our hotel by car. We had made reservations online through Facebook Messenger but they have an online system through their website as well. Our reservation was for melon picking + eating 1/8 melon sample for 2 people at 09:30. 

We arrived just a few minutes early and easily checked in at the reception desk. We were given tickets for the picking + eating and directions for where to go. It was a Sunday morning, but not very crowded at all and all the staff seemed very friendly and receptive.  

The melon greenhouses are to the right of the main building and there's signs to help direct you. There was a staff member waiting inside when we arrived who checked out tickets and then provided some instructions about picking the melons. The instructions were completely in Japanese but she pantomimed and walked through the process with a fake melon, so we felt like we had a pretty good idea of what to do. She handed us each a scissors then escorted us to the rows where we would be allowed to pick from.

The 4 rows weren't huge but since we were the only ones in there, we took our time and looked through each one. We each made our selection then carefully used the scissors to clip the melon from the vines like the staff member had shown us. 

We returned to the greenhouse check-in and the staff member had two boxes ready for our selected melons. She carefully looked over each one and then placed them gently in the box. We were informed that it would be best to consume the melon within 1 week and there were tables with pens where you could write down that date. 

Back in the main building, we went over to the little cafe area to get our 1/8 melon samples by providing the other slip of our ticket. We were handed two plates with 3 slices each!

We also looked around the shop of the main building where they were selling other fruit and omiyage items, including a large selection of different kinds of shrimp crackers!

Rakujuen Park (Meat & Beer Festival)
This park is just outside of the south gate of Mishima station and quite large. I had researched parking beforehand and there's a designated lot for Rakujuen Park, but by the time we arrived at around 10:45, it was already full! We drove around the block a few times before finding a covered coin parking lot just at the other end of the block. 
Sadly the closest park entrance was closed off so we had to walk a little farther to the entrance near the station, but it was maybe only 5 minutes away. We were greeted by big banners for the Meat & Beer Festival that was happening that day.

Entrance fee to the park is 300yen/adult and you can pay at the ticket booth before walking in. Having just filled up on melon, we weren't quite hungry yet, so we took the opportunity to explore the park a little first.

It's a really cute park and must be especially nice in the spring and fall. While we were visiting, the pond's water levels were especially low, and it was very hot.

Just outside of Rakujuen Park is Shirataki Park which is much smaller (closer to what you would consider a neighborhood park) with a lot of very shallow wading pools. This is perfect for children (and adults? haha) in the summer to cool off, and there were a number of families there when we walked through.

We returned to Rakujuen Park and entered the actual Meat & Beer Festival area closer to lunch time. It was packed full of people and even hotter in this area than any other! After making a purchase from a food vendor, luckily I was able to find a small table in the shade for us.

We alternated eating and leaving the table to get more food/drinks haha. The lines were long and a bit slow tbh but since we had a table, it was a pretty enjoyable experience! It was a fun little event that just happened to coincide with our weekend road trip.

I (don't drink so I) took over driving! This was my first time driving outside of our neighborhood between our house and workplace lol. Luckily driving on the expressway is fairly simple and the drive was straightforward as we headed towards Hamamatsu with a brief rest stop at Fujikawa.

Guesthouse Inoue / 民宿いのうえ
I got us safely to Hamamatsu and navigated to our lodging for the night - Guesthouse Inoue. Our friends arranged for this accommodation and have stayed here before. Inoue-san greeted us and our friends showed up just a few minutes later.

There were 3 couples and we each had our own room on the second floor. I've actually never stayed in a traditional ryokan or guesthouse like this. All the bedding was tucked into the closet for the daytime and a water heater with tea was prepared on the little table. Through the shoji doors is a sitting area and a great view of the lake and also a small sink.

All bedrooms on the second floor share a 2-stall bathroom. One was marked for ladies and one for men. This bathroom seemed newly renovated/refurbished and it was very nice!

We all met up downstairs in one of the larger rooms that I think is kind of meant for dining/eating, and I got a better picture of the view and how close the water is. 

We walked to the nearest Family Mart to get some snacks, drinks and other food to accompany our anticipated meal later on in the night. We passed the Bentenjima red torii along the way and got some other views of Lake Hamana.

たきや漁 / Takiya fishing
This is the activity that brought us to Hamamatsu! Our friends M&M are friends with an oyster fisherman in the area who introduced them to this activity last year and they invited us and their other friends to join in this year. It was a bit up in the air until the morning of due to possible poor weather conditions, but it ended up working out! 

We had a reservation for 2 boats. We ended up splitting up with 4 of the guys (including Inoue-san from the guesthouse) on one boat and then me, my husband and M on the other boat. Cost is 33,000yen per boat with cooking (including what is caught during your fishing trip). The boats came right behind Guesthouse Inoue to pick us up at around 18:30, just as it was starting to get dark.

We were provided flotation devices and given a brief safety instruction for being in the boat. Once everyone was seated, off we went!

We passed the illuminated Bentenjima torii - much closer this time because we were in the water haha. 

We met up with a bunch of other boats who were all doing the activity as well. The fisherman guides individually provided overviews to their own boats. It's entirely in Japanese, but we were able to get the gist of it and since M has done it before, she gave us some tips as well. Main thing is that there are two options for catching fish - a long pole net or a super long pole trident/harpoon that we were calling a spear. The net is for the small silvery fish at the surface of the water and the spear is for the larger fish a bit further down. 

Our two boats headed out together and the fisherman guide stands at the front of the boat with his spear to help guide/direct the boat. There is an underwater light at the front of the boat to aid in seeing what's in the water below. We mainly start out with the nets to get the hang of things.

And then eventually settle into using the spears. They're quite long and should be pointed down towards the water. The weather isn't very deep (maybe 6ft max at only certain points), so you don't really have to worry about losing it or falling in too much. 
This is definitely better experienced in person rather than in photos and was so much fun. It wasn't too difficult to balance on the boat and it never felt unsafe. Unfortunately, our boat wasn't too great at spearing anything, but the guides helped supplement our catch for dinner. We were actively fishing for around 1.5 hours but it went by really quickly because you're attention is constantly engaged.

We briefly returned to Guesthouse Inoue to pick up the other friend who is pregnant (so she didn't join us for the fishing) but was able to join us for dinner!

With 4 people in each boat now, we headed to the takiya-tei area which is 3-4 floating rafts connected together. We had an entire space to ourselves and the fisherman guides got to work right away.

First, they unloaded our "catches" from each boat. Ours is on the left and the other boat's is on the right haha. All of our big fish were caught by the guide!

The guides sorted the fish by type - medai, sayori and crabs. We didn't end up doing anything with the small silvery fish (sari?) which I guess are mostly just catching for fun lol. They also had some shrimp in a cooler already prepared and got to work setting up and cooking in a super efficient manner.

One guide was in charge of the frying and the other was in charge of scaling and preparing the caught fish. They were constantly working and never seemed to skip a beat. Meanwhile, the 8 of us were able to relax at two picnic style tables and enjoy some of the drinks and other refreshments and snack that we had bought/brought. 

First up was the shrimp/ebi tempura. There were 3 filled plates of it and this was my husband's favorite of the night. Next was (butterflied) sayori tempura which were the fishes we caught.

Followed by the medai (sea bream) steamed with a shoyu-based sauce. This was in a separate pot that they started right when we arrived. Then another medai but prepared as tempura with another soy-based sauce. 

The medai was prepared two additional ways - pan fried with garlic flavoring and pan fried with pesto sauce.

Last was pan fried crab, and then to finish it off, we had a seaweed miso soup provided by the guides (not related to our catch).

It was so, so much food and it was a bit awe-inspiring to watch the guides get to cooking and preparing everything so smoothly and flawlessly. We had our own coolers with beers and other drinks that were shared around the table.

The guides also took care of any of the cleanup, and then we were shuttled back to the guesthouse in the boats a bit after 22:00. We settled payment once getting off the boat and all went back to the dining area to continue drinking for a bit with some sake they had purchased earlier in the day. 
My husband and I called it a night a bit earlier. We took showers on the first floor - gendered for men and women (1 person capacity each) and then returned to our room where the bed were already made up for us and easily fell asleep.

Day 3
A few alternate views of the room and the window in the morning on a nice day!

We were told that breakfast was expected at 08:30, so we went downstairs shortly after that to find the table already mostly prepared for us. Inoue-san was busy cooking and doing the final touches for a hearty Japanese breakfast!

We took our time eating and socializing and enjoying the meal before heading out at around 10:00. While there are definitely other things to explore in Hamamatsu, we knew we wanted to get home with plenty of time to still relax a bit before going to work the next day. Thank you so much, Inoue-san! 

Small peeks of Fuji as we head back towards Kanagawa.

Gotemba Premium Outlets 
We did make time for a stop at Gotemba Premium Outlets which we had planned to visit on our way home if we hadn't gone for the takiyaryo. I've never been before even though it's quite a large outlet mall not too far from Tokyo. The parking area is pretty expansive and there are lots of staff to help direct you for where to go. 

We did have some specific shopping in mind, but mostly just spent our time looking through all the different stores. Hiking pants and new running shoes were on my list!

For a late lunch, we decided on Shake Shack which was at the far end of the mall, but at least that gave us an excuse to walk through everything. It had been a solid 3 hours of walking and shopping at that point though so we were pretty much done haha. 

Mission complete!

We contemplated stopping at a rest stop or two on the way home for fun, but ultimately decided against it and just pushed through for the final 95 minute drive back, arriving at around 17:30 to finish off our exciting weekend adventure!

Without a doubt, our brief stay in Hamamatsu was the most fun we've had in a long time. It's so different than what we'd usually be able to do and are thankful that Inoue-san and M&M and their local friend were very accommodating and helpful. The takiyaryo "spear fishing" was an experience by itself but paired with the cooking after, it really blew me away! I don't really eat fish or seafood, but everything was still amazing, and I'm so glad we decided to go. 
The other stops in Hakone, Numazu, Mishima and Gotemba were also filled with great new experiences (and one familiar one with the aquarium) and don't even feel like they happened all back-to-back. Nothing felt rushed or overwhelming. The forecasted rain never came and although it was quite hot in exchange, I'll take it. Unfortunately, no great views of Fuji that are typical from many of these siteseeing areas, but I know we'll get other opportunities for that, so I'm not too fussed about it. Seriously, an absolutely splendid weekend, and I'm so happy to have opportunities like this!

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