As I come out of the main train station at Hamamatsu, I spot a small crowd gathered in a corner of the plaza. Curious, I head over to see what’s happening.
It turns out there’s a boy band performing, with a simple set of speakers set up on the tiles in front of a garden bed. The audience of several dozen – almost all young women – are watching and filming on their phones while the four band members sing and dance (the only lyric I understand is “arigatoo” – thank you).
The black tracksuits of the boys (men?) has a splash of pink emblazoned with their band’s name: Cool-X. A quick search tells me that Cool-X is from nearby Nagoya and has been releasing its saccharine J-Pop since 2019.
Here in Hamamatsu, this is not an unusual sight. In fact, I’m told that it’s pretty common to see someone performing on the plaza most days. After all, Hamamatsu is known as the City of Music in Japan – unofficially at first, and officially as a UNESCO Creative City since 2014.
As I start to explore some of the best things to do in Hamamatsu, music initially plays a large part – especially at the Museum of Musical Instruments (which I’ll talk about in a moment).
This is because Hamamatsu is traditionally an industrial city, and some of the main manufacturers headquartered here are musical instrument companies. Yamaha is one of the most famous, but there’s also Kawai and Roland.
(The other best known company based in Hamamatsu is the automotive manufacturer Suzuki, while Honda was founded here but is now based elsewhere in Japan.)
And when the industrial blends with the artistic, as it does with these instrument companies, creativity is released – and it can be found across Hamamatsu, from the architecture (especially Act Tower, shaped like a harmonica), the cultural sights, and even the food.
But beyond the music and the artistic sights, there is lots to see in Hamamatsu, from its authentic heritage to its impressive natural reserves, making for an interesting stop for visitors to Japan.
It’s very easy to visit Hamamatsu, as the city is on the Shinkansen (bullet train) line between Tokyo and Osaka, and is about 1.5 hours from either. Although there’s enough to do in Hamamatsu to spend a couple of days here, the convenience of the Shinkansen stop means that, at the very least, you can spend the day here as you pass through.
The city centre has a few of the main Hamamatsu attractions, so you’ll be able to walk from the station or your nearby hotel to visit them. But ultimately you’ll also want to get out to other parts of the city, and will probably need to use public transport.
For instance, Lake Hamana (Hamanako), about 12 kilometres west of the city centre, has some of the most popular things for visitors to Hamamatsu and you may want to spend the day out there exploring some of those sights.
Elsewhere, some of the other natural and cultural sights are also on the outskirts of the city and will take a little bit of time to reach by bus (if you don’t have a car). It’s why basing yourself in the city for a night or two is a bit easier than just a day trip.
Ultimately, Hamamatsu may not be as famous as some of the other cities in this part of Honshu, where Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagoya are all just a short ride away. But its unique attractions and relaxed authentic atmosphere makes it a nice change from those other crowded spots.
The fact you don’t need to go out of your way to visit Hamamatsu is another bonus, making it easy to add to a trip and offering something a bit different – especially for those who have been to Japan before.
To help with your planning, let’s now have a look at the best things to do in Hamamatsu.
There are almost 20 museums in Hamamatsu, celebrating the city’s famous residents, festivals, and history. But I think these four are the most impressive ones.
Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments
Of all the things to do in Hamamatsu, this museum is one of the highlights – and is the main reason a lot of people visit the city.
The Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments is a huge complex that has about 1500 instruments on display. They come from all across the world, with quite comprehensive collections from Asian countries like Indonesia and Korea. And, of course, there are lots of examples from Japan.
Although you can’t touch most of the instruments, there are audio recordings so you can hear what they sound like. And there is one area with some examples that you can use.
As you might expect, Hamamatsu companies like Yamaha and Roland are well represented. But another of the highlights is the excellent collection of 19th-century pianos and related keyboard instruments.
While we’re talking about music, it’s also worth mentioning another ‘museum’ elsewhere in the city called Yamaha Innovation Road. This exhibition was opened by the instrument company to show the highlights from its 130 years of history, and there’s an interesting collection of organs and pianos.
Along with Yamaha, one of the most famous companies in Hamamatsu is Suzuki, and there’s a way to explore its story at a museum called Suzuki Plaza.
One floor of Suzuki Plaza is dedicated to the history of the company, which began in 1909, looking at the development of its motorbikes, cars, and other products (such as outboard motors).
The other part of the museum looks at topics like factory production, how the business operates, and its international work. There’s even a flight simulator, which is pretty cool!
Hamamatsu Air Park
Officially called the Air Park JASDF Hamamatsu Air Base Museum, this is part of Japan’s Ministry of Defence and is set on a working air base, where you may see active planes taking off or landing.
As far as the museum goes, though, there’s a large collection of military aircraft that you can see, along with flight simulators where you can pretend that you’re actually flying one of them.
The Hamamatsu Air Park is a pretty interesting site, and I think it’s surprising it doesn’t get a bit more attention.
Hamamatsu Science Museum
For most visitors, I probably wouldn’t recommend the Hamamatsu Science Museum as something to prioritise, because it’s mainly aimed at children. But that’s why I wanted to mention it, because it might be useful if you’re travelling with some young ones.
There are six themes in the museum, focusing on topics like nature, space, and sound – plus there is a planetarium and regularly changing special exhibitions.
Although Hamamatsu is quite a modern city, with a focus on industry, there’s still lots of history to be found here.
1300 years ago, it was the regional capital; and it became an important castle town during the Edo period from about 1600. Some of the city’s religious sites capture the heritage the best, and are well worth a visit.
The Hamamatsu Castle that you see today is a replica, rebuilt here in 1958. The first one was founded in 1570 but was destroyed during the Meiji Restoration.
But don’t let that put you off, because although it’s not original – and not even that big, to be honest – the history is still very important. The castle’s main claim to fame is that it was home for 17 years to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man who would go on to unite Japan and found the Edo period of history, when Tokyo became the capital.
You’ll learn some of this history, along with more about the city, from the exhibition on the way up to the top of the building.
One of the oldest and most important temples around Hamamatsu is Ryotanji Temple, founded in 733 by a family who used it for more than 40 generations!
The buildings themselves are exquisite, with detailed artworks on the paper walls and interesting carvings and features incorporated into the design.
But the highlight of Ryotanji Temple – and the reason many people visit – is the Zen garden. The large landscaped area is full of symbolism, with a green slope covered in rocks and plants rising up from a pond. You can sit on the temple’s balcony to take it all in, appreciating the aesthetics and finding some calm in the moment.
On the edge of Lake Hamana, at the foot of a hill, Kanzanji Temple is another of the most popular temples to visit around Hamamatsu. It’s not the building itself that’s the main attraction, but the temple’s grounds that stretch up the hill, called Tateyama.
Taking the main hiking trail up Tateyama, you’ll find impressive statues amongst the trees (including a 16-metre-high Kannon Bodhisattva), as well as a cave where the temple was apparently first founded in the 9th century.
Even beyond the religious icons on Tateyama, the paths over this 50-metre-high hill offer beautiful lake views and a nice natural escape.
Away from the city, amongst the forest, the Okuyama Hokoji Temple feels serene. This sprawling complex, with more than 20 buildings, is set in a dramatic location on a hillside on the edge of a valley, surrounded by trees.
While it’s certainly possible to just come and see the site, which I would recommend, one of the things that makes the temple so special is the opportunity to take part in a Zazen meditation session.
Zazen is a discipline that involves keeping the correct posture throughout the meditation – and I actually got a bit stressed when I did it and the priest paced up and down with a stick, waiting to hit me if I got it wrong. But I’m told that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Along with the meditation, you can also have a shojin-ryori lunch, which is a vegetarian meal originally created for Buddhist monks. It’s also possible to stay overnight at the Okuyama Hokoji Temple.
Even though Hamamatsu is in one of the most populated parts of Japan, it’s surrounded by beautiful nature – one of the reasons it’s so popular with domestic tourists.
And, along with the natural landscapes around the city, there are also a few important Hamamatsu attractions that embrace the region’s (and even the world’s) flora.
Hamamatsu Flower Park
There are plenty of tourists who come to Hamamatsu just for the Hamamatsu Flower Park. This enormous landscaped garden has more then 3000 species of plants, with blooms at different times throughout the year to create colourful vistas.
Like much of Japan, the cherry blossoms are popular and they create pink magic in March, but there are also beds with flowers like tulips in April, hydrangeas in June, and roses in October.
As well as local flowers, there are sections devoted to foreign exotic plants, including from Europe, Mexico, and Bali. there’s a greenhouse for indoor plants, a bus around the site, and shops and food outlets.
Hamamatsu Fruit Park
Now, of course you’re not supposed to pick the flowers at the flower park – but, at the Hamamatsu Fruit Park, that’s the whole point!
This large garden has at least 15 types of fruit that you can take direct from the plant. From strawberries at the start of the year, through to apricots, then peaches and pears, before the apples and oranges at the end of the year.
The park is about more than just the harvesting, though. There are also playgrounds for the kids, restaurants, performances, an even glamping on site!
Ryugashido Cavern may be one of the largest caves in Japan – but it wasn’t discovered until the 1980s! Deep within Ryugashi Mountain, this limestone formation is thought to be about 250 million years old.
The cave is about a kilometre long and you can go in for the first 400 metres. Decorated with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, there’s also a 30-metre-high waterfall inside.
The temperature inside Ryugashido Cavern stays at around 20 degrees all year round, so it’s a particularly nice escape in the hot summer months.
Nakatajima Sand Dunes
On the coast near Hamamatsu, the Nakatajima Sand Dunes are another of the region’s most popular natural sights. Four kilometres long, they’re the third-largest sand dunes in Japan.
Some people come just to walk along the dunes for the views, others come for the sunrises and sunsets. In May, there’s a kite flying festival that is particularly popular.
As well as the landscapes created by the sand, the dunes at Nakatajima are also significant as an egg-laying area for loggerhead turtles, with the eggs hatching between August and October.
The biggest natural attraction of all near Hamamatsu is Hamana Lake, a large lake on the coast that has a mixture of fresh and salt water within it.
There are lots of tourist facilities around the shoreline and a few of the things to do in Hamamatsu that I’ve already mentioned are closer to the lake than the city. But here are the other main attractions.
Close to Kanzanji Temple, which I talked about earlier, is an onsen area called Kanzanji Onsen, which was created from the 1950s after a hot spring was drilled here and the town formed around it.
Most of the hot baths here are connected to hotels and ryokans, but can be used by day visitors as well as guests. The most popular ones are the Sago Royal Hotel and Hanasaki-no-yu, which has indoor and outdoor baths.
The town feels like a mini resort, full of domestic tourists and with a cute theme park. But there are a couple of attractions that are particularly well known that I’ll mention next.
You can’t really miss the Kanzanji Ropeway, which stretches across the water from the Kanzanji Onsen area, up to the top of a forested hill.
The ride up the ropeway in the carriage only takes a few minutes and deposits you at a multi-storey building with different viewing points for spectacular vistas across the lake, over the region, and even out to sea.
Among the shops and food outlets at the top of the hill, there’s also the Hamanako Orgel Museum, which has an interesting collection of music machines (a lovely link back to the musical heritage of Hamamatsu).
Perhaps the best view of the water is… well, from the water! And the best way to get out on Hamano Lake is with one of the sightseeing cruises that travel around the lake.
The standard cruise takes about 30 minutes and heads from Uchiura Bay out to the main part of the lake where it does a loop near to the shoreline.
There are regular departures during the day, and there’s also often a sunset cruise, which is a particularly special experience at the end of the day.
Nukumori no Mori
And, finally, let’s finish with one of the quirkiest things to see in Hamamatsu – the quaint little village of Nukumori no Mori.
The name translates as ‘Warm Forest’, which is fitting because it feels a bit like a fairytale town amongst the trees. It was founded by an architect about twenty years ago and has grown into a small collection of buildings that all have a quirky style about them – a bit like Ghibli even (although there’s no official link).
While it’s not a large site, it’s a bit of fun, and definitely makes for some good photos.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Hamamatsu and Lake Hamana Tourism Bureau but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.