Skip to main content

An Onsen, a Castle and a 250 Million Year Old Cave in Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan's Shoryudo Region

Shizuoka Prefecture is famously the home of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s most revered landmark. West from Tokyo, mid-way to Kyoto, the prefecture is a popular destination because of the natural beauty of its mountains, lakes, rivers and Pacific Ocean coastline.  

The area is as well-known for the many battles that took place during the Sengoku Period (1467-1615), a time of instability when Japan’s daimyōs (local lords) fought against one another. Ultimately, after great bloodshed and turmoil, a unified Japan was created, leading to a time of peace that lasted more than two-hundred and fifty years. 

For anyone who loves history, good food and nature, an adventure in Shizuoka Prefecture hits all the sweet spots.

Kanzanji Onsen Hotel Kokonoe - Hot Water, Cold Rain, Great Food

After spending a full day enjoying the attractions of Shizuoka Prefecture, we arrived after dark at Kanzanji Onsen Hotel Kokonoe


Our guide, Masayo Atobe, recommended I visit the onsen before dinner, which was a Japanese custom. She didn't have to tell me twice. The onsen was pure heaven and, to paraphrase the classic film, “I could have soaked all night.” 


I arrived at the restaurant Kisuitei relaxed and happy. Atobe described the dinner as kaiseki, meaning a multi-course meal. That was an apt description. I lost count after twelve dishes, but it wasn’t just the number that was impressive but the quality. 


Each dish was plated beautifully. I loved the delicate, fragrant Spanish mackerel sashimi, the clean tasting sweet prawns and bachi maguro, the delicate hand-woven bamboo tray covered with flavor bits arranged like flowers and the bubbling cast iron pot filled with tofu, somen noodles, chicken and vegetables. 

As much as I loved each dish, I needed sleep. I made my apologies to Atobe who encouraged me to stay because the tempura course was coming and more after that. I regretted leaving, but I desperately needed sleep.


Happy and full, I stumbled away, eager to fall asleep on my futon, which I knew had been unrolled and placed on the floor in the middle of my cozy room.


In the morning, a light rain pelted the lake. I forgot to take an umbrella so my yukata (a cotton kimono) was getting wet. I had enjoyed an early morning soak in the natural hot spring (onsen) baths inside the hotel, so the cold didn’t bother me as I walked outside to get a better look of the lake. 


Most people weren’t awake and only one boat cruised by. The rain cloud touched the dark grey water. The feeling in the air was quiet and moody. I liked it. We had to leave soon but I would have enjoyed spending more time at Kanzanji Onsen Hotel Kokonoe.

Hamamatsu Castle Park

The entrance to the grounds of Hamamatsu Castle was through a massive main gate. Larger than cathedral doors, the thick wooden gates were defensive, designed to keep out attackers. But they were also designed to intimidate. Who could fail to be impressed by the thickness of the wood, the artistry of the construction, the elegance of the ironwork? Placed on top of a hill, the castle looked down on the city of Hamamatsu, announcing the importance of the lord who lived there.


Before we entered the castle Nicole (“Miki”) Prenevost from the city tourism office told us
about the Battle of Mikatagahara (1573) that happened north of the castle. The ambitious lord Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) who ruled the area suffered the worst defeat of his career at Mikatagahara. But it was a defeat of his own making.

We walked to the observation deck with a view of the valley. I don’t know if Ieyasu could see the battlefield from that promontory, but he could see Mt. Fuji in the distance, as majestic then as it is now. 

In 1573 Takeda Shingen, a rival lord, was leading an army of thirty-thousand troops through his territory.  Ieyasu commanded a smaller force but he was well-supplied with gunpowder rifles. Shingen was not there to attack him. All Ieyasu had to do was remain inside the safety of his castle. Against the advice of his advisors, he struck a bad bargain with fate. He ordered his army to confront Shingen’s army in open combat.

A bad idea.

Shingen not only had superior numbers, but he commanded a well-trained cavalry. Ieyasu’s army was no match for heavily armed men on horseback. Falling back, Ieyasu and a handful of soldiers retreated to the castle, leaving virtually his entire army dead on the battlefield.


While his strategic sense failed him with his initial decision to leave the castle, he made a second decision that saved the day. Ieyasu ordered the castle gates be left open, the braziers set alight and a war drum to be sounded. The message he was sending Shingen was clear. My army is returning. I am ready to fight.

Shingen took the bait. He withdrew his soldiers so they could rest. Under cover of darkness, Ieyasu sent his remaining men to attack the sleeping soldiers. Fearing a counter attack, Shingen’s forces retreated.

I don’t know if Ieyasu was a poker player but he certainly played his hand brilliantly that night.


Standing in front of a full-sized figure of Ieyasu, dressed in battle gear, looking fearsome, the museum guide told Prenevost, who translated for us, that from the defeat at Mikatagahara, Ieyasu learned a great many lessons. Lessons that led him to subdue his enemies through force of arms and subterfuge. By 1603 he had united Japan and created the Tokugawa Shogunate which lasted until 1868. An amazing achievement.


Because of its place in history, the castle attracts a great many visitors. Besides the historical displays inside the castle, the grounds add to its popularity. Meticulously cared for, the areas around and behind the castle offer a quiet retreat from busy Hamamatsu. 


We walked through ancient woods and enjoyed the soothing music of streams and a small waterfall. On the edge of the park, we stopped at Tea House Shontei for an introduction to the pleasures of a formal Japanese tea ceremony. The tea and mochi were delicious. 


A Cave Millions of Years in the Making

First came the bats, then the children and finally the spelunkers willing to wiggle through foot tall spaces on their stomachs. For millions of years a gigantic cave lay hidden deep inside Mt. Ryugashi. Children playing on the south side of the mountain watched bats fly out of small openings in the rock face. Curious, they stuck a flashlight into the opening and saw what appeared to be a passageway. That simple act opened the mountain’s secrets for all to see.


Less than an hour from downtown Hamamatsu, we drove to Ryugashido Cavern. In a few short minutes, we disappeared into the belly of the beast, walking on a well-designed walkway that led us deep into the mountain. We passed huge formations of stalagmites and stalactites. Water thick with carbonic acid dripped and formed shapes, some rippled like schools of jellyfish, others as thick around as columns at the Parthenon. 

We walked together in a group. Those in front, guided those behind with warnings, “Watch out for the rock in the wall” and “Be careful, its slippery.” We pointed out the unique shapes that had taken millions of years to form, one drip of water at a time. Electric lights cast brightness into dark spaces that had never seen the sun. 

In a glassed-in display area, we could see bats sleeping peacefully before their internal clocks told them night had fallen and it was time to fly outside to eat. We looked carefully to see insects that had adapted to this dark world. Crickets, millipedes and ground beetles thrived in this dark, damp cave.

Water flowed beneath our feet as we walked on metal bridges with shiny chrome railings and then there was the “Golden Waterfall” that fell from a height above us into the cavern below. Truly here was an unseen world that had its own rules, its own beauty.

And then, suddenly, with a rush of adrenaline, my skin became clammy. I was loving the cave so much, I forgot that I am claustrophobic. 


I spun around, muttered to Miki that I was claustrophobic and had to get out. I ran as fast as I could, past the ticket taking-guard, out of the entrance and into the parking lot. Taking a deep breath, I was happy to be outside where the air was crisp, the big sky was bright blue. 

I wished I had explored the full distance inside the cave, but even if I had, I would have only seen the spaces open to the public. That is just over a third of the actual length of the cavern. For those who are trained spelunkers, special permission can be requested to probe into the narrow spaces requiring advanced climbing skills and a tolerance for very narrow spaces. 

Ryugashido Cavern is truly a natural wonder and a must-see in Shizuoka Prefecture. If you have claustrophobia, ask a friend to make a video of the cave to show you afterwards in the gift shop where you can share a cup of delicious Materia Gelato

When you go

Easily reached from Tokyo by Shinkansen ("bullet train"), car or bus, Shizuoka Prefecture offers a multitude of activities for singles and families who want an engagement with Japan's heartland. 

Lists of activities in the Shoryudo Region are available on https://www.jtbusa.com/shoryudo/

Vist hamamatsu-daisuki.net and http://www.inhamamatsu.com/ for information about accommodations and activities in Hamamatsu and the surrounding area.

Hamamatsu Castle Park, 100-2 Motoshiro-cho, Naka-ku, Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka-ken 430-0946, http://www.entetsuassist-dms.com/hamamatsu-jyo/en/

Hamamatsu City Tea House Shointei, 11-4 Shikatani-cho, Naka-ku, Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka-ken, 432-8014 http://www.entetsuassist-dms.com/hamamatsu-jyo/en/shointei/

Kanzanji Onsen Hotel “Kokonoe”2178 Kanzanji-cho, Nishi-ku, Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka 431-1209, https://hamanako-kokonoe.jp/english/. With a view of Lake Hamama, the hotel offers luxurious accommodations with either Japanese or Western furnishings. When booking, choose a package that includes either breakfast only or breakfast and dinner. The salt water lake is better for boating than swimming.

Ryugashido Cavern, 193 Tabatake, Inasa-cho, Kita-ku, Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka-ken 431-2221, http://www.inhamamatsu.com/activity/ryugashido.php and http://www.doukutu.co.jp/pamphlet-a.pdf

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Video Walk-Through in Tsukiji Fish Market: Fighting To Save Tokyo’s Culinary Heritage

The video tour of Tsukiji found below is also on my YouTube Channel: Secrets of Restaurant Chefs.

Last fall I visited Tokyo and returned to Tsukiji. It wasn't same. 

Half of one block had been demolished, a tall construction wooden fence installed where closely packed stalls used to vie for customers. Walking up the block, the feeling was just as before. A crowded sidewalk filled with hungry people, checking what was offered by the food vendors, deciding what taste treat they wanted that day. 

Inside the market, vendors called out in Japanese, advertising their fresh tuna sashimi, grilled scallops, steamed clams and sea urchin (uni) sliders.

The little kitchen supply store was still there, as were stalls selling ceramic tea cups and kettles. 

But there was definitely a feeling that the end was coming, a feeling echoed by news that the market will be totally gone by the fall this year.

So, if you are traveling to Japan and you have a stop in Tokyo, definitely stop at Tsukiji so you can s…

Hike a Forested Pilgrimage Trail and Escape to a Hidden Shrine in Japan’s Mie Prefecture

I’ve been writing a lot about the Japan I have come to love, the Japan outside of Tokyo and Kyoto, the Japan of the heartland prefectures.

For my latest trip, I visited the Shoryudo Region of Honshū, Japan’s main island. Made up of nine prefectures stretching between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean, Shoryudo is known for its rich agricultural land, spiritual landscapes and majestic mountains, including the iconic Mt. Fuji.


I explored Mie Prefecture on the eastern edge of the region. Bordering the Pacific Ocean and Ise Bay, the prefecture is home to pilgrimage trails that cut through ancient forests and lead to the most famous Shinto shrines in Japan.
The Route Magose-toge Pass on the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route
Trucks and cars jockeyed for position as they sped up the steep hill on busy Route 42 (Kumano Kaido). We pulled off the highway as quickly as we could to avoid the traffic and parked at a trailhead where there was room for about a dozen cars.
During Japan’s feudal era, travel b…

Farm-to-Table Finds a Home in Spokane and Northern Idaho

Heading inland from Seattle, a city he knows well, our foodie adventurer, David Latt, explores Spokane and Eastern Idaho in search of restaurants that fly the flag of the farm-to-table movement. 


Like fashion, food delights the soul but is often subject to hype. "Organic," "Natural" and "Low Fat" have been co-opted by marketing campaigns, obscuring the true intent of the words.
When we think of "farm-to-table," we imagine a farmer driving a beat up 1980's Ford pick-up to the back door of a neighborhood restaurant and unloading wooden crates filled to overflowing with leafy bunches of arugula, round and firm beets, thick stalks of celery, fat leeks, freshly laid eggs, plump chickens, freshly cured bacon, ripe apples, dark red cherries and juicy peaches.

The high quality product inspires the chef who quickly writes the menu for that day's meals. 


In the ideal, a farm-to-table meal reconnects diners with the seasons and the land. Such a meal de…