Following the ancient Tōkaidō road in Shizuoka

Here’s how to spend four days experiencing Shizuoka’s culture and gastronomy…

Team Wanderlust
11 January 2024

Today, a bullet train on the Tōkaidō shinkansen line can whisk travellers from Tōkyō to Kyōto in just over two hours. But back in the Edo era, tackling the 319-mile Tōkaidō road took weeks, the long trip broken up with nights in the route’s 53 post towns.

The travails and triumphs along the way were captured by artists like Hiroshige. His series The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tōkaidō captured straggling lines of straw-hatted walkers, pines clinging onto steep mountainsides, and porters carrying nobles in palanquins across wide rivers. And often, whether peeking from the background or looming so large it nudges out of the frame, the elegant cone of Mount Fuji is surveying the scene.

Shizuoka is one of the best places in Japan to see this sacred peak. Add to that neatly pruned tea fields, living craft traditions and 22 post towns, and a trip here can feel like stepping straight into an ukiyo-e print. Here’s how to spend four days exploring the prefecture’s culture and gastronomy.

Day one: tea and craft traditions in western Shizuoka

Tabinoya, an old-style inn, is in the Kakegawa Hills, following the Makinohara Grand Tea Garden (Rebecca Hallett)

Start your trip by heading to Hamamatsu, under an hour and a half from Tōkyō by shinkansen. The city is now famous for its car and musical instrument manufacturers – there are playable Yamaha instruments in the bullet train station. It also has a long history of fabric production, and you can try the local chūsen-zome dyeing technique at family-run Nihashi Somekōjō, which has been in operation since 1927.

As you enter the factory you’ll be greeted with stacks of yukata fabric, a collection of fascinating specialist machinery – some of it 60 years old – and an ocean-like tang in the air. The scent comes from the paste used in the dyeing process, made of clay, rice flour and seaweed.

Out of the way of the artisans hard at work hand-dyeing tenugui cloths, you spread paste through a stencil onto cotton, then pour bright dyes onto the gaps to create a vibrant design. Afterwards, the cloth is unrolled, hung up to dry in the airy loft, then cut into thirteen tenugui – your own unique souvenirs.

Next, head east by train to Kakegawa, where the welcoming owners of Tabinoya can collect you. This old-style inn would be worth staying at for the multi-dish traditional cuisine and tatami rooms alone, but it’s also deeply connected to Shizuoka’s tea-growing culture. The owners work closely with an agricultural collective, the Tea Industry Action Union to arrange tastings of delicate, fragrant teas from around their estate. As they’re located in the Kakegawa Hills, following the Makinohara Grand Tea Garden, it doesn’t take long to become entirely surrounded by a neat patchwork of tea fields.

Day two: art and history along the Tōkaidō

Aoba-yokochō serves Shizuoka oden, a centuries-old local speciality (Rebecca Hallett)

Tabinoya is right by Nissaka-juku, the twenty-fifth Tōkaidō post town. Head further east, past the wide Ōi River, and you’ll come to some of Shizuoka’s best-preserved examples.

Around Okabe-Syuku (number 21), you will find several restaurants, a couple of places where you can try gyokuro no satō (a tea ceremony using high-grade, umami-rich gyokuro leaves), and a well-preserved inn, Kashiba-ya. The current building dates to 1836, when it was rebuilt after a fire, but the inn has been in operation for much longer than that. Today it’s a museum, showing you the kind of place where mid-ranked travellers and the retainers of samurai and nobles would have stayed. As well as curious architectural details – the more than 60-degree staircase and ingenious removable front wall panels stand out – you can see fascinating displays of travel essentials like foldable wooden pillows, compact ink and brush sets, and a tiny abacus.

If you’re keen on walking some of the Tōkaidō, consider the stretch between Okabe-juku and Mariko-juku (number 20). If you’re up for a challenge, you can tackle the original route over the Utsunoya Pass, which dates back almost 1000 years. It was infamous as one of the toughest sections, but it’s a bit less intimidating if all you have to carry is a day pack… Alternatively, take the atmospheric Meiji-era tunnel (built in 1870) which cuts through the mountain, enabling you to reach Mariko in just a couple of hours.

Stop for lunch at Chōjiya, the very restaurant shown in Hiroshige’s print of Mariko – the current owner is the fourteenth generation. The speciality is tororo-jiru, a rich and creamy broth made with grated yam and ladled over rice and barley.

Walk for an hour and a half more, or take a thirty-minute bus ride, and cross that very river to reach Shizuoka city. The lively prefectural capital makes an ideal base – check in at one of the many hotels before continuing your explorations.

At the Tōkaidō Hiroshige Museum of Art, northeast of the city in Yui-juku (number 16), you can learn more about the ukiyo-e master whose nineteenth-century artworks give us an evocative, stylised glimpse of how the route looked at the time. After learning about the complex publication process for these popular prints you can admire some from Hiroshige’s lifetime, and even have a go at making one.

Next, take the train a couple of stops to Shin-Kanbara, or a taxi for ten minutes, for Kanbara-juku (number 15). The sleepy main street is dotted with historic buildings, from the mint-green Old Igarashi Dental Clinic, built in a unique fusion of Japanese and Western styles in 1914, to the imposing honjin where high-status travellers stayed. Opposite the honjin is a smaller building for lower-status travellers, now a museum and shop. Hiroshige’s print of Kanbara – the only snowy one – includes this very building on the left.

Back in Shizuoka city, make your way to Aoba-yokochō for dinner. This narrow alley is lined with restaurants selling Shizuoka oden, a local speciality which has been warming up weary travellers for centuries. This take on the popular Japanese hotpot has a dark, salty broth and includes gyū-suji (beef tendon) and hanpen fish cakes. Kikyō, with its distinctive purple curtain over the door, serves house special kikyō-yaki as well as oden: a savoury fried pancake made from grated yam, served with seasoned seaweed, pickled ginger and the charming smile of the obaa-chan (grandma) who invented it.

Day three: east to the Izu Peninsula

Miho no Matsubara is a beautiful place to admire Mount Fuji at dusk (Rebecca Hallett)

Start day three with a view of Japan’s most iconic peak: Mount Fuji. There are two spots which you can easily access from Shizuoka city. Nihondaira Yume Terrace offers impressive views of the volcano over Suruga Bay – Japan’s deepest, at 2500m – and a scenic ropeway ride to Kunōzan Tōshō-gū, the atmospheric shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu was interred after his death in 1616. Miho no Matsubara gives you an unusual perspective of Fuji, rising above a tranquil crescent of water and a sandbar crowded with 30,000 pine trees; seeing Red Fuji illuminated by the setting sun is also popular.

Making your way around the northern curve of Suruga Bay, you’ll come to the Izu Peninsula. Not far from Izu-Nagaoka station is one of Japan’s UNESCO-listed Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution, Nirayama Reverberatory Furnace. Built in the 1850s, it was used to make cannons during the turbulent period when Japan was opening its borders for the first time in more than 200 years. Restored by the community after it fell into disrepair, this important industrial heritage site is today in a peaceful garden, with a viewpoint overlooking the furnace and Mount Fuji just a few minutes’ walk away.

Across the peninsula, coastal Atami has the charming, slightly timewarped atmosphere of a classic onsen (hot spring) resort. As you stroll down the hilly streets to the white sands of Sun Beach, you’ll spot billows of steam rising from the roadside between retro cafés and omiyage (traditional souvenir) shops. Set aside some time to browse the covered arcades of Nakamise-dōri and Heiwa-dōri, by the station, where you can pick up everything from fresh seafood to onsen manjū (steamed buns) and trendy desserts like waffles and Basque cheesecakes.

Head south to spend the night at KAI Anjin in Itō, a high-end but laid-back onsen hotel right by the sea. Spend your afternoon relaxing on the roof terrace overlooking Sagami Bay, or sipping a hand-blended tea while listening to records in the Travel Library. Then in the evening, enjoy a multi-course kaiseki dinner made with seasonal ingredients, featuring a bouillabaisse packed with local seafood, before soaking in the hot springs.

Day four: coastal scenery and mountain views

Jōgasaki-kaigan is one of the peninsula’s most impressive landscapes (Rebecca Hallett)

Start your final day in Shizuoka by exploring Anjin Memorial Park, right outside the hotel. It’s named for Miura Anjin, or Will Adams, a navigator who in 1600 became the first known English person to reach Japan. Tokugawa Ieyasu, who became Japan’s shōgun (military leader) three years later, saw the value of Adams’ knowledge of European politics and nautical expertise. Under Ieyasu’s orders, Adams built Japan’s first Western-style sailing ship right here in Itō in 1604.

Further south, Jōgasaki-kaigan is one of the peninsula’s most spectacular landscapes. Formed from black volcanic rock, the indented rias coastline is punctuated with coves and rock formations. You can explore it on around six miles of walking trails, leading through shaded clifftop pine groves and over the scenic 23-metre Kadowaki Suspension Bridge. The lighthouse by the bridge has a 360-degree platform with views west to the Amagi Mountains and east towards the Izu Islands.

Finally, head to Komuroyama for one final breathtaking view of Mount Fuji. After lunch at Kitchen 218, which is 218 metres above sea level, take the chairlift (or walk for half a mile) up to the MISORA Ridge Walk. Stroll along the boardwalk, taking in the panoramic views of the coast and serene Fuji-san, before relaxing with a drink from Café 321. Make your way back to Itō, from where you can take a short train ride to Atami; Tōkyō is only 45 minutes away by shinkansen.

The Anjin Memorial Park (Rebecca Hallett)

The KAI Anjin Travel Library (Rebecca Hallett)

The Tabinoya Inn (Rebecca Hallett)

Nirayama Reverbatory Furnace (Rebecca Hallett)

Ropeway to Kunōzan Tōshō-gū (Rebecca Hallett)

Nihashi Somekōjō (Rebecca Hallett)

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