1. Fuji-san! (富士山) aka Mt. Fuji
Ok, this is cliche to the max. Every image of Japan probably conjures up Fuji along with geisha, temples and sushi. Yet this majestic mountain is considered sacred to the Japanese, particularly because of its shape (and it’s the highest mountain in Japan). This mountain can be gazed upon from various locations around Shizuoka, including from a Shinkansen, where people, Japanese and foreigners alike, will pull out their cameras and start snapping away at the windows and occasionally fall over folks while doing so. Beautiful to gaze at, for sure, but to climb? Most who have climbed at least once have nothing good to say about it, other than conquering it and the small potential for watching a good sunrise at the top. Like that saying goes, “A wise man climbs it once, a fool climbs it twice,” or something along those lines. Although hearing comments from people post-climb makes me wonder even about this logic...
2. Onsen! (温泉)
I know...another cliche, but Shizuoka is known for some pretty great hot springs. I’ve written about the Otaki onsen at Nanadaru (Seven Waterfalls) and also the Kawane Onsen. The Izu peninsula has a whole mess of them, although I would recommend avoiding the main tourist areas if you want more peace and quiet.
3. Horai Bridge - 蓬莱橋
The world’s longest wooden pedestrian bridge at 897 meters. Yes indeed, this toll bridge is featured in the Guiness Book of World Records, with a large plaque statue at the beginning of the bridge to prove it. Located in Shimada, Shizuoka (my town!) and stretches across the Oi River. I wrote up a bit more about it (with pictures) over here.
4. Green Tea or Ocha - お茶
We all know how much Japan loves this delicious green beverage. And perhaps many of you know Shizuoka grows and produces the most green tea in Japan. I can attest to that - there are tea fields everywhere here. Literally. And since we are on the topic, the World Ocha (Tea) Festival is happening in Shizuoka city this year from October 28th to 31st.
5. Shimada Obi Matsuri (Festival) - 島田帯祭
Yes, every prefecture in Japan holds festivals, although there are such a wide variety throughout the country it’s not too hard to find the unique ones. One rather interesting one, and also one of three festivals in Japan with the longest tradition, is the Obi festival. It occurs once every three years in Shimada city. 2010 just happened to be one of those years, and I have a write-up, including pictures and some video, coming soon. Three days of festivities, costumes galore, and men with no pants and glued on facial hair carrying around obi (the bands that go around one’s kimono). Next one will be held in 2013.
Just this year Gundam moved down to Shizuoka city from Odaiba (Tokyo) - now located just outside of Higashi-Shizuoka station on the JR Tokaido line. If you have no idea what Gundam is, well, essentially it’s a large statue of an anime (cartoon) robot. To be honest, I’ve never seen the show (though my husband has) but the statue is pretty cool.
*Note: Sadly, Gundam can no longer be found in Shizuoka city.
7. Mt. Omuro (大室山) and archery in a volcano
So this is unique in itself, and if another place in Japan offers archery in a dormant volcano, please let me know. Omuro is about a 30 minute bus ride from Izu Kogen station on the Izu peninsula. Once you arrive, you can take a chair lift to the top, where a lot of people just walk around the perimeter (great views, though). Or rent a bow and arrows and head down into the crater to play Robin Hood for a while. There’s also a cactus park across the street, if you are into cacti.
8. Wild monkeys in Mishima
This isn’t so much a “highlight” per se, but it was a random highlight this summer. The idea of wild monkeys running around town, breaking into homes and biting people is random enough, but the fact that the animal catchers could not find and capture them was even more amusing. Moral of the story: If you live in the outskirts of Mishima, watch out for monkeys. I’m not even sure how you defend yourself against a monkey - pepper spray? Avoid eye contact? Back away slowly?
9. Fukuroi Fireworks Festival - ふくろい遠州の花火
Ok, ok, another festival - but it’s a 花火 (hanabi; fireworks) festival, unlike the Obi Matsuri. Though Shizuoka has many fireworks festivals during the summer months, not to mention some of the other spectacular displays throughout Japan, the Fukuroi Festival is considered to be among the best in the country. For more info and pictures, check out these two posts.
10. The great Tokai Earthquake
Most residents of Shizuoka know of this impending doom upon the prefecture (if you don't, you should). The Tokai earthquake is one of those mega-catastrophic earthquakes that occurs every 100 to 150 years. Apparently the last one happened in 1854, so another is expected anytime now. Since the region sits on four tectonic plates, possibly causing a magnitude of between 7 and 9. The quake could also cause a deadly tsunami and Mt. Fuji may erupt. Oh, don't worry, Japan has been preparing for it, and the Japan Meteorological Agency has an earthquake warning in place, although this warning will only occur a few seconds to minutes before. When I learned of all this, I laughed - one of those uncomfortable, what-else-can-I-do laughs. If I’m not crushed by a falling building, I’ll be running from a tsunami and/or a volcanic eruption. Sounds kind of like an adventure, now that I think about it. Or a movie akin to 2012 or Deep Impact, except maybe not so apocalyptic.
Of course, I’ve failed to mention the many, many other interesting “highlights” Shizuoka has to offer, such as food (mikan, strawberries, melon, seafood...), scenery, historic places, castles, temples, shrines, beaches, bays, museums, parks, shopping areas, etc. So, Shizuokians out there, or those that have traveled to Shiz, feel free to add your own highlights in the comments.