Trip to Hamamatsu

We recently took a short family vacation to Hamamatsu, a small city of around 800,000 residents in neighbouring Shizuoka Prefecture.

A visitor to Japan will soon realise that every Japanese prefecture and every Japanese town is ‘famous’ for something. Nagasaki is ‘famous’ for deep fried noodles. Aomori is ‘famous’ for apples. The fact the locals are required to tell you that, for example, the tiny town of Azai is ‘famous’ for weaving, is an irony that seems lost on most of them.

Bucking the trend however, Hamamatsu has some actual fame in the area of musical instruments. Yamaha, Kawai and Roland are all headquartered here, and just so as to remind you that you are in the “City of Music” the only skyscraper in the city is shaped like a giant harmonica. Subtle Japanese pride.

One of the city’s prime attractions is the Museum of Musical Instruments. I particularly enjoyed their selection of pianos, harpsichords and clavichords, although understandably almost all of them were not able to be played by museum visitors. Some of the more unusual items on display included a traditional grand piano with dual (upper and lower) keyboards, and a double-headed piano that could be simultaneously played by two people – one at each end.

small piano
Our small man standing next to an appropriately small piano.

We stayed at a motel situated on the shores of Lake Hamana. It was new, comfortable, clean and relatively cheap. Only one other room was occupied while we were there. Why would such a new, clean, comfortable and relatively cheap motel be so unpopular, we wondered? That was before we opened the curtains to find ourselves face-to-face with a carriage-load of train commuters. The outside track of the JR Tokaido Line passed literally a few metres from the window. Freight trains ran all night at 10 minute intervals which unfortunately made sleeping nearly impossible. But this is Japan, the land of both trains and stoics. The second night we slept better – either because we were becoming more stoical or, more likely, we were really, really, really tired!

We spend one afternoon relaxing at an onsen, and on the way also tried out a public foot bath.

footbath
A free public foot bath at Lake Hamana

One of the most interesting places we visited was the Hamamatsu Air Park, a museum and, I suspect, a recruiting station for the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF). Given that the latter is probably the primary purpose of this place, entry is free!

I can confirm that JASDF personnel are overwhelmingly female, young and beautiful. These lovely young ladies will help you sign away your life, after which point you will be permitted to enter the actual JASDF base to discover that your real colleagues are overwhelmingly male, balding and uncouth.

Anyway – back to the museum… it rocked! It was all Top Gun and I was Tom Cruise before he became a prick. I tried out a couple of flight simulators and managed to crash just about everything they had. The boys dressed up in JASDF uniforms and practiced waiting for a war to come to them.

pilots
What, you thought this country with its famously pacifist constitution didn’t have a military? Think again.
2-year-old pilot
Son, your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash.

Banzai!

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Uncrossable Crossing Closes – Nerds Get Emotional

Today is an historic day for Nagoya train nerds. The Atsuta Jingu Mae level crossing is permanently closing, and little wonder too. It crosses 8 tracks (4 JR tracks and 4 Meitetsu tracks) carrying a total of 1,300 freight and passenger trains per day. This means the crossing is open for an average of only 1 minute 14 seconds in every hour.

Other peculiarities that have train nerds foaming at the mouth are the pulley-operated rope barriers that are manually lowered and raised by station staff, and the island in the middle where one can end up marooned when both halves close at the same time.

Jingu Mae Crossing
Jingu-Mae Level Crossing. Source: This blog.

Small Boy Arrested In Front of Bullet Train

Small Boy and Bullet Train
Source: Nagoya Police Department

If you can read a Japanese date you’ll realise that this photo was taken back in February, when we spent a very enjoyable and appropriately geeky day at the Linear Railway Park – a new railway museum in Nagoya. If you’re visiting this part of Japan and have even a passing interest in trains (heh heh) I definitely recommend paying a visit. At ¥1000 a ticket it isn’t the cheapest day out, but you get plenty of trains for your money. If you’re lucky you might even get to try out the bullet train driving simulator.

Watch out for hardcore train geeks with huge cameras. They have little patience for mere mortals who obstruct the view of their precious trains!