Apr 21, 2017

Know about Shizuoka? Our awareness, experience, and travel habits in Japan

What do you think of when you hear the name Shizuoka? Mt. Fuji, Shirahama (possibly the best beach near to Tokyo), eel (unagi) dishes, one of Japan’s earliest to bloom cherry blossom spots? Or maybe utterance of Shizuoka serves nothing more than to induce a blank stare?  

Recently we asked you, the City-Cost community, what the noun ‘Shizuoka’ means to you. Suffice to say, that there were no blank stares; we’ve all at least heard of this part of Japan.

Just how many of us have been? Most of us it, seems. 

And most of us have heard of Shizuoka either through the Internet or by that age old rumour monger, word-of-mouth.

Before we get into the Shizuoka specifics, let’s broaden our gaze to encompass destinations across Japan, and see how well ‘Japan-travelled’ we are.

Have you ever been to any of the following locations / regions in Japan?

It probably comes as little surprise to see heavy hitters like Tokyo, Osaka, Mt. Fuji and Hiroshima at the upper echelons of this list. The Shizuoka destinations don’t fare so well. Can we pick them out? Well, aside from (part of) Mt. Fuji, we have Izu (covering the peninsula that juts out into the Pacific), Shuzenji (an ancient Buddhist temple - also in the Izu), Gotemba (home to, among other things, one of Japan’s most celebrated outlet malls), Shimoda (near that beach we were talking about earlier, and famous as the Japanese port opened for international trade by Commodore Perry), and Hamamatsu (a city specialising in meals involving those eels).  

So what have we heard about Shizuoka? Of Japan’s 47 prefectures, Shizuoka is the 13th largest in terms of area, and the 10th largest in terms of population. It’s host to (part of) Japan’s highest peak as well as the highest percentage of vacation homes anywhere in Japan. But what of the Shizuoka names?

The following are famous Shizuoka products / brands / locations. Which are you aware of as being from / famous in Shizuoka?

Ask people across Japan what Shizuoka’s most famous product might be, and they’ll likely say green tea. With good reason; nearly half of the green tea drunk in Japan is grown in the region. It seems that plenty of us are familiar with this, too. Green tea features towards the top of this list along with the likes of Mt. Fuji, onsen, and the Izu Peninsula. After these though, there appears to be an awareness gap. Quite a large one. Of course, it’s probably safe to say that there are ‘names’ on this list we’ve heard of but weren't aware of as being from Shizuoka; companies like Suzuki and Yamaha for instance, along with Gundam. There may also be some ‘names’ that need explanation given their Japanese form; Kawazu-zakura (a kind of cherry blossom that is among the first to bloom in the season), Chibi Maruko-Chan (a popular manga series set in Shizuoka City in the 1970s), and Sakura Ebi (shrimp found in the waters of Suruga Bay, as well as on plenty of restaurant menus). Explanation may also be required for Tōkaidō (lit. East Sea Road), a major transport artery that connected Tokyo and Kyoto, and is still today one of Japan’s busiest transportation routes taking in as it does many of the nation’s major industrial hubs.

In unagi, Sakura Ebi, strawberries and Mandarin Oranges, Shizuoka has much to offer the nation’s palate. Not to mention all the green-tea infused delicacies reflecting of its status as a major producer. But when we travel in Japan, what is our appetite for the local speciality of any region?

When traveling / taking vacations in Japan, where do you typically go to eat?

In the face of language and cultural barriers getting a bite to eat while we’re on the road in Japan might be easiest to achieve in a convenience store or fast food restaurant. In fact, there’s no ‘might’ about this. These are the paths of least resistance to getting fed, especially when Japan’s penchant for eateries without windows makes it difficult for the hesitant traveler to assess the situation within. Not that these are the places in which we want to eat. Our most desired eating experience is a local one, at restaurants serving local dishes made with local ingredients. This is then followed by those restaurants we find while we’re out wandering / exploring. Restaurants that are recommended to us through Internet platforms round off an overwhelming top three. Let us be clear though, these are the places we want to eat in. How many of us end up just taking the easy option of a burger or a bit of bread, is a question for another time!

If traveling / taking a vacation in Japan, which of the following would you be interested in?

The theme of ‘food’ continues. It seems there are plenty of ‘foodies’ among us. ‘Dining / cuisine’ comes out on top. Good job we’re in Japan then, surely one of world’s great destinations for gastronomic delights (and the occasional oddity).  

What follows next looks to us to be interests / pursuits of an outdoor, enjoying-nature bent. Mountains, flowers, views, soaks in a hot spring … enjoying the fruits of Japan’s extraordinary geography, if you will. Would it be fair to say also that these are things we are able to access at our own pace, in our own time? It seems that more ‘structured’ holiday pursuits (homestay, agriculture experiences, fruit picking, outdoor activities) are lower down on the list. Still, this is after all, a vacation. Who wants timetables and instruction outside of work / study?  

Does the mid-ranking position of ‘urban exploration’ reflect that most of us live in the city, meaning this is something we can pursue easily of a weekend? Or could it be that we have Shizuoka on the mind, and don’t associate the region with exciting urban centers?

OK, so maybe we want freedom during our vacations (although sipping margaritas by the pool is notably absent from any of the options), but what if it comes down to choosing some kind of activity package or tour? What are we up for?

Which of the following tours / activities might you be interested in?

Much like our dining experiences, ‘local’ seems to be a key word, with ‘local festivals and events’ taking the top spot here. An onsen / kimono experience comes a close second. Picking tea with a backdrop of Mt. Fuji rounds out the top three. Here again, agricultural experience ranks fairly low. Interestingly though, it’s coastal ‘tours’ like driving, scuba diving, and camping on private beaches that make up the bottom three. Maybe this reflects a lack of association with Japan as a beach destination. Few people come all this way to spread out on the sands, do they? And perhaps some of us have experienced Japan’s ‘urban’ beaches during the madness of August, when swathes of the population flock to the coast, leaving much of their trash behind.  

In large part, we can see that the highest ranking options offer something uniquely Japanese; the locals festivals, onsen and kimono, tea ceremony, and views to Mt. Fuji. Of course, these can all be extrapolated to encompass general themes found throughout the world, but in the hands of Japan and the Japanese, they take on forms, colors, and meaning the likes of which we might not find elsewhere.

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