Sunday, 15 May 2011

Hamanako Pal-Pal, Hamamatsu Flower Park and Toyohashi Zoo

Recently, I've been checking out some of the Hamamatsu area's attractions. 

Hamanako Pal-Pal
A 45 minute bus ride from Hamamatsu station (platform 1, all buses except 37 I think) - take the stop after Flower Park. Pal-Pal is Hamamatsu's version of a theme park. 1000 entry, which leads you into a spherical plaza of shops, arcades and restaurants. After paying for overpriced curry and melon Fanta, we realised that entry into the main park was through one of two tiny doors. Not very intuitive or well organised!Click here for the official website.
Still, actually going on rides was an extra cost. We paid 800 for the big blue rollercoaster, which - to be honest - is pretty damn good. It feels like a modern wonder, out of place in this old park reminiscent of British seaside towns or travelling fairs. But for 800円 a pop on top of the entrance fee, I wasn't keen to reconfirm the experience.

A cable car (or "ropeway") runs from the park to the top of a mountain, and if I had been able to figure out where I would be on the other side I would have bought a one-way ticket and explored. The cable car gives scenic views of Hamana lake, which is - like most lakes - very pretty. Of course, this costs extra.
We managed one other ride - a log flume. Another 800円 and we got quite wet, although nothing is a patch on standing on the bridge in front of Nagashima Spaland's log flume. The main attraction of the day, though, was a performer with all the usual tricks of the trade - flaming juggle sticks (OK, I'm sure they have a name other than "juggle sticks", but I can't think of it) and dangerous objects that nobody holding anything on fire should ever attempt to stand on. Still, mere feet away from swarms of innocent children, he successfully balanced on a barrel while only dropping those torches once. Woo! Still, it doesn't come close to a guy I once saw in Amsterdam... juggling sticks of fire and what can only be described as a machete, he climbed up audience members onto his 10ft high unicycle and rode over a small see-saw, only swearing under his breath fifteen times or so - reassuring!

Hamamatsu Flower Park

So, one stop before Pal-Pal is the Flower Park and connected zoo. I went there a few weeks ago, as the last cherry blossom petals were falling. Entry was 850 for a combined park-zoo ticket, which is rather steep when added to the 500 each way that it costs to get there. If you're interested, take the bus from platform 1 at Hamamatsu station - it takes about 45 minutes, and the stop is named Flower Park (well, "Furawa Pa-ku"). Official website here!

What you see will depend on the season. In late May/June, there will be a firefly viewing festival that I'm looking forward to! But at the end of March, there were a few cherry blossoms, plum trees, tulips and some interesting sculpted flowers. Other than that, it was a bit run down - rose gardens with no roses, signs for flowers that didn't appear to have been planet, a big swimming pool in the centre acting as a fountain. I'll let these pictures speak for themselves, though.

It does look like a nice place to spend the day with friends, perhaps picnicking under a tree by the river... but the entrance price makes it more of a rare treat. It's a big park, spread over two levels - we walked down quite far to reach the zoo, although a cute steam train runs through the park, charging another 100円 per ride.

The zoo was definitely not a must-see. Tens of kangaroos were compressed into a small, rusty pen, bald patches on their fur. A big bear lurked behind a very low wall, a narrow moat our only defense. The animals didn't seem very well-kept, which was a shame. All in all, it's a nice little day out if you're bored on a Sunday afternoon, but be advised that it closes at 4pm (or thereabouts) and is a 45-minute bus ride from Hamamatsu city centre.
Toyohashi Zoo

The week after, a group of us visited Toyohashi Zoo. Actually, the closest train station is Futagawa, one stop before Toyohashi. It takes around 25 minutes from Hamamtsu, and costs around 600円. The entrance fee for the zoo itself is around the same as the train fare, with your ticket allowing access to the zoo, botanical gardens and the theme park (although rides are extra).  Website here.  As you step out from Futagawa station, it's hard to miss the signs leading up to the park:

The animals certainly seem to be in better condition than Hamamatsu Zoo's; open plains with zebras and giraffes are ruined only slightly by the unsightly telegraph poles in the background, which are a regular feature in any Japanese scene. Over time, you learn to filter the power cables out of your perception; once you start to think about them again, they will seem to slowly grow out of the landscape, emerging like ninjas from behind your psychological walls. Photos have to be carefully framed to avoid a big pylon or row of chunky black cables.

Hippos freak me out. Anyway, there are a lot of animals here, mostly in decent living conditions. The botanical greenhouse is very pretty - look out for two or three make-shift monkeys lurking among the trees. OK, I lied, they're impossible to miss.

There's a nice walk around some flowers, and they even have swan boats. 

Food-wise, it's not a great place to be - there are some cheap food stands littered around the park, but only one actual restaurant. However, walk towards Round 1 (outside the park) and you'll find a host of restaurants, including McDonalds and my favourite CoCo Ichiban.
The theme park is a little worse for wear, although cheap, for sure. We rode the big yellow rollercoaster for only 300, but it wasn't the most thrilling. No real dips or turns, just a very fast train ride.  Oh, and you could ride on a fake panda:

And that's not all... there are DINOSAURS!


  1. That flower park looks lovely! Shame about the badly kept animals; it's surprising in such an advanced country. It wasn't surprising in India, but even there, there's carefully managed wildlife reserves, as I spent a great couple of days at one.

  2. Ah, well, Japan might be ahead of the game in some areas, but don't let it fool you into thinking it's as advanced as the robots make out. We see Tokyo on TV but not much of the many tiny fishing villages that still exist. When it comes to animal care, there's definitely something lacking here - the pet shops are always shocking, too. Little puppies and kittens in small cages, only a few weeks old... and I'm sure you know about the whaling etc!! Hmm, yeah. "Advanced" doesn't apply to all areas ;).