Sunday, 3 July 2011

Hamamatsu's Unagi Pie Factory

When a writer for a local guidebook enthused that "to call Hamamatsu's Unagi Pie Factory a factory would not be do the place justice; it is more of a theme park suitable for the whole family", I knew that either I had lived in Hamamatsu for over a year without discovering this gem, or that somebody was having a laugh.

Unagi Pie, if you don't know, is one of Hamamatsu's "specialities". Unagi means eel, and eel itself is one of the local delicacies (although I've never eaten it because it's so expensive... tourism fail). The "pie" in question is a sweetened biscuit of sorts, made up from crushed eel bones in pastry. Yum. It tastes mostly sugary, perhaps with a little cinnamon and a subtle, lingering hint of sealife under the sweetness. Made in Hamamatsu, the factory itself is a popular tourist attraction. The only real way to get to it is by car, as it lies far from any bus route or train line, but the advantage is that entry is free.

The guidebook writer that first alerted me to this fantasy land clearly had a high opinion of the place, or a very tongue-in-cheek method of over-enthusing disappointing tourist attractions. Or perhaps they had been bored for a very, very long time. The article went on to state "the handrails on the stairs are shaped like eels!" - well! How wonderful must a theme park be, that the shape of handrails can excite a person so? I knew that I had to visit.

Years before I came to Japan, I found a couple of Japanese friends online. At the time, I was looking for pen-pals to help me with learning the language, and they were looking to practise their English. I emailed a lot of people, but it was Yuki in Yokohama and Mikoto in Saitama who stuck with me for years. We'd send each other trading cards and magazines from our home countries and exchange language tips. With the dawn of Facebook came a better way for us to stay in touch. I was lucky enough to meet Yoji in Tokyo last May, and we had a great time in Shibuya. However, Mikoto seemed to work every weekend, so we were both very happy to discover that she had a free Saturday during Golden Week. We planned that she would come to Hamamatsu and I'd spend a day showing her around.

Well... Hamamatsu is great and all, but try concentrating it into a day-long adventure for somebody who's used to Tokyo, especially when they have to catch a bus back before the nightlife (for me, the best thing) kicks off. I showed her the castle, Starbucks and ACT City, before deciding that perhaps the Unagi Pie factory would be an exciting adventure.

My friend Josh has a car, so luckily we were able to get there. Not too far from Maisaka station on a map, we spent about half an hour in the long line of cars waiting to get in to one of the factory's multiple car parks. Finally there, we went in and were greeted with a complimentary unagi pie and a similarly shaped phone charm. Outside, there was a massive unagi pie that you could pose with.

Inside, there were a few panels containing facts about the pie-making process. We walked up the stairs and I saw, to my delight, that the rails were indeed shaped like small eels. Wow, Disneyland - eat your heart out! You might have rides and parades, but you don't have eel-shaped handrails, do you?

From a long, glass window upstairs, we peered down into the factory below, and watched the conveyor belts and the factory workers doing their thing. There was the belt where the pastry was rolled, there it went to bake, there it was packaged, there it fell into boxes. Thrilling! If that wasn't enough, there was also a cinema room where you could watch a documentary about the pies being made, hosted by "Unagi-kun", a young boy with an eel wrapped around his forehead.

After watching a video that showed the exact factory process that was happening, live, in front of us, we reached the end of the tour. There was a restaurant, though. You could order delightful desserts, such as unagi pie with mango and ice cream, if you were willing to wait around an hour for a table. What really confused me was seeing a table for ten people sitting empty, while the customer list stretched beyond two pages.

We skipped out of the gift shop and escaped, munching on our free unagi pies.

If you're bored and have a car, then it might be a fun place to go... but, dear guide book, theme park it is not.

Website here -

1 comment:

  1. Hi I'm Dean. I enjoyed your story about Unagi pie a lot. Thank you very much for sharing your story :)

    Oh I used to love Unagi pie when I was a kid!! I still remember I was so happy when my relatives/ family friends visited our home, brought the pie as a gift. I miss it so much!

    Even though I am from Shizuoka pref. I've never been to Hamamatsu. I should visit the factory next time going back to Japan!