Shortly before a visit to Hamamatsu I was planning, I was looking online for places to visit, and found pictures of an extraordinary looking spot: called Nukumori-no-Mori ('Forest of Warmth'), it looked like a cartoon fantasy village set in an enchanted forest. When I came to visit I had an afternoon to spare, so I made my way out there; and while it wasn't everything I expected, it still made for an enjoyable afternoon out, with a quirky, cute and fun atmosphere.
The first thing that struck me was how very small it was. I didn't check, but I'd be pretty sure that there's more than one spot where I could stand and turn around, and see everything there is to see. The houses and little huts all stick to the theme, however, looking as if they were built by elves and dwarves with an aversion to straight lines but a fondness for mushrooms. I enjoyed just strolling around and taking in the atmosphere, but it didn't take me very long, especially as two or three of the few stores were closed.
In the smaller little houses/buildings/cottages/mushrooms you'll find an Annie Sloan paint shop and a cosy jewellery atelier. There's also a little private mushroom meeting room, with space for a few small people to eat small boxed lunches around a small table.
Then, walk through the arch of the main group of buildings and you come to a quaint little courtyard with a handful of tables and chairs. These I guess are intended for customers of The Cake Factory, a little bakery and cafe selling small but tasty-looking cakes, cookies and pastries, to either eat here or take home to nibble on.
The main shop is the 'Cottage of Warmth', which packs a lot into a space that was clearly designed for people less tall than me. The stairs are narrow and the rooms packed, the racks and shelves overflowing with goods for sale, but this actually makes for a pleasantly convivial atmosphere, as we customers all squeeze and 'sumimasen' past each other.
Here you can buy everything you need to fit out your gingerbread house: there's garden furniture, ceramics, candles and light fittings, and also bags, accessories and colourful woolly ladieswear. There's also one room dedicated wholly to Studio Ghibli stuff, where you'll find puzzles, toys, towels and high-end tableware adorned with Totoro, Ponyo and characters from their other movies.
Nukumori-no-Mori is open daily except Thursdays, from 10:30am to 6:30pm. It's close to Kanzanji onsen resort on the eastern shore of Lake Hamana, about 30-40 minutes' drive from Hamamatsu. There's no train station: if you don't have your own transportation, take Entetsu bus 30 bound for Kanzanji Onsen from stand 1 of Hamamatsu bus terminal, and get off at Sujikai-bashi bus stop. Nukumori-no-Mori is about five minutes' walk from the bus stop, on the other side of the nearby intersection.