Half-way between the great sightseeing destinations of Tokyo and Kyoto, Shizuoka prefecture is seen by a lot of visitors to Japan just as a blur out of the window as they zoom through in their bullet trains... but oh, how they're missing out! From beautiful scenery to vibrant festivals, mouth-watering food to captivating art, there are plenty of reasons to get out of the train and explore.
I haven't measured it, but Shizuoka must have one of the longest coastlines among the 47 prefectures, taking in the jagged volcanic shore of Jogasaki and the sandy beach at Susuki. Elsewhere there's a real diversity on offer: restful tea plantations inland, peaceful Lake Hamana near Hamamatsu, lushly forested hills and gorges, ice caves and waterfalls, and always the peak of Mount Fuji as a backdrop.
History and tradition
Ito on the coast of the Izu Peninsula has a small but significant place in modern Japanese history, as it's where English navigator Will Adams launched Japan's first western-style sailing ships. This was at the behest of Tokugawa Ieyasu, later to be the first Shogun of a unified Japan, who lived for seventeen years in Hamamatsu Castle. Going further back, there's an ancient archaeological site to visit at Toro, while all of the region's history is celebrated year-round in festivals such as the Princess Road Procession.
Sport and leisure
The prefecture boasts not one but two J-League soccer teams, Shimizu S-Pulse and Jubilo Iwata; they've both fallen on lean times of late, but watching a game at the stadium still makes for a fun afternoon or evening out. Elsewhere you can go boating or waterskiing on Lake Hamana, catch the sun or waves at the beaches, or take a relaxing soak at the hot springs for which Atami and the Izu Peninsula are known.
Food and drink
With that long coastline, there's plenty of fresh seafood to be had; Numazu especially is known for its sushi, while eel is a specialty of the area around Hamamatsu and Lake Hamana. The prefecture is also known for its green tea, and if you prefer something stronger, there are a good number of wineries, breweries and sake distilleries to visit.
Art and culture
There are a wide range of art museums around the prefecture, from the grand Atami MOA and the Prefectural Museum of Art near Shizuoka City, to hidden gems like the Akino Fuku Museum, out in the hills away from Hamamatsu. Then there's an equally diverse range of other kinds of museums, dedicated to everything from musical instruments to teddy bears; and there's also an abundance of more traditionally Japanese forms of culture, taking in exquisitely landscaped stroll gardens, ceramics classes and much more besides.
In the big cities like Shizuoka City and Hamamatsu you'll find everything you'd expect, quirky shopping centers and classy department stores alike. Then all across the prefecture there are smaller shops specializing in local goods and produce, an outlet mall near Gotemba in the east of the prefecture, and a lot of towns have enjoyably retro covered arcades, great places to pick up unique souvenirs and keepsakes.
These are just a handful of the manifold delights of Shizuoka Prefecture! So wherever your interest lies, it'll be worth your while to get off the train and take a look around, because there really is something here for everyone.