With the Rugby World Cup approaching in 2019, twelve venues across Japan are gearing up to welcome fans of international rugby. While the big venues in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya are part of the line-up, other stadiums are located in more rural areas in Hokkaido, Iwate, Saitama, Oita, Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Kobe and Shizuoka.
Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, located a couple hours southwest of Tokyo, seats nearly 51,000 spectators. The stadium design is inspiring the new stadium being built for the Summer Olympics coming to Tokyo in 2020. “Ecopa,” which hosted several matches during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, is the primary venue for major sporting events in Shizuoka including rugby, football and track and field. In June, a warmup match between Japan and Ireland’s national teams was held here; interestingly, both teams are in the same pool for the Rugby World Cup. Although technically part of Fukuroi City, Ecopa is the main structure of Ogasayama Sports Park, which extends into neighboring Kakegawa. Unlike the other stadiums, Ecopa is surrounded by lush green forests instead of high rises usually associated with large stadiums.
Most travelers view Kakegawa as a quick stop or overnighter on the way to or from other destinations, but what they overlook is the hidden, cultural charm found all around this sleepy Shizuoka city. If you plan to visit for the Rugby World Cup or are simply looking for a cool new area to explore, here are a few must-see spots to add to your itinerary.
Highland Tea Farms
If you are a fan of green tea you’d know that Shizuoka is famous for producing some of Japan’s top strains. Kakegawa tea is enjoyed for its traditional, deeply steamed flavors and aromas. Apart from the tea itself, the city introduces tea culture by carefully manicuring the landscape at the foot of Mt. Awagatake, where rows of neatly trimmed tea bushes line the hills.
Mt. Awagatake is easily noticeable from afar as cypress trees shape the massive Japanese kanji character, “cha” (tea). Using the chagusaba farming method, the leaves are prepared in the traditional technique of tenomi (hand rolling) and can be tasted at traditional tea houses. Travelers can experience the leaf-to-cup process at Kiwi Country Japan during the tea harvest months of April to October. To reserve, call (0537) 22-6543 or email wbs02626mail [dot] ne [dot] jp.
The hilly region of Awagatake is part of Higashiyama, where hikers can explore ancient forests and spiritual“power places.” The main hiking trail starts from Higashiyama Ippukudokoro and takes about an hour to ascend Mt. Awagatake (532 meters). On the way up, the Awawa forest specifically holds religious significance with the Awawa Shrine at the summit and nearby Iwakura, which holds the remains of an ancient place of worship.
Relax in Natural Hot Springs
For post-hike relaxation, head to Kurami and Narakoko-no-yu hot springs. Kurami Onsen is famous for Masagokan, a traditional inn rich with history. The ryokan is located only a 15-minute drive from Kakegawa Station or a 25-minute drive from Kakegawa IC. If you are arriving with eight or more people, you will be picked up by a retro-style bus from the station. For more information, visit www.masagokan.com.
Narakoko-no-yu to the north of the Ijiri Campsite is surrounded by forests and clear streams. The campsite also offers rental bungalows, cottages and even has a tennis court. For more information or to book your stay, visit www.narakoko.info or email narakokor [dot] narakoko [dot] info.
Experience Feudal Japan
The impressive Kakegawa Castle was the seat of various feudal lords who ruled over Kakegawa during the 1400s. The castle has a long, arduous history, ultimately falling to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s army before being damaged twice by massive earthquakes. In 1994, it was restored to its original state and is the first wooden castle tower in Japan of its kind. The four-story castle offers a view of Kakegawa City from the attic lookout. After exploring the castle and its surrounding grounds, visit the Ninomaru traditional tea house for Kakegawa tea. The castle is a 7-minute walk from Kakegawa Station.
Kakegawa by Bike
The Japanese word yuttori means relaxed, and what better way to discover this laid-back city than by bicycle? With Kakegawa’s Hitotabi Futatabi tours, travelers can get a glimpse into Japanese countryside life as well as Kakegawa’s cultural history and agricultural treasures.
Half-day tours led by local guides generally cover 30 kilometers by bicycle starting at Kakegawa Station with stops at rice and tea fields, local eateries and the castle. Walking and trekking tours also available. To sign up, call (0537) 24-8711 or email infokakegawa-kankou [dot] com.
Kakegawa Station is an hour and 50 minutes by bullet train from Tokyo Station or an hour bullet train ride from Nagoya. If you are coming by car, it is approximately two hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo IC on the Tomei Expressway. Aino Station is a 15-minute walk from Ecopa Stadium and is four minutes west of Kakegawa Station, the nearest shinkansen station to Ecopa. Shuttle buses are also available between Kakegawa Station to the stadium during major international matches. For more information, visit www.kakegawa-kankou.com.