Kiyomi is a former Canadian pharmacist who is now living in Japan, where she enjoys being immersed in her Japanese roots.
Gamagori is not a well-known tourist city in Japan, but it provides plenty of fun and unique activities for visitors. If you’re tired of all the shrines and temples, hot springs, or busy shopping districts you'll find in Japan's big cities and tourist hot-spots, you may want to head out to this small city. Gamagori station is just 970 yen and 40 minutes away from Nagoya if you hop on the JR Tokaido Line kaisoku (rapid) train. Here are some examples of how to spend your time in Gamagori.
Boat Races in Gamagori
Most of us are familiar with going to the tracks to bet on horse races, however, the Japanese are also very much into betting on bicycle and boat racing. Gamagori has recently renovated their boat race pier and has made it easy for inexperienced visitors and even families to spend a day enjoying the races. Don’t worry if it’s your first time, you can start with easy bets. Just mark off Gamagori 蒲郡 on the betting card, with the race number, the number of the boat(s) that you think will place and the amount you wish to bet. The staff should be happy to help you with the process. For an English explanation go to the link for the Official Boat Race website. On the PC site, there is even a link to a YouTube video telling you all about boat racing in English.
Even if you don’t bet on every race, it’s still fun to just watch the boats, or to have a meal or snack in the food court. If there’s a big event going on, sometimes there will be guest singers, actors or comedians showing up to promote the event. If you plan on spending a lot of time here, it may be worth it to pay 1500 yen for a comfortable reserved seat in the “Moonlight Room.” Included in this fee, you will get vouchers worth 500 yen to use at the cafés or restaurants, a seat in a small booth equipped with your very own monitor to check race odds, and a third-floor view of all the races.
How to Get to the Gamagori Boat Races
To get to this exciting boat race venue, you can take the JR train to Gamagori station and take the free shuttle bus from there. Or you can get off earlier at Okazaki Station (岡崎駅), transfer to a local train and get off at Mikawa Shiotsu Station (三河塩津駅) and walk just five minutes from there (go in the direction of where most of the old men with boat race guides in their hands seem to be going). You can check the official site at the link below to see what days there is live racing going on. Just look on the left column for the kanji of Gamagori (蒲郡).
Laguna Ten Bosch
This is a theme park that can keep both the old and young occupied for a whole day. It is not very big in size, so I was actually surprised that I was able to spend an entire day there (without kids). There are a couple of hotels and an onsen (hot spring) on site as well, so it makes for a relaxing day. When you enter the main park area, ask at the information booth about the schedule of all the show times. Each show may only play a couple times throughout the day, so you don’t want to miss the ones that interest you.
360-Degree 3D Theatre
I recommend the 360 Degree 3D Theatre. There are about four different shows rotating throughout the day. They are short but entertaining and really made me feel like 3D video has come such a long way; I found myself reaching out, trying to grab some of the images. The horror-themed show (made only for visitors who are 16 years of age or over) will really make you jump and send chills down your spine.
House Ten Bosch Kagekidan
Another show to see is the House Ten Bosch Kagekidan (Music Company). You may have heard of the Takarazuka group which is a big hit in Japan right now. They are a women-only group of singers and dancers where the women play the roles of men as well. The performance at the Laguna Ten Bosch Art Theatre is not quite at the scale of Takarazuka but it is similar and does feature a former member of the group. The House Ten Bosch group also formed their own training school for their female-only performers. The company is still relatively new and is thought to be on the way to becoming more renowned. Most of all, there is no fee to enter this theatre, so you should hurry to see them before they potentially become famous. There are already quite a few of fan followers who brought out matching glow sticks simultaneously at the performance of the last song!
Theme Park Rides
Most of the rides may seem geared towards kids, but nonetheless, they are still fun for adults (especially for those who normally get nauseous on the big, speedy ones). I was thoroughly impressed with one of the roller coasters with the option of wearing a virtual reality mask. The movement of the ride and the picture on the VR screen were perfectly in sync so even though the coaster was not all that big, it gave the illusion and thrill of a full-sized ride. You can purchase ride tickets individually or you can buy a pass giving you unlimited access to all of the rides including the Ferris wheel located across the road from the main park area. You can save about 800 yen if you buy this pass after 4pm.
Laguna Festival Market
For a bite, there are many food trucks and a few restaurants and cafes on site, but you can also exit the park (make sure to get a re-entry stamp), and make your way over to the Laguna Festival Market shopping mall, just by taking the stairs up to the overpass (this is also where the aforementioned Ferris wheel is). There is more variety to choose from, as well as a food court for the seafood and sashimi lover.
In the spring, there is a pretty flower garden featuring flowers of the season. If you go in the summer, you can also enjoy the wading pool and fireworks show. In the winter, as it gets dark, you can see elaborate lights decorating the park.
3D Projection Mapping
One of the main attractions of Laguna is the 3D Projection Mapping shows. Once it gets dark, you should head over to the square at the entrance to see the 360-degree mapping. Moving images are projected onto all four walls of the square. They brighten up the area and give it a totally different atmosphere. The moving images make the walls seem like they are dancing and in motion themselves. When this short show is finished, you can check out the water projection mapping. This takes place by the large fountain in the centre of the park and you may be amazed by the images projected onto water spraying into the air.
How to Get to Laguna Ten Bosch
It is easy to get to Laguna Ten Bosch, just hop on a free shuttle bus from Gamagori Station. The bus will also take you to any of the hotels on site as well as the spa and onsen.
Gamagori Orange Park
If you like fruits and can eat a lot of them, this is the park for you. Here, depending on the season, you can take part in fruit picking. From January to May are strawberry picking months, June to September brings melons, grapes are available July and August, and finally orange picking takes place from September until the end of the year. The one thing that may set Japanese fruit picking different from other places is that here they are mostly all-you-can-eat. You won't be scorned for putting a fruit in your mouth that you've just picked. To get to this park, just flag down a taxi at Gamagori station and take a 10 minute ride.
This aquarium has taken pride in their unique sea lion show. People of all ages have flocked to this aquarium to see the tricks of the sea lion. In addition to that, the aquarium houses at least 450 different types of sea animals, and their exhibitions are continuously changing. It only takes 15 minutes to get there on foot from Gamagori station (you can also get there by bus). The admission fee is just 500 yen for adults and 200 yen for children (those under 6 years old are free!).
Takeshima Island and Yaotomi Shrine
Not far from the aquarium is Takeshima island which is considered to be the symbol of Gamagori. You'll see many people walking hand-in-hand across the bridge that connects the shore to Yaotomi Shrine on the island. It is said that the bridge brings luck to couples. If you're coming from Gamagori station you may walk, or ride the bus for 5 minutes and get off at the stop called "Takeshima Yuen".
I’ve only given you an insight into a few of Gamagori’s many tourist spots, but they will keep you busy and stimulated for hours. Even though they may not be in a city that you have heard of, it’s worth it to explore this unknown place especially if you have the time, or have already visited all the big cities.