In the days gone by, overseas travel was a luxury, enjoyed by the Well-to-Do. Naturally, being accustomed to a life of luxury, they expected nothing but the best in accommodation, dining, service and attractions.
These days, travel is available to one and all, and with the ease of travelling and lowered costs, much of the romantic charm of travel and its associated high-class hospitality has faded into obscurity. However, such a classic experience can still be found in Aichi Prefecture’s Gamagori, some 60 Km south east of Nagoya City overlooking picturesque Mikawa Bay at the aptly named Gamagori Classic Hotel.
Dating back to 1912 and offering an experience of an authentic elegant atmosphere of days long gone by, Gamagori’s Classic Hotel itself resembles a Japanese castle with its high white walls topped with green copper tiled oriental styled roofing and gables, set high on a steep hill and surrounded by carefully manicured Japanese styled gardens.
▲Gamagori’s aptly named Classic Hotel transports you back to a time when travel was an elegant affair.
▲The classic interior, classic decor and atmosphere greets you on arrival.
Stepping into the lobby, complete with an old-styled elevator, one can instantly see and feel the luxury afforded the travelers of old. The classic early Art-Deco interior, classic decor and atmosphere extends into the magnificent lounge, bars and dining rooms where fine dining menus are on offer. This is the world of the classic afternoon teas, served by a tea sommelier. Where bartenders Indeed, classic service in the style of long ago remains the standard here too, and because of its regal appearance and classic charm, the hotel has been used as a location for numerous TV dramas over the years.
Even more magnificent dining is available in The Rokakudo, a traditionally roofed hexagonal shaped pavilion just below the main hotel complex overlooking the carefully landscaped Japanese gardens and ponds. The interior offers an eclectic mix of the old and new, an east meets West experience, enjoyable across the seasons, with the steak and seafood menu, offering freshly caught Mikawa Bay deep sea delicacies and the locally raised, much prized Mikawa Beef. Alternatively, the traditional Takeshima Restaurant just across the path offers exquisite Japanese courses and atmosphere, and with views of the bay and gardens.
▲The restaurant Rokakudo, a traditionally roofed hexagonal shaped pavilion just below the main hotel complex overlooks the carefully landscaped Japanese gardens and ponds.
Only 27 comfortable modern-styled rooms are available to the public, making a stay at the Classic Hotel an even more special and unique experience, and allowing you boasting rights to be listed amongst a limited number of special guests.
Since the grand and elegant hotel opened over 100 years ago, a long list of celebrities have signed the registers. The Hotel hosted the Emperor Showa, a recognized marine biologist, for two nights in April of 1957, and the room in which he stayed and the cushion on which he sat have remained preserved in exactly the same state, unused and in pristine condition ever since. The former Emperor, at the time the Crown Prince, Akihito also enjoyed the hotel’s superb hospitality and views for a few nights in 1965.
▲The Classic Hotel, seen from sacred Takeshima Island.
The American League All Star Baseball Japan Tour team of 1934 also stayed in this very hotel. Babe Ruth and his wife had Room 26, Lou Gerhig and his wife stayed in Rooms 1 and 2, Jamie Foxx spent his time in Room 21 as Room 15 was used by catcher, coach and wartime spy, Moe Berg. Despite the history, the gorgeousness and image of the Classic Hotel, prices are more than reasonable for a taste of elegance.
The Classic Hotel stands proudly atop a 40-meter-high hill overlooking the calm and tranquil waters of Mikawa Bay Quasi-National Park, and the small, picturesque, historical and sacred island of Takeshima.
▲Takeshima Island and the Mikawa Bay seen from the dining room balcony of the Classic Hotel.
Besides the Classic Hotel perched above the city, Takeshima Island is another symbol of Gamagori and is connected to the shore by a 387-meter-long causeway across the calm, shallow waters, that leads you right through a stone Torii gate. This is the only place in Japan where a bridge runs directly through a Torii gate! The island itself is small, with a circumference of just 620 meters, enclosing an area of 19,000 square meters, and yet the 22 meter high rocky outcrop is covered in evergreen trees and over 238 species of temperate region foliage can be found here, some of it unique to the island itself. In winter, the island hosts migratory birds escaping the harsh cold of Siberia.
▲The causeway is the only place in Japan where a bridge goes through a traditional Torii Gate.
▲Torii gates beckon you to enter the realm of the gods.
The causeway is supposed to be lucky for couples, and so holding hands while crossing has become customary. The area is known as a mysterious Power Spot and draws a steady stream of visitors year-round. Having passed through the torii gate, a short steep climb up a flight of steps takes you to the top of the island and to a series of Shinto shrines, including the Yaotomi Shrine, dedicated to Benten, the Goddess of music and of entertainers. Worshipping at the ancient shrine is said to provide good luck in marriage and in childbirth too.
▲Various Shinto Shrines dot the top of the island, patronized by the future Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the samurai lords of the local Matsudaira clan.
▲A visit to the power spot island is said to improve a couple’s relationship.
The shrine was one of the few places deemed auspicious enough for the future Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, to have stopped to pray for victory en route to the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and the local samurai magistrates would pay their respects here before leaving Gamagori for annual duties at the Shogun’s capital in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and immediately upon their return home.
Gamagori offers some of the nation’s best seafood. Just off the coast of Gamagori, the sea bed plunges to over 400 meters deep, allowing the local fishermen to catch deep sea fish and marine life without having to go too far out to sea. Large, juicy Kuruma prawns, horse crabs, and Akaza-ebi shrimp are specialties of the area. Another local delicacy during winter and early spring is Mehikari, also known as Green-eye, a small 15 to 20cm long deep-sea fish caught between 200-300 meters depth, and cooked and served in a variety of ways. Between April and June the beach area below the causeway to Takeshima Island is a popular spot for digging clams, and many people can be seen searching for the shellfish in the salt rich mud. Yamamoto Fisheries at Katahara is one of the numerous places where visitors can drop in to sample some of the days catch, and purchase a wide range of locally caught fresh seafoods and products.
▲Mr. Yamamoto of Yamamoto Fisheries explains about the local seafoods and daily catches while preparing fresh samples for visitors.
▲A wide range of freshly caught seafoods and products can be purchased.
Below the Classic Hotel and beside the causeway to Takeshima is the Umibe Bungaku Kinenkan, the Seaside Literary Memorial Hall, housed in an early 20th century pavilion and dedicated to the many artists and literati who stayed in the area, including novelist and writer, Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Kawabata Yasunari, who wrote a number of his popular books during his time here.
▲The Seaside Literary Memorial Hall, featuring displays dedicated to literary greats who spent time writing their masterpieces at Gamagori, is housed in a well-preserved early 20th century pavilion.
Laguna Ten Bosch is a popular attraction filled theme park, market, shopping mall, marina, onsen hot spring resort, hotel and restaurant complex. Seasonal events add to the fun of a day or more at Gamagori. The city has four Onsen hot springs, located at Miya, Gamagori, Katahara and Nishiura, all of which overlook the bay area. The Takeshima Aquarium is one of Japan’s oldest and most popular of aquariums, dedicated to the marine life of the Mikawa Bay. A special Restaurant Bus, an infrequent and seasonal local attraction, is also available for sightseeing dinner tours of the Gamagori area, ideal for enjoying the sights and tastes of Gamagori.
▲The popular Laguna Gamagori complex
▲The Gamagori Marina with the Laguna theme park, market, shopping mall, marina, hotel and restaurant complex behind it.
▲The pride of Gamagori, fresh seafoods, Mikawa Beef, locally grown vegetables and the ever popular Gamagori grown mandarin-like mikan oranges.
The ruins of Kaminogo Castle can also be visited. Kaminogo Castle was the scene of a dramatic rescue of the future Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu’s daughters by the famed ninja and warrior, Hattori Hanzo. Ieyasu’s daughters were being held hostage by the rival Imagawa clan at the fortress, and so Hanzo and a small team of around seven men approached the castle one evening dressed as samurai and carrying lanterns sporting the castle lord’s crest. The guards at the gate saw the crests, and believing the men to be their own, simply opened the gate and let them in! Once inside Hanzo and his team then separated, quickly locating Ieyasu’s daughters, and then starting fires in various parts of the castle, led them to safety during the ensuing panic, while taking a number of Imagawa clan hostages at the same time.
The onsen hot springs resort of Katahara opens its sprawling gardens every June for the Katahara Hydrangea Festival, with many thousands of lush hydrangeas drawing crowds of thousands. The Gamagori Festival in July also attracts huge crowds every July for the fireworks extravaganza held along with stalls and entertainments on the foreshore in front of the Takeshima causeway.
▲Katahara’s 50,000 colourful hydrangeas in bloom.
The Miya Matsuri is a more traditional Japanese festival dating back over 300 years, and featuring four huge, towering festival floats being pulled by teams of boisterous locals dressed in loincloths and festival attire through the streets between the Yatsurugi and the Wakamiya Shrines. A highlight of the festival is the dousing of the huge, colorfully decorated antique wooden festival floats in the salty brine of the local waters.
▲Festival participants carry the decorative festival floats into the waters off Gamagori.
The Gamagori area has not seen so many foreign tourists in recent years, and so the opportunity to discover, see and experience something different, the unique treasures, fascinating history and culture of Aichi Prefecture’s sea-side resort remains strong, as does the chance to experience true classic hospitality, in Gamagori.
It will leave you with memories to treasure!
Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.