Miho no Matsubara (Pine Grove in Miho) is one of the most popular tourist destinations around Shimizu Port in Shizuoka Prefecture, and I know most of the tourists look forward to seeing the figure of Mt. Fuji emerging over the beautiful pine grove under a clear blue sky. The Miho Pine Grove has been closely related to this iconic mountain from ancient times, and they have often been depicted together in various art forms. And that is the main reason the Pine Grove was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 as one of Mt. Fuji's "component parts." However, statistically there are not so many days throughout the year, especially in the summertime, when the entire figure of Mt. Fuji can be seen clearly from this area. In that case, do tourists have no choice but to go back to their ship or hotel half-disappointed after they visit the Pine Grove on a rainy or cloudy day? I don't think so, as the Miho Pine Grove has its own charms even without the view of Mt. Fuji.
First of all, how about appreciating the beauty and strength of old pine trees? Being considered as one of the "three outstanding pine groves of Japan," this area has more than 30,000 Japanese black pine trees. When we first step into the pine grove, we will experience a unique atmosphere, which is solemn, but at the same time refreshing. What surprises us the most is how clean the ground is and how well-tended the pine trees are. These are the results of the preservation efforts which have been conducted by local people and organizations.
Historically, the Japanese black pine has been valued because of its vigorousness and called "the king of pine trees." It has also been considered auspicious because the evergreen color of its leaves, as well as its long life, are suggestive of our perpetual youth and longevity. So we often see it gracing the famous gardens of historical value. (Some may recall the 2,000 pieces of this variety planted in the Imperial Palace Garden in Tokyo.) The black pine is one of the most popular trees in Japanese Bonsai art. And it also has been used for various purposes, such as fuel, lumber and food. In those ways, the Japanese black pine has been closely connected with people and culture of Japan. So when you listen to a tour guide speaking amidst the dense pine groves in Miho, you are not only learning about the site from the guide, but you might also be about to discover something that transcends the guide's explanation.
Next, let me talk about Japanese traditional waka poems. Miho no Matsubara has often been used as subject matter in many waka poems, but not necessarily together with Mt. Fuji. For example, the following poem is contained in Manyoshu, which was compiled in the eighth century and is the oldest anthology of waka poems.
"Iohara no / Kiyominosaki no / mihonoura no / yutakeki mitsutsu / monoomoi mo nashi..."
This poem was composed by Taguchi no Masuhito no Maetsukimi when he visited Kiyominosaki (present-day Okitsu Town) during his trip to Kamitsukenonokuni (sometimes pronounced "Kouzukenokuni," present-day Gunma Prefecture) where he was appointed Kokushi (provincial governor) in the late administrative reform in accordance with the transfer of the capital from Nara to Kyoto in 794. The poem roughly translates:
"Viewing the abundance of the sea around Miho / From Kiyominosaki in Ihara / There is no worries in my mind..."
It is not clear from this waka whether or not Mt. Fuji was visible on the day of his visit, but at least we know the sacred mountain did not cross his mind when Taguchi no Masuhito no Maetsukimi composed this poem. Kitahara Hakushuu also wrote some waka poems about Miho no Matsubara, but, more often than not, his focus is on the pine trees, the beach or ships on the ocean.
Some people think that "Miho no Matsubara" consists only of the pine grove and the beach, but actually the area designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site is much larger, and it includes some sections which can be enjoyed in any kind of weather. Miho Shrine is one of them. Although it is unknown when this shrine was founded, people has worshipped at it from ancient times and the legendary Hagoromo Pine Tree in Miho beach is the shrine's sacred tree. And the Miho Shrine is connected with the pine grove beach by the boardwalk called "Road of God," which spans 500m and is lined with large pine trees of well over 200 years old. These places are interesting and worth visiting for their own sakes.
Just next to the "Hagoromo Pine Tree," there is yet another interesting spot. It is the "Monument of Helena Giuglaris," where the guide might tell you about the life of this French ballet dancer who lived in the early 20th century and her connection to the Miho Pine Grove.
Miho no Matsubara is also a place where you have a chance to eat (or buy) some of the famous local dishes or snacks from this region. There are a few shops open every day for tourists, and they sell foods such as Shizuoka Oden, bottles of local sake, matcha ice cream, shirasu ice cream, green-tea coke (aka, "Shizuoka Cola"), Fujisan cider and abegawa mochi. Chatting with shop attendants might also be fun. (I got permission from the shops to post the photos below.)
Lastly, there are the Tourrist Information Center buildings near the central square where you can learn about the past and the present of the pine grove through the exhibitions, or can watch the brilliant short video about the grove. If you show your friends a picture of you taken in front of the large panel of Mt. Fuji and the pine grove, they might believe you visited there on a fine day, even though you really didn't.
Of course, there is no doubt that the best time to be in the Miho Pine Grove is when Mt. Fuji can be seen over it, but there are still a few things to see and do in the grove even in bad weather. Rain or shine either way, as a tour guide, there I have many interesting things to talk about.
Check out the tour in which Miho no Matsubara is included in the itinerary: