The torii of the setting sun
Bentenjima is a little island at the junction of Lake Hamanako and the Pacific Ocean in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka prefecture. Tourists usually enjoy the beach and the onsen facilities but are also attracted by its iconic red floating torii. The torii is indeed a must-see in winter, as the sun sets into it, for a limited period of two months.
Tourists might not be aware that many of them have already passed through Bentenjima. Located on the Tokaido route, the island is crossed by the Shinkansen 🚅 and the local train’s railways, linking Tokyo to Kyoto along the Pacific coast. A keen eye is necessary to spot the torii ⛩️ floating on the quiet Lake Hamanako from the train, an appetizer before Miyajima’s torii.
Standing 18 meters high, its pillars in the water, the traditional gate faces Bentenjima’s main beach 🏖. The beach, artificially maintained, is very popular in summer for taking a dip in the sea with family or friends, collecting shellfishes, or enjoying a ride on a boat or a Jet Ski. Otherwise, the rest of the year, the place is not really interesting. The shores of the lake and the access from the local train station are covered in concrete and don’t entice tourists. The little marina and its couple of flat-bottomed boats are the only charming aspects, if we forget that the Japanese high-speed train circulates just over the canal. Bentenjima is nonetheless reputed for its onsen ♨️ hotels 🏨, the buildings of which span several levels to ensure visitors get the best views of the water.
There is, however, one moment in the year when it is worth discovering the island. For two months, before and after the winter solstice (around December 22), the sun sets into the torii, allowing Japan and its traditional landscape lovers to contemplate an idealized image. The blazing vermillion wooden gate amidst the glowing water offers a marvelous natural show. The view is so enthralling that the noise of the traffic flow seems to disappear for a second.
Bentenjima is best enjoyed with a wintery outside aperitif. The konbini at JR Station’s southeast exit sells anything you need for drinks and crackers. It is then possible to settle on the stairs along the park or on the benches near the beach. Hopefully, nice weather will allow you to savor the moment!
The regulars are also part of the show. It is amusing to observe the group of Japanese photographers, coming almost every night, setting up their cameras 📷, and choosing the exact location to get the best shot (at the eastern side of the park). It is a good occasion for sunset amateurs to mingle with them and share a common passion for a couple of minutes.
On a practical note, we recommend arriving early, before the expected sunset hour, to find the best spot for taking a picture with the sun aligned perfectly between the torii’s pillars. If possible, bring a tripod for a cleaner image. Finally, plan to wear clothes adapted to the strong winter winds coming off the sea.