Izu, Shizuoka – Hot Springs, Cool Beaches and a Warm Atmosphere
From Coast to Coast
Sunday morning in late July and it was time to board The Superview Odoriko train from Yokohama station to Shimoda at the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula. It didn’t take long to realize the reason behind the train name, as the windows were enormous. From seat to ceiling. With some careful planning we reserved our seats on the left side, which afford some spectacular views down the coast. It took me about the same amount of time to realize our seats were just a few steps from the bar. Score! With a draft beer and highball in hand we returned to our seats to continue enjoying the 2 hour journey. Seats are very comfortable with plenty of space to stretch out. These trains run about 2-4 times per day. From Tokyo you can board the train at Shinjuku station. Cost of a one-way ticket is approx JPY5000 per person.
After pulling into Shimoda station it was time to find our way to the local fish market for lunch, a leisurely 8-10 minute stroll. The region is famous for キンメダイ (gold eye bream) , which you can order grilled whole or as a rice bowl topped with sashimi from the ticket machine at the entrance. You will most likely be sharing a table with strangers or fellow tourists, but this only adds to the casual style atmosphere. Wait for your number to be called by the staff and pick up your order at the counter. The fish was really fresh, tasty and reasonably priced.
Then we headed back to the station for our shuttle bus transfer to the hotel we were staying. The area was Kisami Beach, a quiet but nice area with a laid-back vibe and is quite popular with families, couples and surfers in the summer. Late that afternoon we walked down the hill to the beach, followed by dinner at Cafe Mellow, a couple of hundred metres back from the beach. This place is definitely well worth checking out, they have both indoor and outdoor seating (we sat outdoors) and being one of the few dining places around it fills up pretty fast. Food is mostly casual western cuisine including burgers, steak and salads with good size portions, and the service is friendly and fast. Plenty of drinks on the menu too such as the default beer, wine, cocktails and more.
Day 2 – Beaches Galore
The 2nd day we woke up to a bright sunny morning, and the ocean scenery from our hotel room was an added bonus. We did some walking around and came to an area called Toji Beach, which has an 80m long, steep ‘sand ski slope’ that you can ride down on plastic sleds/toboggans. The sun was starting to beat down, so it was a good time to escape the heat somewhere for a cold drink. Coco de Mer (very close to Cafe Mellow) is actually a pension/guest house, but they have a nice indoor bar area open to the public with some comfy lounges, a few long-boards placed up on the rafters and friendly service.
Next was a taxi back to Shimoda, where we took a walk along Perry Road. This pedestrian walkway is the place where US Admiral Perry began negotiations with the locals in 1854 and not long after the first US consulate was established in Japan. A small canal with overhanging willow trees runs down the lines of the route. Many of the original buildings and houses remain today too. It actually felt quite similar to wandering through a Kyoto-esque town!
We then headed to the rental car shop to pick up our wheels for the day. First stop on our route was Shirahama Beach which is the most well known beach in the Shimoda area. It also has a reputation as THE place to be for young adults and uni students alike, looking for a fun time on their summer holidays. When I spotted 3 young ladies hanging out the top of a 4 x 4, having a ball with arms waving I knew I’d arrived! And also secretly wished to be young again! Needless to say, if you want a relaxing beach area to stay around I would choose Kisami. However, if you want to party like a rockstar then Shirahama can’t be beat.
Fishing Villages of Beauty
The next destination was Matsuzaki which is one of the top 100 most beautiful villages in Japan. There is no train line here which means there are very few tourists. We stopped off for a nice seafood lunch at the only restaurant we could find open, located next to the small fishing port. Matsuzaki is hilly, green and stretches from the inland valley over to the west coast. It’s well worth a look if you’re driving through the vicinity.
A short drive up the coast from there is Dogashima, a nice coastal town. I recommend Sawada Koen open air onsen, a public hot spring (1 for male / 1 for female) perched on the top of a cliff with just a basic wooden fence separating you from the ocean below. This is an especially great spot to gaze at the sunset. It was time to head inland again to Joren Falls, the largest waterfall in Izu, makeing the list of Japan’s 100 best waterfalls. I was starting to see that Japan likes top 100 lists and we’d now ticked 2 off today! A 5 minute downhill walk from the car park gets you to the falls which are quite spectacular. Interestingly, there are many trout in the stream just down from the falls, plus you’re able to rent a rod and some bait from the store for a fee, and wait for it, whatever you catch is yours to take home, brilliant!. There is also a small wasabi farm in the area, so it made perfect sense to order a wasabi soft serve ice cream, and this did not disappoint!
Before we finished up the day, we had to ensure we had ticked off our hot spring list properly and Shuzenji Onsen (that is the town name) was to be the last. This is a short drive up from Joren Falls in a hilly part of the peninsula. It reminded me of Hakone, with a small river running through the town. Though it was much quieter (perhaps because it was a Monday in the middle of summer). A tourist information center led us to one of the local hotels with an onsen and the Y750 charge per person, all money well spent.
After completing our adventures, all that was left was the drive back through the twisting and winding roads over to Atami (rather glad I was in the passenger seat as parts of the route were extremely narrow) where the rental car staff were waiting with a smile to boot. A well deserved drink or two for my driver for the day (the wifey), then it was time to head back to the bright lights of Yokohama. I found Izu to be a really serene and picturesque area with lots of nature, friendly people and an excellent escape from the rush and bustle of city life.