Izu, Shizuoka – Hot Springs, Cool Beaches and a Warm Atmosphere

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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. This allowed us to afford some spectacular views down the coast. Actually, 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 the fun-filled 2-hour journey ahead. On a side note, the 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 and the cost of a one-way ticket is approx JPY5000 per person.

Arriving at Shimoda

After pulling into Shimoda station it was time to find our way to the local fish market for lunch. This was around 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. Also, you need to order from the ticket machine at the entrance. You will most likely be sharing a table with strangers or even fellow tourists, but this only adds to the casual style atmosphere. Meanwhile, we waited for our number to be called by the staff to pick up our order at the counter. Satisfyingly, the fish was really fresh, tasty and reasonably priced.

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We then headed back to the station for our shuttle bus transfer to the hotel where we were staying. The area was Kisami Beach, a quiet but nice area with a laid-back vibe. In fact, it 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.

Conveniently, this is only a couple of hundred metres back from the beach. This place is definitely well worth checking out, as they have both indoor and outdoor seating (we sat outdoors). Moreover,  being one of the few dining places around it fills up pretty fast. Food is mostly casual western cuisine including a menu full of burgers, steak and salads, and with good size portions. On the plus side, the service is friendly and fast too. Plenty of drinks on the menu too help us pass the time too with plenty of beer, wine, cocktails. The standard night out on holiday.

Day 2 – Beaches Galore

On 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. This features 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. However, they have a nice indoor bar area open to the public. Amongst some comfy lounges a few long-boards placed up on the rafters and some friendly service, we could enjoy a sip and wind down.

Stepping Back in Time

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. Soon 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. Actually, it felt quite similar to wandering through a Kyoto-esque town with its historical architecture!

We then headed to the rental car shop to pick up our wheels for the day. The 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. Those 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! Secretly, I 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 beaten.

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. This is 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. Especially, it is a great spot to gaze at the sunset. It was time to head inland again to Joren Falls, the largest waterfall in Izu, making the list of Japan’s 100 best waterfalls. Slowly, I was starting to realise 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, that made perfect sense to order a wasabi soft serve ice cream, and this did not disappoint! The smooth ice cream texture with a hint of spicy goodness.

Finishing up the Adventure

Before we finished up the day, we had to ensure we had ticked off our hot spring list properly. Enter Shuzenji Onsen (that is the town name), the last onsen on our list. 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 centre 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. Admittedly, I was rather glad to be in the passenger seat, as parts of the route were extremely narrow. Finally, we returned our car with the rental car staff waiting, and 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. Filled with lots of nature, friendly people and awesome food, this is an excellent escape from the rush and bustle of city life.

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