This Monday was Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday in Japan, which meant I had a three-day weekend. So I took a trip down to the Izu Peninsula with my friend Stephanie. The Izu Peninsula is about 120 km southwest of Tokyo, and is know for its onsen (natural hot springs), beaches, mild climate, and scenic mountain interior. It was a wonderful, much-needed escape from the city. I was so happy to find such a perfect little paradise so close to Tokyo.
I left on Sunday afternoon, taking the Shinkansen bullet train to Atami, at the top of the peninsula. From there, I caught the local train a couple stops to Ajiro station. The train ride was beautiful, and passed by beaches and dramatic cliffs. Stephanie had gotten us a reservation at a cute little ryokan – traditional style Japanese inn. Our room had tatami mat floors, futons, a low table with cushions, and an ocean view! There was also a rooftop patio with a chairs and tables and a swing for sitting. The ryokan was nestled up into the misty green hills, giving us a fantastic view of the little town and the ocean.
The kind ryokan owners drove us into “town” and pointed out a restaurant and an onsen. This part of Atami is very sleepy – there were only two or three places open, and everything closed at 8 pm. We went to the restaurant they recommended, and it was a good choice. It was one of the more authentically Japanese places I’ve been to yet – it has fish tanks outside, and you take off your shoes and sit on cushions at a low tables. The menu was all in Japanese, but we were able get by with pointing at pictures. We ordered beer, green tea, and a feast of tempura, sashimi, prawns, rice, and a beautiful fried fish. It was all super fresh and absolutely delicious.
After that, we walked across the to the onsen across the street. It was great – the outdoor tub was overlooking the ocean, so close that you could jump right in. It was amazingly relaxing. We were kicked out promptly at 8, but I left feeling like a new woman. We went to a konbini, got some sake and snacks, and went back to the ryokan. We sat on the roof and talked for hours. It was perfect and cool out. It felt so good just be out of Tokyo, out in nature, feeling the sea breeze, and hearing nothing but the sound of crickets and the wind.
The next day, we got up early and left around 9 am. Our goal was to make it across the peninsula, to Dogashima, and take a boat tour through the caves and inlets. But, we weren’t too sure of the best way to get there. Transit runs much less frequently outside of Tokyo, and the info is harder to get online, or in English. We made it down to Shimoda, on the southeastern tip of the peninsula. We stopped at the tourist info desk, and I’m so glad that we did! We found out that the boat tour in Dogashima we were hoping to take was closed, due to the incoming typhoon. So we opted to stay in Shimoda for the day instead.
First we went on a boat tour, aboard the Susquehanna.
It was a nice, slow ride out into the water. We passed by a couple islands, and looked back at the lush green hills on the shoreline. Japanese tourists threw bread for the flock of birds following closely behind us. It was cloudy and grey, but still beautiful.
After the boat tour, we went to a restaurant famous for its tonkatsu – deep-fried pork cutlets. To start, they brought us a bowl of sesame seeds, which we grinded ourselves and made into a salad dressing.
Next, we took a gondola up Mt. Nesugata. The cable car takes you 540 meters up to the summit, which has a stunning panoramic view of the ocean and Shimoda below.
There was a well-manicured garden with beautiful flowers, a coy pond, and a shrine. There were several paths that lead you through the garden and to different viewpoints. We took our time wandering the paths and enjoying the natural beauty. It was still overcast, but I didn’t really mind. It was cool, for once, and the misty clouds gave the park a mystical, magical atmosphere.
We took the gondola down and caught the shuttle to the hotel where Stephanie was staying for the night (I had work the next day so couldn’t stay). It was a big, western- style resort hotel right on the beach. It was very nice, but also very dated. It was much like the rest of Shimoda – like it was stuck in a time warp and nothing had been updated since the 80s. But, it had a private beach!
We took the path down to the beach, and found ourselves in paradise. It was honestly one of the nicest beaches that I have ever been to in my life – perfect, super soft white sand, dramatic cliffs above us, and lovely, crystal clear, azure water. It looked like a beach in the Mediterranean. The water was warm, so we ran in and swam, splashing and laughing like little kids. We were both just so elated to be in the water. We were also the only ones one the beach – we literally had it all to ourselves! (This was probably because of the incoming typhoon, but we didn’t care. It wasn’t raining yet.)
The ocean has always had a profound effect on me, and this time was no different. I felt calm and at peace. I looked out at the waves crashing, and just felt complete, and felt good about my crazy decision to move to Japan. Before this little trip, I was feeling some serious homesickness. But it’s moments like this – adventuring out and finding a perfect gem of a beach – that reaffirm my decision, and remind me of why I wanted to do this in the first place.
Its moments like this that make it all worth it.