I took a short overnight trip to an easily accessible point along the Izu Peninsula in early February. It’s pretty much the off-season and I went on a Monday so I was expecting it to be relatively quiet. My objective was to do a quick trip and discover some interesting places beyond the resort hotels. I had been to Atami about ten years ago at a company sponsored event, but typically of those type of events you don’t see much beyond the resort venue where your event is hosted. This time, I wanted to see a bit more.

I decided on Atami as my first destination for the trip. To get there, Google Maps will give you the recommendation of taking the Shinkansen out of Tokyo. My advice is to either use a local app/website such as Jorudan to get low-cost options, but even without that it is relatively easy to build your own connections. The Shinkansen is about 4,000 円. Whereas I took the Odakyu line for less that 1,000円, and connected in Odawara and transferred to the Tokaido line which was 410円 to Atami. The whole journey end-to-end was about 1,500円 from my place in Western Tokyo, and took about 2.5 hours.

The train ride there was quite enjoyable, and it was easy to find a seat as the morning commute was going in the opposite direction. Lots of nice views from the window.

Arriving in Atami, you see crowds of people that are waiting for their resort pickup – a combination of company groups and solo travelers. As busy as the station is, just walk outside of the station area, and it quickly becomes quite deserted.

On the way, I did some last-minute research and made my plan to see two sites, and then make the decision to stay or continue on.

Since I love both historical sites and natural beauty, I learned of a hotspring source called Hashiriyu (走い湯). It was not far from the station – up a hill and cutting through some local areas along the way. It was a very pleasant walk.

Sometimes you look at the maps, and the fact that the route is a major road, it can seem intimidating at first. But what I have found is that in Japan, it always seems pretty safe to walk, most of the time there are sidewalks and ample cross-walks, so no need to worry about being safe.

In hotsprings areas, you can always see a lot of natural springs and mountain run-off. I saw this on a small road down off of the main street.

 

2018-02-05 11.39.07.jpgThere is a lot of juxtaposition of old homes and resorts. Some of the resorts are big and new, but there are also many old ones that have fallen into disrepair or gone out of business. In the photo, you can see the ruins of an old bath in the bottom right corner.

After getting down to the coastal road (you cannot walk this road as it is blocked to foot traffic), I came across the entrance to Hashiriyu.

The main attaction is the hotspring source in this cave. It goes back to the Edo era and is the original source for the name Atami (熱海) which literally means “Hot Sea” as the hot waters of the springs flowed into the sea. It’s rather a short excursion inside, but it definitely has an Indiana Jones feel to it with the steam pouring out.

Once inside, you can see the origin of the hot spring bubbling up. The water is hot and the steam deliciously sweet smelling. I sat there for a while and enjoyed the invigorating mist.

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Just outside the cave, there is a small footbath where you can enjoy the soothing waters. It’s all free.

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Just at the entrance to Hashiriyu, there is this sign leading to the steps that go all the way to the top of Izusan where there is the shrine. As the sign says, it’s 837 steps to the top.

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The steps are all well constructed and maintained steps the whole way, through some old neighborhoods with traditional houses.

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Along the way, you can see an abundance of this citrus tree “Amanatsu”, which literally means “Sweet Summer”. This picture was taken in early February, and as you can see the trees carry a heavy burden of fruit. I asked one of the locals about it, she said that they are ready for harvest in late summer and cannot be eaten now. However, they sure looked delicious!

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The entrance to Izusan Shrine

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A beautiful view from the top of the mountain.

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After walking down the mountain, I proceed back to Atami station. Since it is a popular tourist destination, there are a lot of shopping and dining choices at the station. Since I just wanted a quick snack and some coffee, I had this wonderful currypan – a kind of fried bread with curry and egg inside). With my coffee, I would make my final decision on the next destination.

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So the decision was made to go further down the peninsula to Ito. I did not really know what is there, but decided to go and find out. Notice the dramatic difference in cost by taking the local line versus the long distance line.

 

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Typical of my travel mode, I like to just get off from the station and start walking without any real plan but to try to encompass a wide swath of the city.

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There is a big tourist strip called – Ginza Motomachi, but mostly deserted in the off-season. In fact, most of the city was very quiet.

I was lucky to stumble across this tribute to a foreigner (William Adams), who in 1600 helped the shogun Iyasu to build two western style sailing ships. These people certainly led interesting lives!

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He was certainly rewarded handsomely for his efforts. It’s amazing where the unexpected events in life can take you!

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View of the harbour – you can see why this was a good place in it’s day to be a marine hub.

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I did walk along the edge of the harbor to the Marine Town – nice place but pretty much a tourist trap where all the tour buses go – not really recommend unless you are into that kind of scene. Along the way I did see the dried fish shops (himono) that is a local specialty.

 

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Sun had set and it was getting cold. Accommodation is pretty much limited to the resort type places, and there are few low cost options so I decided to head back to Odawara in the evening. On the way, I booked by stay on on my phone and got amazing deal for a traditional old ryokan called Hinode Ryokan for only 2,300円 for my own room (not just a bunk) with shared bath. I was really excited to enjoy a local experience in a 130 year-old Japanese house.

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Wow, this place really looks authentic! It has a few modern upgrades, but for the most part it is pretty original.

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The wooden floors creak, and look at the beautiful tiles in the sinks (there are two)!

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My humble room was nice, and included a TV and heater/aircon. But be warned, old Japanese houses have no insulation and are very cold in the winter. The heater did not seem to make such an impact, so it was pretty cold at night, but this is part of the experience.

I’d certainly not recommend the Hinode to everybody, as Japanese inns typically have a lot of rules – for instance in the rooms you are not allowed to take your suitcases inside but have to leave them on the first floor and take out what you need. The owners are two senior citizens and don’t speak much English, but they are very kind. If you are looking for a real Japanese experience, this is a real jem, but for a Japan newbie, it might be a bit of a challenge.

The next morning, I set out to explore Odawara before going back to Tokyo in the evening.

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I tend not to be a castle fan for the simple reasons that 1) They tend to be too overrun with tourists, and 2) Most of them were destroyed during the Meiji era so what are are seeing is basically a modern re-creation. However, I did take this chance to spend the 500円 entrance fee to see the museum (which is excellent) and 360 degree view from the top.

The famous produce in Odawara is kamaboko (fish cake). There is even a street dedicated to the craft “Kamaboko dori”. The price of kamaboko can vary dramatically, from 900円 to 17,000円 for the same size two pieces. It is because it is not made of fish discards, but high-grade fresh fish.

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A sign designating the street, a high-grade shop, and the local industry association.

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It was time for lunch, so I saw a specialty ramen shop that had only two things on the menu (generally a good sign for me) – ramen with soy-sauce broth or salt broth. I chose the salt, and it had an unusual foamy broth and a beautiful slice of decorative kamaboko on top. It was really light tasting and good. Green tea and mugicha were complementary.

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The last stop before going home was a stop at the beach. Japan has amazing infrastructure around the coastal areas to protect from the next tsunami. You can see these high seawalls which are everywhere. To enter the beach, you have to go through one of the portals which have gates that can be closed. I certainly would not want to be on the wrong side of that gate when it is closed for the next big one.

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A worn but cute warning sign. I could not help think that the wave reminded me of President Trump.

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OK, the day was finished and time to go home. I picked up some local brand kamaboko – two of these pieces for 980円.

Overall, it was a great two day, one night trip out of Tokyo, for around 5,000円 for train and accommodation, plus another 3,000 円 or so for meals since I don’t eat extravagantly when I travel and often skip meals in the interest of time. It was fairly easy to keep within my target budget of 10,000円 for the two days.