weekend away - Izu Peninsula (Tokyo)
Written by Brian Johnston Illustration by Vesa Sammalisto
The rugged and forested Izu Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean southwest of Tokyo, providing a seaside and country escape rich in history, tradition, and coastal scenery.
The Izu Peninsula begins, almost incredibly, just over an hour’s journey by bullet train from Japan’s frenetic capital. Tokyo urbanites come here in summer to enjoy the beaches, go surfing, or relax with a round or two of golf. The serene cone of Mt Fuji is a spectacular backdrop, rearing up behind Izu’s bays and pine-topped hills like a mirage.
Atamiis the gateway to the Izu Peninsula if you are travelling from Tokyo. It has a distinct small-town charm, and its traditional noodle shops are the place to try local buckwheat noodles in a wonderful broth made with dried fish, mushrooms, and kelp. Visit marvellous Kiunkaku for traditional Japanese architecture and gardens, curiously blended with a taste for mock Tudor.
Further south at Ito, Tokai-kan is a venerable old inn of darkened wood overlooking the river, where you can sit on traditional tatami mats and enjoy superlative guri green tea, accompanied by chestnut pastries. Ladies can take a course at the inn and learn to apply the make-up and traditional attire of geisha.
The hills of central Izu were made famous in a story by Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata, The Dancing Girl of Izu. Here youll find forests, small wasabi farms, valleys of delicate flowers, and scenic waterfalls such as the 25-m Joren Falls.
Numerous hot springs bubble up around the Izu Peninsula, and both coast and interior are dotted with hot-spring resorts. In Ito, guests at Yamatokan Onsen can wallow in individual baths or enjoy the communal open-air baths set in orderly gardens. At Osawa Onsen near Matsuzaki, you can bathe surrounded by rice paddies as steam rises around you. And at Shuzenji, you’ll find Izu’s oldest onsen resort in a tranquil setting of bamboo groves nestled beside the tumbling Katsura river.
Mishima Summer Festival
From August 15 to 17, the town of Mishima comes alive in an annual festival centred on venerable Mishima Taisha, the region’s most important Shinto temple. Portable shrines are carried around town to great celebration, and a grand procession features historical figures and decorated floats. Horseback archery and displays of traditional taiko drumming also feature.
Where to Stay
At Sanyo-so ryokan (traditional inn), impeccable service combines with top-quality accommodation favoured by the Emperor of Japan. Guestrooms feature tatami mats, a tokonoma or alcove with a display of flowers and a scroll, and a low table, at which guests are served stunningly presented meals. Futons and bedding are unfolded from sliding-door cupboards. The ryokan has a hot spring and bathhouse, and sits amid traditional Japanese gardens dotted with lotus ponds and gnarly pine trees.