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Izu Guide: A Beach and Hot Spring Escape Near Tokyo

2024-02-26

The Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka is about 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Tokyo. Izu is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is blessed with plentiful hot springs, scenic coastlines, a mountainous interior, and views of Mount Fuji. Its proximity to the city and lush landscapes make it a popular escape from the buzz of the capital.

 

1. The allure of Izu

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The Izu Peninsula is renowned for its world-class surfing beaches, highland resorts, onsen (hot springs), and rugged coastlines. 

The eastern coast is home to the peninsula’s more developed towns, including Atami, Ito, and Shimoda, which all have enough attractions and accommodations to make them a magnet for beach lovers and hot spring enthusiasts. On the contrary, the southern and western coasts have an undeveloped charm, appealing to those seeking a more off-the-beaten-path experience.

 

2. Beaches in Izu

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The eastern coast of Izu, home to Atami and Ito, has well-patrolled beaches during the official swimming season, making them family-friendly and lively places to sunbathe, surf, and swim. 

Further south, Shimoda is considered one of the best surf spots in the country, and Shirahama Beach is its most popular surfing destination. Its 2,600-foot stretch of white sandy beach has decent waves that suit beginners, while Tatadohama Beach is better for more adept surfers.

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If you prefer a more relaxing beach break, Atami Sun Beach and Ito Orange Beach are white sand beaches with plenty of nearby amenities. Escape the crowds at Hirizo Beach, a lesser-known location only reachable by a two-minute ferry ride from Nakagi. This tranquil spot also boasts clear blue water that is perfect for snorkeling.

 

3. Atami: Hot springs, castles, and museums

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Atami is a popular base point from which to explore the peninsula. This retro coastal hot spring town is just 45 minutes from Tokyo Station and has ample attractions to keep you occupied.

Atami has a long beach and plenty more to explore, including the MOA Museum of Art, which is home to east Asian art, a Japanese garden, a Noh theater, and tea houses. Nearby, Kiunkaku Former Ryokan is another cultural attraction that is a must for lovers of traditional architecture and Japanese gardens.

There's also Atami Castle, built as a tourist attraction in 1959; what it lacks in history, it makes up for in character. Here, you'll find an exhibition covering Japan's castles and the chance to dress up in period-specific garb.

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The castle also boasts panoramic city views and is next door to a trick art museum and Hihokan Adult Museum. At the base of the castle's clifftop location, you can hop on a 30-minute ferry to Hatsushima, a small island where you can eat fresh seafood, walk among tropical flowers, bathe in a sea spring bath, and go snorkeling.

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When you're ready to relax, you'll be glad to know that Atami is home to plenty of hotels and ryokans with hot spring baths to retire to in the evening so you can appreciate Atami at its best. If your timing is right, you may be able to catch one of the Atami Sea Fireworks Festivals that take place a few times a year.

 

4. Shimoda: History and untouched beaches

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Shimoda, at the southern tip of Izu, is not just a picturesque beach town; it holds historical significance. In 1854, it was the landing site of Commodore Matthew Perry's black ships, which marked the end of Japan's prolonged period of national isolation and made Shimoda the first port reopened to the United States.

Ryosen-ji Temple was the site of the talks between the United States and the Tokugawa Shogunate's chief negotiator, Fukusai Hayashi. After concluding negotiations, they signed the Treaty of Peace and Amity here.

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While the reminders of this historic event can be seen throughout Shimoda, the beaches and bathing options are the biggest draw. If surfing and swimming don't keep you active enough, explore the hilltop forests of Shimoda Park, which takes around 30 to 45 minutes to hike through. Lookout points across the city and coastline make it worth the effort.

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Although Shirahama is the most popular beach in Shimoda, don't miss the quieter stretches of Tatadohama. If you want to dive, Mikomoto, an island off the coast, is an excellent place for spotting some of the area's most vibrant sea life.

 

5. Ito: Volcanos, coastlines, and cactus museums 

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Ito is another coastal hot spring town on the peninsula with just enough to do for a very relaxing weekend getaway. Beyond hot spring bathing, the main appeal is its natural beauty. The stunning Jogasaki Coast is home to a hiking trail dotted with charming sights, including a lighthouse, suspension bridge, and rocky coastline looking out onto the Pacific Ocean.

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Additionally, a trip to Mount Omuro, an extinct volcano covered in grass, is a must. Take a chair lift 1,900 feet up to the peak and enjoy the stunning vistas of the Izu Islands and Fuji beyond.

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At the foot of the mountain is Izu Shaboten Zoo, home to around 1,500 types of cacti and other succulents, as well as about 140 species of animals, including capybaras, sloths, kangaroos, and squirrel monkeys.

 

6. Lesser-explored Izu

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The beauty of this region extends way beyond the coast. Just head a little deeper into the heart of the peninsula (best accessed by car), and you'll find plenty of gorgeous natural sights. 

The Kawazu Nanadaru Waterfalls in southeastern Izu are perhaps the best known in the area. These seven waterfalls range from six to 100 feet tall and can be found along an easy walking trail through the forests. Joren Falls, right in the heart of Izu, has an 82-foot drop. Hikers can take the Odoriko trail or the Amagi hiking trails to see it.

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Shuzenji Onsen, a built-up area in the peninsula's center, has a few ryokans to stay at and enjoy a bath and local food. It also has a bamboo forest and Shuzen-ji Temple, established in 807 by the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. 

On the lesser-traveled western coast, Koibito Misaki (known as Lover's Cape) is a romantic spot with views of Mount Fuji and a bell that couples ring to confirm their love for one another. 

A little further south, Sawada Park Open Air Bath allows up to four or five people at a time to bathe as they look out at Suraga Bay and, if they opt for the right time of day, watch the sun set into the sea.

 

7. Local flavors 

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Food plays a huge role in any Japan trip, and Izu won’t disappoint. Its coastal location means that fresh seafood is abundant; spiny lobster, sakura ebi (sakura shrimp), and squid are particular specialties in the region. 

Foodies should also seek out shio-katsuo (salted bonito) from Tago on the west coast of Izu, the only place left in Japan that still prepares it in the traditional Edo-period way.

Izu is also known for wasabi, which has been grown on the peninsula since 1745. It is grown on farms along stream beds in the valleys of Mount Amagi. Those who are curious can visit these farms to see the traditional cultivation methods used to nurture the wasabi fields.