Photos by Ichiro Katayanagi
Photos by Ichiro Katayanagi

Two days in Izu: Two days on Izu Peninsula

by Ichiro Katayanagi
Stripes Japan

After a harsh spring of suffering from hay fever, I decided to celebrate the end of the season (and my freedom from wearing a face mask) by embarking on a trip to the Izu Peninsula, about a two-hour train ride or drive southwest of Tokyo.

One morning in late May, I boarded an Odoriko Limited Express Train from Tokyo Station to Izu-kyu Shimoda Station. I booked my trip for 18,500 yen (about $170) through a travel agency and it included a round-trip fare and an overnight stay at Shimoda Tokyo Hotel. If you decide to travel without the help of an agency, a one-way ticket for a reserved ticket will cost you 6,260 yen.

The train runs along on the peninsula’s east coast and I was able to enjoy the magnificent ocean and mountain views it is known for. It was rather hot for May and the pleasant sunlight shone inside the train. The train arrived at Izu-kyu Shimoda station around noon.

The peninsula itself extends 50 km south and is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Mt. Fuji is in the center of this national park and the entire area is known for its many onsen, fishing ports and tourist attractions. Shimoda City, in the southeastern part of the peninsula, is home to nine beaches and is a popular summer hangout known for its sun-dried fish, abalone, turban shells and spiny lobsters.

Shimoda Sea Aquarium

My first stop was the Shimoda Sea Aquarium. I hopped in a taxi for a 10-minute ride to the location surrounded by mountains on one side and the bay on the other. A tank with sea turtles greeted me at the entrance and once inside, dolphins were there to greet me as well. Visitors to the aquarium can also interact up close with some of the sea creatures, including touching the seals and feeding sea turtles and otters. Don’t forget to catch shows featuring dolphins, sea lions, seals and penguins. Though smaller than many other popular aquariums around the Kanto Plain, this is a good stop to learn more about the area’s marine life. And it’s great for kids!

Perry Road

After getting acquainted with the sea turtles, penguins and their friends at the aquarium, I caught a bus to Perry Road, about five minutes away. The road is named after Commodore Matthew Perry, the man who helped open Japan for trade, and father of the 1854 Treaty of Amity and Commerce between U.S. and Japan. Shimoda Port is where Perry entered for the treaty signing and many of the souvenirs and buildings in the area are influenced by this history. Look down in Shimoda as even the manhole covers here have designs celebrating the fleet.

My bus took me to Ryosenji Temple, a designated National Historic Site built in 1635, and the location of the treaty signing. Here, the grounds are covered in Brunfelsia latifolla, fragrant purple flowers also known as “American jasmine,” due to their scent. I do not have a sensitive nose, but the scent of these blooms was intoxicating.

Afterward, I crossed the street and strolled along the Hiraname River. Private homes and western-style buildings dating back more than 100 years give this road a retro atmosphere. There, mixed in with historical houses, visitors can enjoy small cafes, restaurants and shops. I stopped in at Perry Berry café for a cup of fresh watermelon juice. Naturally sweet, this was a refreshing drink on a hot day. Pay an extra $2 and you can have it with vodka. It was quite tough to resist temptation, but I decided to have it without the alcohol. The café opened this year and its specialty dish is gluten-free pancakes, which I definitely will try next time.

Making the most of the sunlight, I headed next to Shimoda Park at the bottom of Perry Road. This park has a hydrangea festival every June. When I visited, some of the nearly-150,000 flowers had already started to bloom, a true feast to the eye. From the park, you can also enjoy the views of the port and town.

When I’d had enough sightseeing, I hitched a ride from Izu-Kyu Shimoda Station to the Shimoda Tokyo Hotel via their hotel bus service. The room I booked had a great ocean view and came with a buffet breakfast. Depending on whether you have an ocean view or parking lot view will determine the size of your room. I didn’t mind the smaller room in exchange for the better view. Either way, you’ll win because the buffet breakfast is wonderful.

Besides the typical pastries, salads, and fruit, the buffet includes locally-caught seafood: sushi, sun-dried horse mackerel and fish-head soup. Wine and sake are included at no extra cost. Since I was on vacation and wasn’t driving, I treated myself to morning wine.

Dougashima

For my second day in the area, I headed to Dougashima, a picturesque town in Nishi-Izu, on the peninsula’s western coast. Since the coast has no train service, I had to take an hourlong bus ride from Izu-Kyu Shimoda Station along windy mountain roads to Dougashima. The bus frequently swung like a roller coaster, making me regret the wine from earlier.

Soon I arrived at my stop and headed to Dougashima Park. One of the hotel employees suggested I go to the Tengusa-Tokoroten Festival, which was being held during my visit. Tengusa (Gelidium) is seaweed mainly used for making tokoroten (stringy agar) and similar products in Japan. People gather the seaweed around mid-May every year and the festival is timed for it.

Tokoroten is a jelly-like snack sometimes served savory or sometimes sweet, depending on region and was first introduced by China more than 1,000 years ago. and is now used to make noodle-like dishes. It is usually served with vinegar and soy sauce (or mustard, depending on preference), or, the sweeter version is topped with soybean flour and dark molasses. At the festival, the first 1,000 visitors were given free tokoroten. I went for the sweeter snack. The texture was harder than a jelly and had a great taste. I also got to browse tokoroten food products and watch tokoroten-making demonstrations.

After my fill of the seaweed fest, I jumped on a 20-minute boat cruise of the small islands just off Dougashima, the sawtooth coastline and a skylight cave. The cave, Tensodo, was designated a natural monument in 1935 and its ceiling collapse in the center years ago, causing sunshine to illuminate the cave with a natural skylight. I highly recommend the cruise, which costs only $12 and is available every 10-15 minutes.

I enjoyed the cruise as not only did I get to see the islands only accessible via boat, but I was also able appreciate the view of the Izu coast from the water. The landscape is complex and beautiful, absolutely worth a visit.

After the cruise, I did some souvenir shopping near the station before heading back to Tokyo. My trip to Izu left me relaxed and with great memories. Its close proximity to Tokyo makes it a great getaway with amazing attractions, delicious local seafood and onsen available yearround.

Katayanagi.Ichiro@stripes.com

Shimoda Sea Aquarium


Location: 3-22-31 Shimoda City, Shizuoka
Hours: Please ask for business hours
URL: http://shimoda-aquarium.com
Tel: 0558-22-3567

Rosenji Temple


Location: 3-12-12 Shichikencho, Shimoda City, Shizuoka 
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
URL: http://www.izu.co.jp/~ryosenji/eigo.html
Tel: 0558-22-0657

Café Perry Berry


Location: 3-10-12 Shimoda City, Shizuoka
Hours: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Wednesday closed)
URL: http://cafeperryberry.wixsite.com/perryberry
Tel: 0558-66-1017

Shimoda Tokyu Hotel


Location: 5-12-1, Shimoda City, Shizuoka
URL: http://www.tokyuhotelsjapan.com/global/shimoda-h/
Tel: 0558-22-2411

Dougashima Cruise Tour


Location: Nishina, Nishiizu Town, Kamo Province, Shizuoka
Hours: 8:15 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 
URL: http://dogashima.jp/
Tel: 0558-52-0013

Shizuoka official travel site
http://shizuoka-guide.com/english/index.html

East Izu official travel site
http://www.e-izu.org/language/english.html

West Izu official travel site
https://en.nishiizu-kankou.com

Shimoda City official travel site
http://www.shimoda-city.com/#we-page-home

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