A day trip to Japan's beautiful Shuzenji
A day trip to Japan's beautiful Shuzenji
If you are on a U.S. military installation in the Kanto Plain and are looking for a one-day trip to experience a traditional Japanese hot spring resort, a strong option would be Shuzenji.
Situated in the hilly center of the Izu peninsula, the town offers hot spring resorts, open-air baths on a river bank, elegant Japanese bridges, classical gray-tiled inns and pristine, yet charming temples and shrines, which attract countless tourists domestically and internationally.
Shuzenji Onsen is considered the oldest of its kind in the Izu Peninsula and is listed as one of the nation’s greatest 100 hot springs. Its transparent alkaline hot spring is good for neuralgia, fatigue and stiff shoulders, according to the Izu City Tourist Association.
I always take my family to check out the gorgeous autumn colors in late November.
The colors are great, but besides autumn, the town offers various attractions throughout the year. Beginning with plum and cherry blossoms in spring, Shuzenji also features a green forest and the fantastic lights of fireflies in summer and snow in winter. Since the beautiful town has attracted many writers and artists throughout history, you will find many monuments dedicated to historical writers throughout the town.
The town is not large, so a half-day stroll along the Shuzenji River is plenty for you to see most of the attractions. Five bridges along the river, Katsura, Kaede, Kokei, Togetsu and Miyuki-bashi, are all built in the traditional Japanese style. With traditional inns, thatch-roofed tea houses, bamboo forest and maple branches in full reddish bloom spreading into the river, Shuzenji is sure to give you an idea of the typical Japanese hot spring resort in autumn.
For 350 yen ($3), you can take a soak into a hot spring at a public bath, called Hakoyu. Both towel (100-yen) and soap (50-yen) are available. There are also a couple of free 24/7 foot spas, called Tokko-no-yu and Kawara-yu, located in the center of town.
When you go into a foot spa, be sure to pick up a “wasabi soft serve” at a café nearby. You might scoff at the idea of wasabi (horseradish) and ice cream together, but sweetness of the ice cream and taste of wasabi really compliment each other well.
In fact, horseradish is one of the local specialties. Sample one while you are in the town, or take some home as a souvenir for your family and friends.
All the hot water in town comes from a hot spring in the middle of the river. Even the fountain water in public gardens, parks and hand-washing shacks of temples are all warm. According to the town legend, a Buddhist master, Kobo Daishi found the spring in the middle of the river bed more than 1,200 years ago. He, then, established Shuzenji Temple, and the town has developed with the temple.
So, Shuzenji Temple is a must-see attraction. Although it is a small and pristine temple, the traditional building, with its majestic bell tower, makes a great contrast against the backdrop of a green bamboo forest and yellow and red colors of maple leaves, offering picturesque views.
Hie Jinja, located near Shuzenji Temple, is a quiet Shinto shrine. When you enter the shrine and walk up the 20 stairs to the main hall, you will find a pair of gigantic cedar trees standing next to each other on your left. These 800-year-old cedar trees are called Kodakara-no-Sugi (the cedar for children), and it is believed that you are blessed with many children when you pass through the pair.
Located a little off from the center of town, Shigetsudo Temple and tomb of Minamoto Yoriie are another attraction. Yoriie, the son of feudal lord, was confined in this town by his father after he was suspected of plotting an overthrow. Yorije was later assassinated.
The temple located next to the tomb is the oldest building in the town, and houses a golden statue of Buddha in its main hall. According to the temple legend, the mother of Yoriie built the temple to appease her son’s angry spirit. With a tiny, yet elegant temple garden, you can’t help but enjoy the somewhat quiet, soothing and mysterious feel of the temple.
Population: 14,641 (as of 2016)
Attractions: Shuzenji Temple, Hie Jinja, Shigetsudo Temple, Niji-no-Sato, Hakoyu and Tokko-no-yu
Address: Shuzenji, Izu City, Shizuoka Prefecture (2-3 hour drive from most of U.S. military installations in Kanto Plain)
Tel: 0558-72-2501 (Izu City Tourist Association, Shuzenji Branch)
Hakoyu (hot spring bath)
Hours: noon – 9 p.m.
Admission: (ages 12 or older) 350 yen
Address: 924-1 Shuzenji, Izu City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Bokunenjin: A tasty soba noodle lunch with a stunning view of bamboo
In Shuzenji, you’ll find a handful of prominent soba noodle shops like Yamabiko, Zenpuutei Nanaban and Benihozuki. Among them, Bokunenjin is one of the most popular with crowds of tourist waiting in line to get a taste of the noodles served here.
You’ll find Bokunenjin inside a traditional two-story yellow building a short walk from Shuzenji Temple. Here, you’ll be invited into a tatami floored hall with a beautiful bamboo forest visible through the dining room windows.
Sample its signature noodle dish, Seiro Soba for 1,050 yen (about $9.50). The thin, springy noodle has an extremely sweet aroma and crispy texture. You’ll get a hint of the fresh, local wasabi which emboldens the flavor of the noodles and stimulates the senses. The dish is enhanced by the simple, yet delicate kelp stock used to dip the soba into.
Bokunenjin’s artful noodles and beautiful view provide a relaxing break from the walking and sightseeing Shuzenji has to offer.
Hours: Thu – Tue, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Address: 3451-40 Shuzenji, Izu City, Shizuoka Pref.
Niji-no-Sato, park for colors of the four seasons
When you visit Shuzenji, don’t miss a leisure park called Niji-no-Sato (home of rainbow), as its 123-acre park (same size of Tokyo Disneyland) accommodates various natural and traditional attractions.
English and Canadian villages in the park are modeled on the 17th century villages and flower gardens of the two countries. In the English Garden, there are museums of toys and railways. The two villages are connected with a small English-made steam locomotive.
In the Japanese garden, you can enjoy the in-season flowers, such as daffodil, plum, cherry, rhododendron, iris and hydrangea. In its maple forest, you’ll find breathtaking autumn colors from 1,000 trees between late November and beginning of December. During the season, the forest is beautifully lit up and draws many tourists.
At Takumi Village (craftsman’s village) in the Japanese Garden, you can experience and observe the traditional manufacturing processes of paper making, embroidery and ceramics making. There are souvenir shops and food joints, as well.
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Apr – Sep), 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Oct – Mar), extended to 8 p.m. during the period of autumn leaves lit up (end of Nov.)
Admission: (ages 12 or older) 1,220 yen, (ages 4-12) 610 yen
Address: 4279-3 Shuzenji, Izu City, Shizuoka Pref.
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