The Izu Peninsular
The beaches on the east coast of the Izu peninsular are a favourite destination for Tokyoites in the summer thanks to its proximity to the capital. The stations on the east side are easily accessible by direct train links from Shinagawa station and the journey takes less than three hours to Shimoda, the last train station on the cape. Shimoda was also the first destination on our trip through Izu. While train travel in Japan is a convenient way to get around the country, we sometimes prefer to hire a car, as it makes our life easier, with all the luggage, bikes and Jerome as well.
Driving in Japan
Unfortunately driving in japan is not always the fastest way to get from one point to another. We had left Tokyo behind after we had collected our car at Shinagawa station from Nissan Rental. The first part along the motorway we made good progress – having learned our lesson during our first trip. On that trip we decided to use normal intercity roads to avoid the centre, but we stopped at every traffic light and it seemed to take forever to get around Tokyo. We now happily pay the quite high fees for the expressways for the peace of mind to get across the country much faster when we have a long way to go.
The Drive along the Coast
Leaving Tokyo on the Tomei Expressway we turned onto the Odawara Atsugi Road, thinking that we would appreciate the views along the coast road from Odawara to Shimoda on route 135 instead of blasting further along the motorway. This was a mistake! We basically queued from the first glimpse of the sea to the point where we passed the popular beach resorts at Shimoda. Scenic but slow!
Beach Resorts on the East Coast
Travelling with kids on a long car journey is never fun, especially when you do not seem to be moving at all. Jerome was constantly nagging us when we would arrive at the hotel and we tried our best to take his mind of the journey with car games and stories. Thankfully the interesting views of the masses of sun seekers on the beaches gave us additional talking points.
The resort towns of Atami and Yugawara appeared to be the busiest of the beaches along the way. On our way past these beaches, we could see the colourful tents on the sand and swim rings bobbing in the sea, and we wished we had the time for a dip. It was quite a surprise for us, to see that many Japanese people enjoying themselves in the water. Swimming season in Japan officially starts in July and ends at the end of August, meaning that you barely see anyone swimming or lazing on a beach outside these times, apart from some “rule breaking” surfers. This does not mean that the water or the weather is not warm enough to spend time on the beach outside these months, it is just not the “done” thing by Japanese and do not be surprised if you get weird looks if you do otherwise. The Japanese also tend to wear long sleeved UV vests for swimming and I am now used to being the only person in a bikini on the beach or in an outdoor swimming pool. It is also quite a common sight to see woman immersed up to the waist in water with a parasol in hand, since having immaculate white skin is still mostly de rigeur in Japan. I sometimes wonder if we should not take some of their precautions to protect ourselves from sun damage too, but our family still likes to sun bathe.
Arrival in Shimoda
A few kilometres before the outskirts of Shimoda, traffic started to improve and me made better progress. Once we turned the last bend we could see Shimoda’s bay and port ahead of us. Shortly after crossing the river we reached the train station and a block further on we turned off, onto the road that took us to our traditional inn, Izu Rodaiji Onsen in Rendaiji, a small village just outside Shimoda town.
Staying in a Ryokan
A ryokan (traditional inn) is a great alternative to staying in a normal western style hotel. They are usually housed in beautiful old buildings, with traditional tatami floors in the rooms and natural hot springs to relax in. Breakfast and dinner is usually served at the inn, either in your own room or in a dedicated dining room and consists of many Japanese delicacies. Children are also taken care of, they share the room and kids meals are prepared especially for them. In many ways it is easier and it is normal for the whole family to share a room and so there is not the concern of finding family rooms or extra beds. Jerome has always enjoyed his stays in a ryokan, he loves sleeping on futons and could soak in the hot tubs for hours. Rendaiji had a selection of ryokans and we received a warm welcome in ours, despite the lack of English knowledge from their side. We somehow managed the check in process and were shown to our room. It was located on the first floor and had its own Toto toilet and spare sitting room to the front, overlooking the manicured gardens.
Dinner at an Izakaya
Dinner at a Ryokan tends to be rather pricey due to the elaborate cuisine and so we tried to save some money by heading into downtown Shimoda to have food in one of the restaurants there instead. On our first night we chose Tontei izakaya, a Japanese style pub, where we were shown to our own dining room and had a bell for ordering food and drinks on demand. Jerome enjoyed pushing the button to get the attention of the waiters and we ordered pork katsu and sashimi, which were recommended as their specialities.
After dinner we went to have a late bath at the family bathroom before lying down on our futons for a good nights sleep after the longer than expected journey.
Read about our next day, with a visit to the aquarium in my next post.