Yaayyy! I finally had a weekend off and enough money to do something with it. So I decided to check out Ito, a town in Izu Peninsular famous for beaches, hot springs and mountains. My partner found a good deal on a traditional style hostel for 3,000 yen a night and checked how to get there cheaply by local train, it should take about two and a half hours from the grim wastes of north west Tokyo to the sun drenched beach at Ito. If I woke up early enough I could be there by 10am and have a full day to explore some mountains, chill on the beach or sweat in an onsen. Heres how it panned out:

6:15am Alarm clock goes off, continues ringing unheeded until it felt embarrased and stopped. Alarm clock makes other unsuccessful attempts to wake me until finally at 6:45 I get up, shout at it for waking me up early on a weekend, then remember why I was getting up early and shout at it for not waking me up early enough, it must be pretty crap being an alarm clock.
7:24 By now we should be on the train. Instead I am watching my boyfriend debate whether to buy cigarettes with free chewing gum or normal cigarettes, he continues weighing up the pros and cons of each choice for 2 minutes while I pace back and forth and drop increasingly urgent hints. Eventually he decides not to buy anything.
10.30 We finally arrive at Atami, a city to the north of Izu where we can take a train down to Ito. Theres a queue for the ladies toilets and our train is due to leave in 10 minutes, so we run across the road to a McDonalds to use theirs. “Ill meet you here in one minute” I shout just outside the loo.
10.35 Waiting for boyfriend
10.38 Waiting very impatiently for boyfriend
10.39 Give up on catching 10.40n train, settle down to pretend to read a book while silently planning argument
10.42 Call from boyfriend, who has been sat downstairs eating a burger while he waited for me. Argument ensues.

ITO! Green mountains slope up behind the town and curve round to the calm blue sea fronted by a deserted beach. Palm trees line one of the main roads. Its sunny, hot and very peaceful. we kicked off our shoes and ran excitedly towards the sea yelling with excitement, then starting sprinting and screaming in pain because the sand was roasting hot. The sea feels incredibly cold but once we slowly got in, wincing at every step, it felt fantastic. did some swimming and basking, then wandered up the coast to look at the harbour.

Here we encountered the Dolphin Boat. It looked innocent enough from the outside. Actually it looked ridiculous. There is no way to put a large plastic orange dolphin on top of a boat and expect it to look stylish, but we went on anyway like the gullible fools we would soon be proved to be. It was 1,600 yen for a tour round Ito, the sign boasted close up photos of the jagged islands scattered around the area and brightly coloured fish you could see through the glass bottomed part. We couldnt see anyone on board and gleefully imagined having a whole boat to ourselves. this illusion was shattered when we went downstairs to find the glass bottomed part crammed with people. we stood in the middle clinging onto the sides, and then more people came on so we squeezed onto the stairs. from here we could sometimes catch glimpses of small fish over peoples heads, but mostly it was like being in a rush hour train with the added bonus of seasickness. this lasted for about a minute before the boat took off and all you could see out the windows was foam as the boat sped away from the harbour. We went up on deck where a guy with a microphone was monologuing while the boat travelled to an island. My boyfriend translated some of what the guy was droning on about, but stopped when he realised it was mostly fishing statistics. To spice things up he would throw in comments about the excellence awaiting us at his familys seafood restaurant. we went to about 800 metres from an island, then immediately the boat tuirned around and came back. We docked in the harbour and were gracefully allowed almost a full minute to look at fish before being hustled off. From the harbour we noticed you can see the same fish swimming around for free.

CURSE YOU DOLPHIN BOAT! CURSE YOU!

We got the sour taste of disappointment out of our mouths by trying all the free samples of snacks and beer in the Izukogen beer shop on the harbour and then crossed the road for some excellent 100 yen a plate sushi before going back to check out our hostel. We stayed in K`s House Ito, built over 100 years ago in traditional Edo era style from wood, paper and bamboo. Everything about it was beautiful: the free hot sping baths, the private onsen, the decorative carvings on the pillars. Even the corridors looked good, each room looks a bit like the front of an Edo era house so it feels like walking down a street 200 years ago, only cleaner and with less typhoid.

"Wow, its great (moment of respectful silence) now lets move all this crap out the way so I can lie in front of the air conditioner"

After a dip in the hot spring we went to a restaurant for a special set menu they have for foreigners where you get to try different courses cheaply, classics like grilled fish and tempura, then a platter of aji sushi special to the region. Unfortunately this is only for foreigners which seems a bit harsh when most of the tourists in Ito were Japanese but its great value if you can pull off being gaijin.

Back at the hostel were some friendly people with vodka to share but it had been a long day and we were up early to get to Jogasaki Coast. A definite benefit of hostels vs hotels is being able to socialise with other guests more easily in the kitchens and lounges, especially if those people are cool and happen to have free booze.

It turned out we`d need the extra energy the next day. Jogasaki Coast is a tough walk, 12kms from the bridges at each end as the crow flies but this doesnt account for all the inlets the path winds round, or the steep parts where you stumble breathless up steps then immediately go back down. The scenery is amazing though, every 5 minutes was a different view of cliffs battered dramatically by waves with tiny pine trees clinging on, or narrow valleys lined with flowers, or trees draped with vines in thick, rainforest-like greenery. We saw waterfalls and temples, statues and weird rock formations. Sometimes mist cloaked the horizon and it felt like walking in a Chinese ink scrollpainting, just a few trees and a rock clearly visible with the shoreline fading into grey

Sometimes the fog cleared abruptly with a gust of wind and the coast would stretch out suddenly and all the colours brighten, like walking from black and white to technicolour. We saw butterflies with wings the size of my hand and lizards basking and a hawk hanging in the air, waiting. The path went past high viewpoints where spray from the waves was flung 4 metres high, and sometimes dipped down to the coast where you can see rockpools and lagoons left by the receding tide.

Cliffs near Kadowaki Bridge, Jogasaki

It was a warm day and humid so after a few slow paced kilometres climbing up and down the shoreline we were soaked with sweat and knackered but it was well worth it.

After ogasaki we were planned to do something in Izukogen, like visit a museum for an hour or so before heading back to Tokyo. Theres definitely something strange about Izukogen. Stuff to do there included The Teddy Bear Museum, The Dolls House Museum, The Fairy Museum, a museum of music boxes and the enticing vague Museum of Interesting Things. It was kind of late in the day for kitsch but Ill definitely check it out on my next trip there. And I wont get on any damn dolphin boats either.

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