Archives for posts with tag: tokyo

Futo is considered one of the best diving spots in mainland Japan. It is a small town hedging a rocky coastline at the base of a small green mountain. Futo lies on the east coast of the Izu Peninsular, an area south-west of Tokyo known for its thickly forested mountains, natural hot springs, stretching beaches and blue seas cut with jagged islands.

Small shoals mixing near the harbour

Small shoals mixing near the harbour

Transport The main road winding along the eastern Izu Coast becomes very busy at weekends, especially during the summer when the diving is at its peak. We travelled easy and expensive by shinkansen  from central Tokyo via Atami for about 40 minutes, then on a local train for another 40 minutes or so, altogether this was around  4,800 yen. If you’re happy to take it slow, going all the way by local trains would be less than half of that, but the journey could be over 3 hours. Alternatively, take trains to Ito and then catch the bus (stop number 5 outside the station) which travels over a narrow winding mountain road around the back of Kawana port, which is another beautiful place to dive. The journey takes around 40 minutes, there is only 1 bus every hour and at over 600yen it isn’t cheap… but it will save you a long walk uphill from the diving spots at Futo to the train station.

When Futo is extremely busy with snorkellers and scuba divers on weekends in mid summer. Strangely, Japanese beaches have an `open season`, from mid July to the end of August, during which times they are packed. Travel a fortnight before or after the main season and it’s almost deserted.

Vivid fish swarm near rusting iron pillars

Vivid fish swarm near rusting iron pillars

Where to stay It may sound extreme but there is nothing to eat in Futo. There are a few ryokans  but no restaurants, supermarkets or convenience stores. This means the scenery isn’t spoilt by imposing hotels or glaring neon signs, but it means there is nothing to eat around lunchtime, or at any other time unless your hotel provides food. Plan ahead and bring sandwiches… or, as some more adventurous snorkellers were doing just up the beach, bring a barbecue and a spear and eat what you catch.

There are some excellent restaurants and several hostels or guesthouses in Ito, a larger town just up the coast, so it may be easier to stay there if you aren’t self catering. Just expect to be walking up steep hills if you’re traveling from Ito to Futo by train.

I stayed at K`s House Ito , a beautifully restored traditional hotel with its own onsen which is free for guests to use. The hostel was large, very clean and reasonably priced, about 3,000yen per person per night.

Things to Do In Futo Diving is the main reason to come. The water around Futo is very clear, the shorelines rocky and patched with weeds and corals; perfect for finding fish. Even in water less than half a metre deep you can find vivid green and blue fish. Head out a little deeper to around 10 metres and you might find sea cucumbers, starfish, Morey eels, shoals of tiny darting silver ones, flying fish and my personal favourite; the threadfin butterfly fish. Scuba divers may spot dolphins, turtles and octopi.

Futo is not a tourist spot. It is a fishing town with a few facilities provided for divers, who support the economy by renting gear or getting a 1000y beach pass, which allows you to use the changing rooms, showers, and take a hot bath right next to the sea in a modified boat. After a day of swimming this can be seriously relaxing, if a little bizarre. If a shower and privacy isn’t too important to you then you don’t have to pay this charge.

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Things to do near Futo To the south of Futo are some of the most popular spots in the Izu Peninsular.

Jogasaki Coast is a walk along the cliffs with spectacular views of cliffs, small islands and waterfalls. It passes through thick forest, a mix of tough Japanese pines clinging to sheer clifftops or perched on tiny isles in the ocean, and semi-tropical rainforest. At both ends of the walk there are suspension bridges which offer views over coves and cliffs, and along the way there are temples, shrines and Izu Oceanic Park, where you can go swimming or diving if you don’t mind a long walk with all the gear.

The full walk is over 12 kms and surprising tough going because it follows the natural line of the cliffs, so the path meanders along all the inlets and small bays, and rises or falls steeply in some places. Although it is not an easy walk it is extremely rewarding – the meandering coastline means the view is always changing, and there are over 30 famous viewpoints signposted that include waterfalls, tiny valleys full of hydrangea flowers or cherry blossom at the right time of year, statues and temples, as well as the staggering natural beauty of the coast itself.

Walking along Hashidate Bridge

If you do not want to do the full walk then the bridges at either end can be accessed easily from local train stations. Jogasaki Kaigen Station at the north east end is just over 1km from the Kawowaki Suspension Bridge and lighthouse, and Izu Kogen Station in the south west is 1km from Hashidate Suspension Bridge.There are bus tours to visit Renchakuji Temple and Izu Oceanic Park too.

Jogasaki can be reached by train in just 1 stop from Futo Station, the trains are every 20 minutes on the Izu Kyuko line.

Personally I would recommend trying the full walk because of the amazing scenery and fascinating sights along the way, but wearing loose comfortable clothes and taking a lot of water is a good idea, as between Renchakuji Temple and Hiashidate Bridge there are no water fountains and on a humid day you will get hot walking on the steep parts. I would also suggest wearing practical shoes like walking boots or trainers after watching a girl in stilettos stumble around on the rocky parts at Kawowaki Bridge.

Izukogen Station offers several museums, many of them pretty unusual, as well as the Jogasaki walk. These include the Music Box Museum, the Teddy Bear Museum, the Doll House Museum and the Museum of Interesting Things.               I have not visited any of these, although the Museum of Interesting Things sounded… interesting.

More information

Trains http://www.hyperdia.com lists train times in English or Japanese

Ito Tourist Association http://www.itospa.com for maps and more information on the area

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Izu Peninsular is an area south-west of Tokyo known for its thickly forested mountains, natural hot springs, stretching beaches and blue seas cut with jagged islands. Usami is a small town on the eastern coast surrounded by small mountains that open up to a curving beach with some of the best surfing in Izu.

Transport There are several ways to get there: easy and expensive (shinkansen bullet train from Central Tokyo, about 4,000 – 6,000 yen),  or slow and with a lot of changes (local trains, about 3,000 yen).We took a shinkansen for the first time, before I was put off by the price but it was travelling at its finest – relaxing, easy, and watching the scenery roll past while enjoying the extra leg room. 

When Usami can be surf paradise when the weather and tides are right – July through to mid-September is warm enough in regular swimming gear. Outside that you`d be better with a wetsuit. Also, after late August there`s a chance of jellyfish being swept into the bay. Some of these, like the box jellyfish native to Australia, can be dangerous. I visited in mid September during peak jellyfish season – they kept us out of the water for a day before they finally got swept out to sea. I was stung by a `safe` one and it felt like an electric shock. I also saw Portugese Man of War jellies about a week before along the coast nearer to Tokyo, but if there`s lots of people in the water then you should be fine.

Where to stay There are a few small hotels and guesthouses in Usami, some right next to the beach. Its a small town so don`t expect an overwhelming choice. Also restaurants are few and far between, you`d get more choice in the bigger towns of Atami (to the north) or Ito (one stop down on the train line to the south) if your hotel doesn`t offer any meals. Or just rough it on convenience store food.

Things to Do In Usami Get in the ocean. Take an onsen. Drink beer on the beach. Simple, but a pretty good mix for a relaxing beach trip. Theres a 50 foot Buddha statue you can see from the town if you fancy a hike up into the mountains to explore some temples. I havent tried this yet as the beach/bath/beer combination was just too compelling, but it looks impressive even from the coast

Things to do near Usami To the south of Usami are some of the most popular spots in the Izu Peninsular.

Jogasaki Coast is a walk along the cliffs with spectacular views of cliffs, small islands and waterfalls. It passes through thick forest, a mix of tough Japanese pines clinging to sheer clifftops or perched on tiny isles in the ocean, and semi-tropical rainforest. At both ends of the walk there are suspension bridges which offer views over coves and cliffs, and along the way there are temples, shrines and Izu Oceanic Park, where you can go swimming or try scuba diving.

The full walk is over 12 kms and surprising tough going because it follows the natural line of the cliffs, so the path meanders along all the inlets and small bays, and rises or falls steeply in some places. Although it is not an easy walk it is extremely rewarding – the meandering coastline means the view is always changing, and there are over 30 famous viewpoints signposted that include waterfalls, tiny valleys full of hydrangea flowers or cherry blossom at the right time of year, statues and temples, as well as the staggering natural beauty of the coast itself.

Walking along Hashidate Bridge

If you do not want to do the full walk then the bridges at either end can be accessed easily from local train stations. Jogasaki Kaigen Station at the north east end is just over 1km from the Kawowaki Suspension Bridge and lighthouse, and Izu Kogen Station in the south west is 1km from Hashidate Suspension Bridge.There are bus tours to visit Renchakuji Temple and Izu Oceanic Park too.

Jogasaki can be reached by train from Ito Station, the trains are every 20 minutes on the Izu Kyuko line and the ride takes around 25-35 minutes.

Personally I would recommend trying the full walk because of the amazing scenery and fascinating sights along the way, but wearing loose comfortable clothes and taking a lot of water is a good idea, as between Renchakuji Temple and Hiashidate Bridge there are no water fountains and on a humid day you will get hot walking on the steep parts. I would also suggest wearing practical shoes like walking boots or trainers after watching a girl in stilettos stumble around on the rocky parts at Kawowaki Bridge.

Izukogen Station offers several museums, many of them pretty unusual, as well as the Jogasaki walk. These include the Music Box Museum, the Teddy Bear Museum, the Doll House Museum and the Museum of Interesting Things.               I have not visited any of these, although the Museum of Interesting Things sounded… interesting.

Seven Waterfalls is another well-known walk near Kawazu Station through forest in the centre of Izu. It is about 1km, and can be reached by bus from Kawazu Station on the Izu Kyuku line.

Snorkelling or scuba diving can be done in Kawazu. Expect to pay 1,500yen to rent a snorkel, mask and flippers, then pay an extra 1,500 yen if you want to dive on the beach near the harbour. This money is demanded by the fishermans union so they can earn cash `when they can`t go in the water because of divers`. Thats one way to translate it. The other is frankly `We want to rip off tourists.Also we own the ocean. Because we say so, thats why`. Follow the road that goes along the beach to the south, it goes around a couple of bends and you`ll see a tiny unspoiled tranquil beach where you will see a ton of fish and show the fishermen exactly where they can stick their tax

Shirahama Beach is the most famous beach on the peninsular and is a long stretch of white sand near Shimoda. There are areas near here for snorkelling or scuba diving. You can get there on the Izu Kyuko line from Usami.

More information

Trains http://www.hyperdia.com lists train times in English or Japanese

UNDER CONSTRUCTION – Please check back soon for the final version, complete with directions and all!

Sick of being ripped off? Bored with going to the major chains? Check out some small, independant and well-worthy places to stop for a drink

Shinjuku

MARU

Narrow rowdy upstairs izakaiya, with self-service. You can mix your own cocktails from a sticky selection of brandless spirits, or get a mate to surprise/traumatise you. The beer pumps are particularly cool, automatically tilting the glass for you and spraying on a liberal head, so all you have to do is push a button.  Nomihoudai is 300yen for half an hour, so about 1,200 yen for the average 2 hour binge. The food isn’t great but from 60Y for a yakitori what do you expect? You have to order some food to get the drinks deal but they don’t force you to actually eat it. The staff are a lot less polite than the norm in Japan but since everyone there is completely hammered I guess I can’t blame them.

Overall; Fun, cheap, but not fancy. Definitely not good for a first date.

Take the South Exit out of Shinjuku Station, go straight down the main road. Take the 3rd left, its the building near the end of the street with a big orange sign, on the 4th floor. Shinjuku 34-14, Shinjuku 3-Chome, 160-0022

Ikebukuro

Standing bar

Often busy with a good atmosphere, this small bar has a retro feel. The usual crowd is older drinkers and salarymen leaning on the wooden tables and unwinding after a long day. They dont offer nomihoudai but its only about 300Y for a beer, which you pay for as they come so there`s no big bar tab to come as a nasty surprise at the end of the night. No seats, but this means no table charge. Good for a quick drink, or a few if youre not hungry and still capable of standing up.

West exit,__________ second floor

Shimokitazawa

Barba

Upstairs bar, hard to find twice. Pirate themed, the arching roof, murals and assorted nautical tat make it feel like drinking in a boat. usually quiet. Nomihoudai advertised for 700yen for 2 hours – if you want beer and tequila its an extra 200Y, and the table charge is about 400y. The waiter told us half way through we had to order food (about 400Y, standard fare) but since he didnt say this at the beginning we could argue it. You can make your own takoyaki at the table, takes a bit of practise if its your first time though. Not much atmosphere early on but good for a quieter drink, and the unusual design plus extensive cocktails/ sours menu make it worth checking out.

Overall; Cheap, but check what you pay for before you start

Take the south exit out of Shimokitazawa Station, turn right, go past McDonalds, go two blocks and look for it on the left hand side near am-pm, its on the second floor   http://www.hotpepper.jp/strJ000789228/

Kichijoji

For a real change of drinking style, take the Chuo line to some of the best cities in Tokyo. Kichijoji is the perfect example of this – tiny rock bars, theme bars, Okinawan-esque wooden shacks with overpriced cocktails… but there’s some really unusual stuff once you get onto the side streets

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Yurei – Ghost Bar

Not the cheapest on this list but definitely worth heading to, if only for how unique it is. This horror-themed ezakaiya offers a range of ghoulishly presented food and drinks, in a creepily decorated black-lit basement bar. The friendly staff are dressed as traditional Japanese ghosts – trailing white dress, shockingly pale. Think Sadako in the Ring … only serving you beer instead of crawling out the tv. The best deal is for 3 – 4 people, doing nomihoudai/tabehoudai. The food is a bit pricey but fantastic, and the presentation is cool. We ordered spare ribs – the lights go dim, something in a shot glass is poured over the meat, the spark of a lighter, and a foot high flaming inferno is placed in front of you. Wow.Some specials too, like the Valentines Day “Russian Roulette” – the theme being “heaven and hell”. Two identical looking gyoza arrive on a plate – one tasty, the other a burning nightmare of wasabi. Go in on your birthday and get a surprise.

Kichijoji Station south exit, head towards Inokashira Koen, go past Marui, and its on a small street to the right (B1, 1-8-11 Kichijoji Minami-cho). Or just follow the sound of wailing and screaming.

Harmonica bars

You can find these in loads of towns along the Chuo line. Most drinking holes in Japan you’re at a table, set a bit apart from others, inside a bar that probably doesn’t have windows.

The harmonica bars are very very different. These tiny places sit side by side on maze-like narrow streets, each only about the size of 6 tatami mats, or a handful of metres square, cluttered with small tables and chairs pushed together back to back, the walls decorated with old movie posters, graffiti, toys, memorabilia, books, found … things.. One wall is open onto the street, with sheets of plastic like a shower curtain to pull across if its raining. The chairs overlapping with the bar next door, the music and shouts mingling; its  more like drinking outdoors than in.

Dont expect a huge range of food and drink – there literally isnt space to store it. The bar counter in most of these is smaller than my kitchen sink. Theres bar snacks and maybe a yakitori grill or a couple of pots of something simmering away in the cramped space behind the bar. These aren’t places designed for eating a big meal in with a more limited selection than in most izakaiyas, but they compensate for the lack of choice by serving a few quality dishes. Theyre designed for banter – something you don’t get much sat at seperate tables, with everything brought to you by a waiter. The layout forces you to talk to others, passing their drinks over, squeezing past their chairs. It’s a great place for chatting to strangers, making new friends, and of course flirting.

Most of them are too small to have their own toilets, but there`s usually a public one nearby. For example in Kichijoji a few of the harmonica bar owners clubbed together to build a block of loos and they give you a key to use them. Just try to remember which bar you were drinking in so you can give the key back. There`s no table charge, beer around 500Y

Overall; Friendly, lively and great for having a chat or getting a few phone numbers

Kichijoji: Come out the main entrance of the train station, turn left and the harmonica bars start in a small sidestreet just across the road near Sunshine Dori.

Shibuya

standing bar

This is a great place to meet foreigners outside the Hub Trap (Hub Trap: you start a bit of conversation waiting at the bar, they seem reasonably cool, come over to join you, then rapidly descend into arseholes). The staff  understand a fair bit of English if you’re not too great at Japanese. It’s a standing bar, so good for mingling, or if there’s a big group of you, or if you just want to skip the table charge most places will insist you pay. They do a small range of beers, including dark beer, which makes a refreshing change from lager. Theres a few bar snacks available but no real food – if you want something a bit more substantial there’s one of Tokyo`s few kebab shops just up the street, opposite the McDonalds. I tried the snack pasta, initially disappointed by what appeared to be dry pasta covered in salt, but crunchy and good drinking food.  They show major league European football and baseball, although good luck keeping your attention on the game.

Happy hour is until 7pm where a medium sized beer is 300Y, about 400 after that.

Shibuya Station, exit 3a. Go straight down the main road, turn right at Shibuya Flag, turn left, and its on your left hand side. Udagawacho 33-14, Shibuya, 150-0042

Nerima `Ten Ten`

Another standing bar, pretty laid back and entirely covered in wooden panelling, so you get the nice fresh wood smell. You buy tickets from a machine, just like in the cheaper kind of ramen shops, then tell the staff behind the counter what you want, everything is 300yen. The food is pretty good but the portions are small.

Come out the central exit, cross Senkawa dori, and turn left at Mr Donut. The bar is on a right hand corner on the next street.

Ooizumigakuen `The Moon`

One way off the beaten track in so many ways, The Moon is a 1950’s style American diner bar full of chrome, red leather booths, vintage style posters and neon signs. Small bowls of popcorn are refilled for you, and there’s even a notebook and biro on the table in case you want to do some doodling or grab someone’s number. The service is really quick, the drinks are good and its super cheap.Nomihoudai is around 1,300 yen at weekends, and if you fancy early doors mid-week bingeing you can start from 4pm for 150yen a drink

The bad news? Madonna or slightly out of date Top 20 hits on repeat. The same forty minutes of taped MTV videos, over and over.  The opening hours are kind of random and they host a lot of private parties too, so phone first to confirm its open before heading all the way out here.

From Oozumi station pass Mizuho and keep going down the hill, cross at the main intersection with Geos on the corner and its across the street.

Torikizoku

Well worth a mention, this relaxed and super cheap izakaya chain gets its own entry. They sell a lot of cocktails, whiskey, beer and yakitori style food. Everything is 270Y, theres never any table charge, no waiting around. The staff are always really helpful and they usually have an English menu kicking around too if you need it. Nomihoudai/tabehoudai deal is 2800Y per person and only for groups of 8 or more for some reason – you probably won`t end up saving much unless you pillage the food deal

Branches mostly along the Seibu-Ikebukuro line,  in Ikebukuro itself (West exit, go through the Metropolitan Park and turn right,  left at Marui and left again at the police box, its near Lawsons), Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shimokitazawa, and even one in Kyoto in the middle of Pontocho.

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.

Izu Peninsular is an area south-west of Tokyo known for its thickly forested mountains, natural hot springs, stretching beaches and blue seas cut with jagged islands. Ito is a medium sized town on the coast surrounded by small mountains with several good seafood restaurants, onsen (natural hot springs) and a gently sloping bay.

Transport There are several ways to get there: easy and expensive (shinkansen bullet train from Central Tokyo, about 4,000 – 6,000 yen), exhilarating and expensive (Jet Boat from Tokyo via Oshima island, about 5,700), slow by sea (overnight ferry from Tokyo via Oshima, 3,500) or slow by land (local trains, about 2,000 yen).

We opted for local trains and set off early hoping to get there by midday, and although we typically missed all the connecting trains we had planned to catch, we still managed to get there in 2 and a half hours. 

When Ito is popular with travellers from Japan and abroad, and gets busy on weekends in mid summer. if you are more into hiking or onsen than sunbathing on the beach then anytime between early May and late September should be temperate enough.

I visited in late June when the weather was sunny enough for a beach holiday but without the crowds that will pour in during July and August. 

Where to stay There are some large hotels and several hostels or guesthouses in Ito, and others further from the town centre. I would recommend checking the location of hotels carefully, the train station, beach and most of the restaurants are on the eastern side of the town. The western side climbs up into the mountains, so expect to be walking up steep hills if you stay near there.

I stayed at K`s House Ito , a beautifully restored traditional hotel with its own onsen which is free for guests to use. The hostel was large, very clean and reasonably priced, about 3,000yen per person per night.

Things to Do In Ito Ito is well known for its hot springs and seafood, especially aji,a fish specialty of the region. Orange Beach is a part of the bay perfect for swimming or sunbathing, with some barriers to prevent large waves entering this area, so the sea here is usually calm and very clear. Near the harbour the sea floor is rocky so you can see fish and crabs, and there are several shops selling Japanese dried fish delicacies or souvenirs for tourists. There are boat tours of the coast* and during high season there are scuba diving tours too. Next to Orange Beach is Nagisa Sculpture Park which you can wander around for free. North of the station are several parks, gardens and shrines. The onsen are mostly in the town and some people wear yukata (a lightweight robe) on the streets when they are travelling in between different hot springs.

Plaza in Ito Harbour

*Avoid the glass-bottomed boat with an orange dolphin on the top, it is a waste of money. We spent 1,600 yen each thinking we would get to stop at various small islands near Ito and see fish – it didnt stop at any islands and the only time you could see fish was when it docked in the habour… these are the same fish you can see for free by looking in the water from the street. 

Things to do near Ito To the south of Ito are some of the most popular spots in the Izu Peninsular.

Jogasaki Coast is a walk along the cliffs with spectacular views of cliffs, small islands and waterfalls. It passes through thick forest, a mix of tough Japanese pines clinging to sheer clifftops or perched on tiny isles in the ocean, and semi-tropical rainforest. At both ends of the walk there are suspension bridges which offer views over coves and cliffs, and along the way there are temples, shrines and Izu Oceanic Park, where you can go swimming or try scuba diving.

The full walk is over 12 kms and surprising tough going because it follows the natural line of the cliffs, so the path meanders along all the inlets and small bays, and rises or falls steeply in some places. Although it is not an easy walk it is extremely rewarding – the meandering coastline means the view is always changing, and there are over 30 famous viewpoints signposted that include waterfalls, tiny valleys full of hydrangea flowers or cherry blossom at the right time of year, statues and temples, as well as the staggering natural beauty of the coast itself.

Walking along Hashidate Bridge

If you do not want to do the full walk then the bridges at either end can be accessed easily from local train stations. Jogasaki Kaigen Station at the north east end is just over 1km from the Kawowaki Suspension Bridge and lighthouse, and Izu Kogen Station in the south west is 1km from Hashidate Suspension Bridge.There are bus tours to visit Renchakuji Temple and Izu Oceanic Park too.

Jogasaki can be reached by train from Ito Station, the trains are every 20 minutes on the Izu Kyuko line and the ride takes around 20-30 minutes.

Personally I would recommend trying the full walk because of the amazing scenery and fascinating sights along the way, but wearing loose comfortable clothes and taking a lot of water is a good idea, as between Renchakuji Temple and Hiashidate Bridge there are no water fountains and on a humid day you will get hot walking on the steep parts. I would also suggest wearing practical shoes like walking boots or trainers after watching a girl in stilettos stumble around on the rocky parts at Kawowaki Bridge.

Izukogen Station offers several museums, many of them pretty unusual, as well as the Jogasaki walk. These include the Music Box Museum, the Teddy Bear Museum, the Doll House Museum and the Museum of Interesting Things.               I have not visited any of these, although the Museum of Interesting Things sounded… interesting.

Seven Waterfalls is another well-known walk near Kawazu Station through forest in the centre of Izu. It is about 1km, and can be reached by bus from Kawazu Station on the Izu Kyuku line.

Shirahama Beach is the most famous beach on the peninsular and is a long stretch of white sand near Shimoda. There are areas near here for snorkelling or scuba diving. You can get there on the Izu Kyuko line from Ito.

More information

Trains http://www.hyperdia.com lists train times in English or Japanese

Ito Tourist Association http://www.itospa.com for maps and more information on the area

Western side of Orange Beach