(Imaihama Beach, Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Prefecture)
It’s summertime in Shizuoka, and if you’re anywhere inside the prefecture that can only mean one thing: time to go to Izu. The Izu peninsula is located within Shizuoka prefecture, towards the east where it separates itself from the mainland of Japan as it dips into the Pacific Ocean. As you can imagine, Izu is littered with gorgeous beaches, but it is also home to many natural reserves, ecological parks, and to more onsen (hot springs) than you may think are necessary. It’s an obvious choice for a vacation spot.
Izu, a Peninsula Paradise
When I first moved to the Shizuoka I knew I pretty much had to visit Izu, but this isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds. How do you know what beach to visit when almost the entire location is a coastline? Well, to be honest the answer is that you don’t really know… Or rather, there isn’t one correct answer. With so many choices, the decision is up to you. You can visit a recommended or popular beach or you can be spontaneous and choose a more secluded one at random to explore (recommended, but risky).
My decision on where to go was made in the name of fashion, to attend a beachside t-shirt fair at Imaihama beach, in the lower portion of Izu- but more on that later!
Atami, a Literal Hot Spot
The easiest way for most people to get to Izu, regardless of provenance or desired destination within Izu, is by taking the Shinkansen bullet train. At a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h, this train is not joking around: it will get to where it needs to get… and it will do so quickly. There is a Shinkansen station at Atami, an onsen resort city located on the northern portion of Izu. This is likely where you want your Shinkansen to end up as it is located near the beginning of Izu, and from there you can take local trains further south along the peninsula.
Atami itself is a worthwhile vacation spot, by the way. For one, the city mascot is an older, balding man with fairy wings and a wand named Atsuo, which is strikingly similar to “atsui”, the Japanese word for hot. He can be found on anything from pastries to socks. Clearly this must be a sign of a good city, right?
Atami is well known for its onsen. Even if you are only stopping by for a short time in between trains as I was, you can enjoy a free dip in an ashiyu, which is a sort of mini-onsen for your fee. One is right outside the station! Also outside the station is a lively marketplace where you can purchase omiyage, or souvenirs. Popular Shizuoka prefecture omiyage include green tea, wasabi, shirasu (dried baby anchovy) amongst other things.
As Atami was not my final destination on this particular trip to Izu, I still needed to get further south by using a local train, which ran along the east coast of Izu from Atami all the way down to Izukyu Shimoda at the very bottom of the peninsula. If you run along the full course this trip can take close to two hours, but believe it or not, this is actually a good thing. The views from the train are breathtakingly beautiful. As you ride along a mountain’s edge, you can enjoy seeing the vast ocean, colorful towns, gorgeous green forests, and golden beaches. Geeking out is inevitable.
Imaihama, a Hidden Jewel
It took about an hour and a half or so to reach my destination, Imaihama-Kaigan station. As I got off the train I was greeted by green mountains and salty sea air- at long last! My travel companion and I had a reservation at Chitoseya, a small guest house right on the beach and less than a 5 minute walk from the station. After being warmly welcomed by one of the owners and served a refreshing fruit juice, we were lead up to an adorable Japanese-style room, complete with tatami mat flooring, shoji paper screen windows, and a futon closet where our bedding was located. The view from the room was not too shabby either!
Across from the guest house was a small restaurant called D.O.C. (Down on the Cave), which specialized in jerk chicken and curry rice and carried local Izu beer. The many kitschy-cool Americana posters and knick knacks that adorned the restaurant walls created a relaxed vibe that might even have been slightly nostalgic to the American within me. The food itself was shockingly good, and I’ll admit I had the jerk chicken not once, but twice before leaving Imaihama…
Imaihama beach itself is an incredibly small yet lively beach. On both sides of the beach you can see sprawling green mountains, and on the beach itself there is a rocky area where people can go search for shells or small aquatic creatures. One thing I did not realize about Japanese beaches is that you can actually have anything from ramen to yakitori while on the beach itself, so of course we proceeded to engorge ourselves on deliciously fattening and sodium-filled foods. And beer. All without any regrets.
ANAGURA, a Chill Cave with Chill Vibes
The small, seaside town of Imaihama closes down rather early, which can be a bummer if you’ve traveled from far away. However, I had come to visit BAR ANAGURA, which actually opens up around the time the whole town closes down. The unassuming bar can be reached after climbing up a shadowy flight of stairs and entering a cave- that’s right, the whole bar is inside a cave! The venue is cool, edgy, and quite literally very “hole in the wall”. I’d even go so far as to call it “grungy” if it weren’t for the whirlwind of bebop jazz that bounced off the walls. Ambiance game strong, ANAGURA.
During the month of August BAR ANAGURA hosted AT THE TAVES IN, a t-shirt fair featuring 13 designs from 13 individuals in various industries, from film to fashion. Japanese designers, actors, models, and artists developed t-shirt designs exclusive to this event. The t-shirts were exhibited in the back of the bar, and hung from clotheslines to clearly feature each design. I was very happy to be able to visit Izu while the event was ongoing, as it was a main motivator for choosing Imaihama. My personal favorite design was the “IZUFORNIA” print tee, which I found to be a hilarious play on words (this may only have been because I’m a dork now living in Shizuoka, though…).
Though I may have come for the t-shirts, I stayed for the food (surprise!). ANAGURA’s menu is so varied and rich that you just have to try more than one thing, as we certainly did not hesitate to do. From the infamous jerk chicken and curry sausage to a perfectly seasoned and cooked sazae or “turban shell” (a sort of sea snail), I could not stop eating. The drink menu was far longer, however, and it featured such beverages as grapefruit beer, oolong sochu, a couple of ANAGURA original mixtures, and much, much more.
After a long night of t-shirt buying, eating, and drinking, we spent the next day exploring the small seaside town, and then lazily lounging on the beach until it was time to head back to the other side of Shizuoka.
All in all, visiting Izu is what you make of it. You can visit anything from a Teddy Bear Museum in Ito, to a geological park in Shimoda, or just lounge around and have a low-key beach day while eating all your worries away. Whatever you may choose, I recommend visiting this beautiful beachy peninsula at least once during your stay in Japan. And better yet- if you choose to visit Imaihama beach don’t forget to get your fill of jerk chicken!
Happy exploring! Mata ne (see you later)!
Born and bred in Italy's very own version of the inaka, or "la campagna", Elena is excited to be an ALT in the green tea field haven that is Shizuoka. Elena has an unhealthy weakness for overly salty foods, questionable fashion choices, and wide-brim hats, all of which are eerily abundant there...