First published with Sunny Side Adventures – https://sunnyside-adventures.com/2017/06/19/a-coastal-paradise-exploring-izu-peninsula/
I run frantically from the footpath to the water’s edge, the clean white sand burning the soles of my feet as it works its way into the cracks between my toes. The fiery sun in the cloudless blue sky has made the sand almost too hot to touch. And it’s only 11am.
I can’t help but smile as I cast my eyes from the crystal blue sea, to the green mountainous coastline, and behind me to where children play baseball on a beachside pitch within this charming coastal Japanese neighbourhood. As I head into the lightly crashing waves of the inviting waters, I know I have found one of the gems of Japan’s coastal paradise.
I am at Kisami Ohama, a stunning stretch of coastline considered one of Izu Peninsula’s top beaches.
Izu is a large mountainous peninsula about 100km west of Tokyo. With an area of over 1,400km, the region provides an array of towns each with their own individual character and sightseeing gems to offer.
I headed to Izu with my backpack, bathers and camera for a weekend escape from the bright lights and buzz of Tokyo. The weekend was everything I had hoped for: sand, sun, seafood, and serenity.
If you’re tossing up whether to squeeze Izu Peninsula into your trip to Japan, I say ‘do it’! If you’re looking for inspiration on how to plan your trip, here’s how I spent my weekend at the coastal paradise.
Travelling from Tokyo
The Shinkansen (bullet train) makes the trip to Izu Peninsula from Tokyo quick and easy. I caught the Shinkansen from Tokyo station around 8am on Saturday morning and had arrived at Atami, the first major entry point to the peninsula, by 9am. At Atami station I transferred to the JR Ito line and caught the train to Izukyu-Shimoda station, about an hour and a half down the east side of the coast. It’s a long, but certainly not boring train ride, with views of the coast almost the entire journey.
From Izukyu-Shimoda station I caught the bus 15 minutes to Kisami. With blue skies and hot sun, I was headed straight for the soft sand and cool waters of Kisami Ohama beach.
Kisami Ohama Beach
Kisami is a small seaside town with a quiet rural charm. The 15 minute walk from Kisami bus stop to Ohama beach will take you through residential streets where most houses have their own veggie garden and are surrounded by lush green mountains.
Before you make your way to the beach, I suggest stopping at Family Mart (convenience store) which you will notice on the same road as the bus stop. It is a good idea to buy lunch and snacks here as there are no stores near the beach.
I spent around three hours soaking in the sun at Ohama beach, either relaxing on the sand, cooling off in the water or taking photos of the picture-perfect coast.
It is best to have a rough idea of the bus schedule back to Shimoda from Kisami bus stop, as there can be up to an hour in between buses.
Exploring the charm of sea-side Shimoda
It is useful to pick up a map at the tourist information centre at Shimoda station once returning by bus from Kisami.
I walked 15 minutes from the station to Perry Road, stopping to check out shops and shrines along the way.
Perry Road is a quaint stone pathway along either side of a canal. The short stroll will take you back in time and perhaps cast your mind to another place, as the stone pathway and cafes dotted along give off an almost European vibe.
Beautiful blooming flowers colour the street in spring and summer. It is only a short walk down either side of the canal, but it’s charm will have you lingering in one of the cafes or stores, or simply sitting to admire the beauty.
At the end of Perry Road is Shimoda Koen (Shimoda park) where hydrangeas cover the grounds in summer.
Climbing the stairs of the park provides views of both the town and the coast.
After spending time admiring the views at the highest point of the park I headed down to the water where a path follows the coast into the town and fishermen cast their lines in hope of a catch.
You will pass the aquarium where an outside pool houses friendly turtles who swim to the surface to greet you.
Time in the sun and walking the streets had my tummy rumbling by the evening. As the sun goes down and you make your way back into town use Google Maps to head to Gorosaya, a Japanese seafood restaurant about five minutes from Shimoda station.
Gorosaya served up fresh seafood in multiple courses that had me savouring every last bite and wondering when I will be able to return to Japan to once again experience food like this. I ordered the first set menu on the list after asking the staff for a recommendation.
I was first served a board of sashimi; a selection of the freshest fish I have ever tasted. The food seemed to keep on coming, as I was then served Japanese egg, miso soup, rice, and a traditional fish dish.
After savouring every mouthful of my seafood feast it was time to head back to Izukyu Shimoda station for an hour and a half train trip to Ito where I had an Air BnB booked for the night.
Waking up to the sleepy fishing town of Ito
Not much is happening in Ito before 9am, but if you head to the station you will find a few shops and cafes where I sat to have a Western style pancake breakfast (I just can’t bring myself to eat rice for breakfast like the Japanese do).
I stocked up on food supplies for the day, buying lunch and snacks at the station convenience store, before catching the train from Ito to Jogasaki-Kaigan station.
Hiking the Jogasaki Coast
Before my weekend away I had read a hike along the Jogasaki Coast was a ‘must do’ during a trip to Izu Peninsula. I can now confidently say I agree with this claim.
The adventure begins with a roughly 30 minute walk from Jogasaki-Kaigan station to the Kadowaki Lighthouse. It is worth asking the ticket officer at the station for a map and directions as my pocket wifi didn’t work to use Google Maps in this area. The Kadowaki Lighthouse and suspension bridge make an interesting visit with beautiful views of the rugged Jogasaki coastline. But there are ample stunning views to enjoy if you decide to embark on the 10km hike down the coast.
The beginning of the track follows a concrete path which passes the Izu Seasonal Flower Park. After the park you will have to walk along the road until you reach the next car park where it is likely groups of men in wetsuits will be gathered after a morning dive. From here, walk into the grounds of the Renchaku-ji Temple. It is after the temple that the rocky hiking track begins.
Prepare yourself for 10km of a moderately difficult hiking track, with hills, steps, and uneven rocks, and breathtaking views of the rugged Jogasaki Coastline. The track journeys through the shade of a lush green forest.
After my experiences in Tokyo, I felt it was rare in Japan to find a place to enjoy alone; the past few weeks I have constantly been surrounded by people in the bustling city. But on this hike, the coast was my own paradise. In two hours I only passed one other group of walkers.
There are multiple points throughout the hike where you can go off the track to view the coast or sit to take a breath or snack (pack water, lunch and snacks for the hike).
At the end of the track you will come across a rock pool area and the Hashidate Suspension Bridge.
It is worth trekking the extra kilometre to the Yawanato Port where the forest track suddenly opens up to a small fishing town. Just before you reach the Hashidate Suspension Bridge you will notice the turn off for the 15 minute walk to Izu-Kogen station.
I had plans to head to Mt Omuro after the hike, where visitors can catch a cable car to the summit and experience spectacular views of Izu. Unfortunately, I had rubbish weather, with rain and heavy cloud all day, so I aborted the plan knowing I wouldn’t see anything from the summit.
Escaping the rain at Atami
I’m not going to lie, my legs and feet were aching by the time I made it back to Izu-Kogen station. I was wet, cold, sore and tired – relaxing in an onsen in the hot spring town of Atami seemed a good option to see out the weekend.
It is about 50 minutes on the train from Izu-Kogen to Atami station. It was a bit of a shock to the system going from the isolation of my solitary coastal hike to the bustling tourist town of Atami. Personally I most enjoyed the peaceful, less touristy neighbourhoods towards the south of the coast, and would have preferred to avoid Atami.
If you can make it there and like me hope to avoid the crowds, I have heard the west cost of Izu is more rugged and quiet (it is difficult travelling to this side of the peninsula on public transport, but easier if you have a car). But given the rainy weather, Atami was a good option for my Sunday afternoon, where I could let my body recover and relax in an onsen before strolling the market stalls and enjoying another sashimi dinner.
By 6pm, I was back on the Shinkansen to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, a stark contrast to the Izu Peninsula where you can breathe fresh sea air and slow down time.