The Izu 伊豆 road trip

Izu drive mapYet another of our “bleisure” trips where we extended our stay in Japan after Melvin’s business trip.

Destination : the Izu peninsula (伊豆半島).

We had been to the other surrounding areas with our timeshare, but missed out on this part of Kanto which is so close to Tokyo. Come to think about it, there were NO timeshare resorts here that we could find for exchange from here. We can complain all we want about RCI, but that’s another story to tell.

We took the 10am JR Express train and reached Ito city (伊東). It took us about 1½ hours for the 150km journey and we picked up the rental car at arrival.

Our train tickets for the express JR ride from Tokyo to Ito city cost ¥16,820 for 2 persons. We had bought the tickets at the train station a few days ahead and decided on the reserved seats option which costs just a little more.

During our four day road trip, we only touched the central parts of the Izu peninsula as you can see from our drive map. 

Mountain and Coast

Mt Omuro3Just 10km south of Ito city, it was just a 15 minute drive to get to Mount Omuro (大室山). It is a dormant volcano shaped almost perfectly like a rice bowl.Mt Omuro9 This caldera of former volcano even has a nickname “Breast of Izu”, because aerial views of it suggest such! At 580m high, the crater is ~300m wide at the rim. Fortunately we can ascend the caldera in a chair lift (¥500pp).

Once on top, we can view the entire eastern part of Izu peninsula. In the middle of the caldera, there is an archery spot, which is said to be popular.

However, the descent from the crater rim down to the archery field seems taxing. Must be really fit to do this! Although we really liked to try shooting some, the practicality of not physically straining ourselves was a strong restraint.

Izubeer Sashimi2Izubeer Sashimi4Just a little further down from Mt Omuro we drove, in search of a nice lunch.

We are now driving along the eastern coast of Izu and we found a restaurant with a name combined between its namesake and man’s most important liquid.

Izubeer, a small chain (3 shops only) that specializes in rice topped up with humongous amount of sashimi!

Izubeer Sashimi5To date, it has sold more than 152,000 servings of this very large Seafood don. At ¥2,800, the seafood-don will keep you full for many hours! This set also comes with a hotpot of local crab.

Wash this down with a pint of their famous home brewed beer as well! If you do have you your fill, you can add fresh abalone sashimi for ¥1,000!Izubeer Sashimi6

Actually this is all premeditated. Suan had looked up for places to dine and found the website offering a coupon to order the abalone for the giveaway price of just S$12!

Having refueled (us that is), we drove to nearby Jogasaki coast (城ケ崎海岸). This is where the lava would have flown into the sea from nearby Mount Omuro. The highlight of coming here is for the suspension bridge at Kadowaki. You do not need to walk, actually you can drive and park nearby. It’s just that we had parked ½ hour’s walk away…Don’t need to tell you how Suan reminded me about this mistake…

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As we walked along the suspension bridge viewing the cliffs being pounded by the waves, we cannot help to reminiscent how these look like the basalt rock of the Giants’ causeway in Ireland. Indeed, at various points on the hiking trail, we could see rock formations in a somewhat hexagonal form.

The trail winds around ~9.5km, but we only walked ~2.5km. We Next stop – our hotel for the night at Tsuryu Kisshotei at Atagawa (熱川). They have an outdoor hot spring facing the sea, so there was a bunch of men and women in their birthday suits walking about facing the ocean. Separated, they are separated into different gender baths, in case you are wondering!

Fruits in season and more mountains

Tsuruya Kisshotei room1Tsuruya Kisshotei room3You see, we had booked the Ryokan using the Japanese website and chose a “surprise room” package with the usual half board.

The hotel itself has both a couple of standalone rooms (double floor, one room on each level) and a 5-storey building.

Guess what? We got a room in one of the standalones! There is a nice garden with well manicured trees. Directly facing the sea, we walked along the sea wall that lines up along the shore.Tsuruya Kisshotei4Tsuruya Kisshotei room4

After a hearty breakfast, we checked out and began our drive along the coast further down towards Inatori and Kawazu.

The southern part of Izu peninsula is famed for its orange produce. Known as “mikan” (蜜柑), there are small orchards all over and they supply their produce to distillers and other extraction industries centered on this fruit. We first visited a winery and Suan did some tasting (I was driving so the lady did not let me try). Then it was off to a Mikan orchard, where we took an hour to be fruit pickers. All you can eat in that time!

Talk about low hanging fruits, we picked them all! You just need to cut off part of the skin of the mikan. The white part of the fruit skin is not bitter and can also be eaten as well. Thus you do not need to peel it down to the orange flesh! While it was nice to pick fruit, we recognize this is not a career and we continued on the Inatori (稲取) coast, stopping at one of the fishing ports.Inatori coast2

Here we found large quantities of cuttle fish and squid being laid out to dry.Inatori coast1

They will probably be smoked and cured later for sale. The coast off Izu is apparently abundant with marine life, as we found some locals diving into the water just off the shoreline. They did not seem to have snorkel gear, just masks!Inatori coast4

They are probably looking for shell fish or other crustaceans that flourish along the coast.Inatori coast12

On a beautiful day, we are said to be able to see many of the 7 Izu islands that line up all along the southeast of Izu.

Ok enough of this side of Izu, time to make the cross peninsula drive.

Kawazu falls2We drove towards Kawazu (河津), supposedly famed for its Sakura bloom. Being here in late May means this is not what we can expect. The other main attraction in Kawazu are the 7 small/large waterfalls that cascade all along the mountain river.

As it was raining, we did not quite get to these falls except for one. But then we did have a lunch of wild boar stew. We also drove up to the mountains via the Kawazu-Nanadaru loop bridge. This innovation saved us quite some time instead of winding around the crest of the mountains!

As we moved northwards, the skies cleared when we reached Joren falls (浄蓮の滝). Nestled in the Amagi (天城) region, the water here is clean, to the extent that wasabi can be cultivated here.

You see, not all places are suitable to cultivate this sensitive crop. This is testament to the water’s cleanliness and natural minerals. You can also fish in the river stream here and it seems to be rather popular. We saw entire families throwing fishing lines into the stream. Well, at least this is comfort for not seeing the other 7 falls further downstream.Toi Marine hotel1View of Toi coast3

We had come up here, bypassing the historic Amagi tunnel to be amazed by the beauty of this small corner of the peninsula. We’ll be back here on our way back to Ito.

The west coast & more seafood!

Koibitomasaki 11The early morning was foggy and we expected a cloudy day as we drove along the western coastline. Our hotel faced the port and we could see ferries coming in from Shimizu regularly till the night.Koibitomasaki 2

First stop today is “lovers’ cape” (Koibito-misaki恋人岬). We walked all the way out to 2 locations, both of which symbolizes love. At the first stop, we rang the bell 3 times.

Again, as in many place it is possible to see Mount Fuji on a clear day. Here, you can use the outsized “magnifying glass” model to do the ogling. This peekaboo with Mt Fuji never ends. Against the meddling mist and fog has thwarted our viewing plans! As we said, you need to walk further to prove your love. And we walked to the end of the cape where we rang the second bell 3 times also!

Dogashima coast8All this walking was good to work off the meals we had. We then drove on to Dogashima (堂ヶ島). Dogashima coast13This is an area of limestone cliffs that has been eroded over time.

You can see a natural tunnel from the sea under the cliffs. Most tourists come here to take the cruise (20min and ~¥920) out to sea and also to see Dogashima suspension bridge at the Orchid resort.

Then it was a drive back northwards, as we searched for our seafood barbeque lunch venue. Located in an obscure part of the long coast of Toi (土肥), we drove into small roads, watching fishermen lay out their red kelp to dry before stumbling onto the restaurant. Suan had found this place on the internet.

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It is said to be popular with local celebrities. An entire wall of their pictures line up on one side of the restaurant! We chose a medium sized lobster for our lunch today and it was gutted and grilled live over a charcoal fire.

Amagi mountain views3Our choice of the course also came with lots of fish, including their famed 金目鯛 (red Snapper). We think this is a one-man show. During the entire meal, there was only the lone person serving, moving and arranging our meal…now this is the kind of efficiency that restaurants in Singapore will not have.

After lunch, it was time to head into the mountains and yet another day of hot spring bathing. We are in the middle of the Amagi area and the Ryokan “Renaissance” is located high above a large ravine river. With 7 floors right down to the river’s edge, we started with a bath.

We had an early dinner followed by some fruits on our own. We had bought them from a vendor while stopping at Amagi highlands on the way to our Ryokan here in Yugashima (湯ケ島). The elderly lady was manning her stand alone. Pipa FruitWhile we could not speak with her, the gesturing suggests that we can eat the fruit without needing to peel the skin. This fruit is called the “pipa” 枇杷 in mandarin (loquat) and said to be soothing for the throat.

The highlight of the evening was a walk in the night watching fire flies as they glow in the night searching for mates in the cool early summer. Everyone from all the surrounding Ryokans were dressed (including us) in yukata.

Now with the sumptuous breakfast (with many dishes and bowls), I sometimes wonder how do they manage with this many cutlery and dishware at the end of each meal. Must be some great effort to clean up! Fortunately, I am on holiday and not needed to help with the dishes.Ryokan breakfast1

Well, it was time to leave. The drive back to Ito city to return the car is just an hour away. We stopped for a photo op at Shuzenji (修善寺), another Onsen town said to be one of the oldest on the peninsula.Shuzenji1

It was time to take the train back to Tokyo, where we had to make a run to the airport for the night flight home. Combining business with pleasure is quite something to plan for. It makes for the grime of work a little more tolerable. We highly recommend it.

Late May till June 2012

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