Journeys in Japan – Izu, Shuzenji
The climax of my birthday week was a trip to Izu peninsula. I have been planning to go there for a long time but because it is really far and because there is only one road that is always so crowded, it is rather difficult to make the trip in one day. You either have to stay overnight or go there for just a few hours, much more you would spend in a traffic jam on the way back to Tokyo. I chose the first option. ^-^
There was a very famous mountain road called “Izu skyline” with gorgeous viewing points every few kilometers. I really enjoyed driving it while listening to the Thievery corporation – such an adrenaline! But it was the meanest most unforgiving road I have ever seen. At some places, it was so narrow I had to stop to let cars from the opposite direction go through. Plus there was a never-ending cliff on the other side – one small steering mistake and you are flying high in the sky. Just the “Nanadaru” loop bridge alone scared the hell out of me – two 360 degree loops above the deep valley!
Our first stop was Shirahama – the closest white sand beach to Tokyo. Most of the beaches around Tokyo are not sandy or at least don’t have this microscopic white sand that you can find in Odessa or Italy. Last time I remember seeing a flawless white sand was in 1998 on Golden bay beach in Malta. Ever since then, I have been on many gorgeous beaches but none of them were quite as white and clean. I can’t say Shirahama is just as great but I believe it’s the best beach I have seen near here so far. Even in Okinawa, our hotel’s beach was nowhere near as nice. It was also a delight to see the beach completely deserted, few surfers didn’t count.. I keep repeating myself but really, if you want to enjoy spending time on the beach in Japan, go off season.
The wind was terrible though. It blew the sand into everything I had on me but of course it couldn’t force me to abandon one of my favorite traditions – reading on the beach. Plus, I had my brand new kindle with me so I had to try it out. Even with the direct sunlight, I could see the kindle screen perfectly like a page in a book. I have never been this happy about any of my toys before! Kindle rocks! ^-^
After the beach, we drove to the famous Perry road, named after Commodore Mathew C. Perry who arrived to Japan in 1853 with a request to open Shimoda port for the US trading ships. His visit resulted in a peace treaty that ended the era of Japan’s isolation from the rest of the world.
The street is very old and remained the same as it was, only now, instead of brothels and tea houses, there are small cafes, antique stores and old hippie music shops that sell Janice Joplin early edition LPs and play reggae nonstop.
This was one of the small antique cafes that I really fell in love with. It used to be a brothel and you can still see the beautiful kimono of the courtesans that lived there. The shop was selling bunch of stuff – furniture, pottery, dry flowers, paintings as well as old marine memorabilia like fishing boat flags. You could look around or sit down for a cup of coffee or tea – they didn’t serve anything else. Beside me and my husband, there were two other men chatting about the old times – I sensed they were regulars.
I discovered stacks of old magazines from the 70s and 80s – celebrities with wicked hair, crazy fashion and young Hollywood stars that are now old and forgotten like my childhood’s favorite actress Goldie Hawn. I wish there were places like that in Tokyo, where the time stops and every inch has a story to tell. Or maybe they are just waiting to be discovered.. ^-^
At last, we have arrived to our stay, ryokan called “Kikuya” – an old resort with Japanese and European traditional styles intertwined with each other which I find quite typical for this area (Izu, Hakone, Karuizawa, Yamanashi, etc) . These places used to be and still are the summer residences of Japanese Upperclassers who a century ago were the first ones to be influenced by and then to introduce foreign culture into their every day lifestyle. So naturally, even now, many resorts are filled with antiques and other artifacts of once glamorous summerings.
The hotel is built right above the small but very busy river – you can constantly hear the sound of water multiplied by hundreds of tiny waterfalls that run through the stones. Our room had a small patio and a cottage like appeal – very relaxing.
We have arrived in the evening so our check-in was almost immediately followed by a gorgeous Japanese style feast with tiny dishes coming one after another, served by a gracious old lady in kimono who spoke perfect English (just in case!). The dinner was delicious and featured a lot of seasonal offerings like Ginkgo tree berries and kaki pickles and fresh catch.
Traditional Japanese dinners always consist of fresh sashimi, fried fish, tempura, nabe and soba or udon with extras like meat and variety of vegetables all dishes served in their own uniquely design plates and bowls.
After dinner, we went to the onsen and I got lucky again – not a single annoying old lady trying to speak to me while we both are shamelessly exposed. ^-^ I was completely alone and could enjoy 1 hour of solitude inside the steaming rotemburo bath.
The hotel provided the full yukata attire for the best onsen experience – not only yukata itself but also a cute little bag with towels and other necessary accessories – different depending on the sex of customer – so thoughtful! ^-^ The top and the skirt were actually separated – it was so easy to use!
This is me in our little patio early in the morning. I just came from the onsen and decided to do a little fashion show for my husband. ^-^
The next day, after breakfast we went for a walk around Shuzenji. We walked along the river and found a cute little shrine and a Russian orthodox church almost next to each other.
In old places like this, you are likely to find an old-fashioned Japanese lemonade called Ramune which is widely known for the distinctive design of its bottle that is sealed with a marble instead of a plastic cap. To open such bottle, you need a special device that would push the marble inside. It then rattles in the bottle while you drink the lemonade – perfect attraction for the children. Ramune was originally created in Kobe but by a foreigner. Now, it is one of the symbols of summer in Japan along with a yo-yo balloon and a goldfish.
After Shuzenji, we took a drive to Cycloland – a typical bubble-time theme park where you can enjoy all sorts of bicycle rides and bicycle related attractions. As lame as it sounds, it offers a really picturesque 5 km mountain course ride with your own choice of bicycle from an extensive collection of famous and even rare cycling brands from all over the world.
I chose my bicycle by color which was a big mistake – I could barely move on the uphill, sweating like crazy. I seriously have no idea how my husband does 100 km each weekend.
I then changed to his De Rosa bike which was worth 7 grand – 10 times more than mine and it really made all the difference. I could climb and at last finish the course. I was really proud of myself.
We didn’t stay for the rest of attractions but went straight to Hakone to my favorite susuki spot called “Sengokuhara”.
It’s a huge field of only pampas grass and nothing else. A couple of years ago, I had a photoshoot there and ever since, I am in love with the scenery. Susuki grass is a symbol of autumn in Japan. You can often see it as a decoration for the Tsukimi (Autumn moon viewing) setting.
That’s the susuki picture from 2004 or so..back when I could afford to wear almost no makeup…^-^
Our trip back to Tokyo was as promised quite painful – it was the longest I have ever been behind the wheel. But now I almost feel like an experienced driver. Where should I go next?