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Journeys in Japan – Atami

On the last days of Golden week, my friends and I went to Atami – a small hot springs town in Shizuoka prefecture, roughly in between Hakone and Izu. I always pass it on my way to a more exciting destination never realizing that Atami has also a lot to offer. I was indeed pleasantly surprised that this once glamorous (back in the bubble days) resort is still quite fun even though it doesn’t look this way at a glance – old hotels, outdated theme parks and closed pools may look sad to anyone but it still has a beautiful Sun beach, gorgeous Japanese and English gardens, nice hot springs and seafood to die for. ^-^

It is only 1 and a half hours away from Tokyo. We took Tokaido line train from Shinagawa and got out at Odawara first to see the famous Odawara castle.

With a typical Japanese castle, as much as it is gorgeous from outside, there is pretty much nothing to see inside – usually a small permanent exhibit of ancient swords, scrolls and kimono and an observation tower with a view to the city. Odawara castle was no exception – it fit right into that pattern all the way to the Hello kitty souvenir doll dressed as a samurai.. ^-^ But I liked it anyway because the exhibit was well put with a lot of explanations and historical maps.

We met two adorable first graders near the castle. I guess it was their first day at school so moms took them for a little picture taking adventure around the historical sights (some things are same in every country!).^-^

After the castle, we arrived at Atami which is only 15 minutes away from Odawara. There was a local “shotengai” – shopping street right in front of the station so we went there to have lunch before heading towards our second destination – MOA museum. Out of three choices that they had in there  – ramen, soba and sushi, we of course chose sushi – a delicious Maguro don with Chawamushi and Miso on side.

That’s Atami’s most famous delicacy – dried “Kinmendai” – Sea bream fish.

MOA museum is a beautiful compound with both traditional and contemporary elements and the view to the harbor that is absolutely breathtaking. I really love this kind of architecture that is so organically intertwined with nature and so spacious and grandeur.

Inside, there was a crazy escalator to the top, three times longer than the one at “Gostiniy dvor” in Saint Petersburg. It just went up and up, breaking in the middle by a beautiful round chamber.

The permanent exhibit was nice – ancient Buddha statues, Golden tea room, China plates etc. But the most exciting one was a temporary exhibition of Ukiyo-E – images depicting Edo fashion. Those pictures weren’t made by masters of any distinct school but rather by various merchant artists selling their works on markets. I really fell in love with Katsukawa Shunsho work called 婦女風俗十二ヶ月図 “Women and events of 12 months”. It depicted the true beauty of Japan in such an elegant and romantic way. My favorite month was May – “Girls reading poems in the evening using firefly lamp”!

After MOA, we checked-in at our hotel where we rented a cottage with a beautiful view to the Sun beach and immediately went soaking in an outside hot spring. In a typical Japanese “ryokan” – hotel, you get a colorful “yukata” – simplified kimono to use as a bath robe. Recently, you also get to choose the design.

Our cottage was huge with it’s own rotemburo on the first floor and a big sun terrace on the second.

Although there were some other guests in the hotel, we could still enjoy “rotemburo” without having anyone else in there. ^-^

Then, we had dinner – mostly fish and seasonal vegetables. A typical Japanese protein is always fish in rich variety. When you stay at a traditional ryokan, that’s what you should expect.

After dinner, we went for a long walk on the beach and then stayed there talking and drinking beer. The beach was deserted and completely dark. In summer, it is beautifully lightened up but in May, you can hardly see anything in front of you.

I really enjoyed staying there though, listening to the sound of Ocean, feeling wind on my face..

The next day, we went sightseeing. There were a couple of places I wanted to go and even though they were quite far away, I made girls walk the whole way because that’s the best way to get to know the place, feel it’s rhythm and notice the little things that you can see only there.  So we walked along the shore all the way up to the rope-way.

Our first stop was Kiun-kaku compound built by a famous Japanese tycoon magnate, the one who also owned a beautiful house and garden in Aoyama that later became Nezu museum.The mansion became ryokan at some point – hosting many famous writers such as Naoya Shiga and Osamu Dazai. The exterior and interior of the houses is an elegant mix of Japanese and European designs. The main house had a huge cigar room with a fireplace whose designs depicted Buddha and his teachings. Everything else – big windows with lace curtains, silk sofas and heavy wooden furniture was anything but Asian. The house also had a Roman bath!!! ^-^

The garden had a well-set water system with small ponds and waterfalls, lots of beautiful flowers and meticulously trimmed pines. Since it is free, it is a good place to just read a book and enjoy the perfect scenery. I wish Atami was closer to Tokyo…

After Kiun-kaku, we took a rope-way up the hill to enjoy a nice view to the city.

A lady who worked there was very surprised to see us taking one-way tickets. I guess nobody was walking down the hill but it was the shortest way to get to the Herb garden that was our next stop so instead of returning to the rope-way station and then walking around the hill, we went right over it. ^-^

It took us only 15 mins to get to the Akao herb & rose garden – a beautiful garden theme park with all kinds of flowers that bloom throughout the year. It is really huge so they encourage you to take their free shuttle up the hill and then walk down through the gardens.

The first thing we did after a big walk was to gain all lost calories by eating a lavender ice cream. In Japan, you get all sorts of ice cream from salt to crab taste so lavender scented ice cream was not a surprise. They also had a rose ice cream but we didn’t try it.

Then, we went up the hill to the Japanese part of the garden with a huge collection of giant bonsai trees including a 600 year old red pine that is the world’s biggest bonsai tree. On the picture it is on the left. ^-^

May is a blooming season for roses, tulips, poppies and wisteria – so the scent around us was unbelievable. I especially liked the hidden garden with beautiful roses in every possible color.

The place is often used for weddings including those in TV series. There is a luxury hotel right next to the Akao garden so you can get an ocean view garden wedding and then take your party to the hotel. ^-^

Atami also has several beautiful shrines, public parks with art installations and even an adult museum!!! so if you are thinking of a day trip out of town, Atami could be a nice choice. ^-^

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