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See Shimoda, Izu by rail: Hot springs, seasonal blooms, and Japan's first gateway to the world (Part 1)

See Shimoda, Izu by rail: Hot springs, seasonal blooms, and Japan's first gateway to the world (Part 1)

Located in Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県), the Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島) has long been a favourite for Japanese vacationers, thanks to the picturesque mountains, seashore, and hot springs. Each season brings new bursts of colour to the scenery, with waves of Kawazu cherry blossoms, Atami plum blossoms, Shimoda hydrangeas, and wild narcissus flowers. Join us as we take the Limited Express SAPHIR ODORIKO (サフィール踊り子) sightseeing train from Tokyo to Shimoda, on the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula.

 

South to Izu: From flowers to Commodore Perry's black ships

みなみの桜と菜の花(南伊豆観光協会①).jpg (462 KB)

Cherry blossoms in Minami Izu. (Image credit: Shimoda Tourist Association)

 

On this trip we'll explore the Shimoda area that sits on the very end of the Izu Peninsula, a spot that has made its way into history books as the very first port opened to the world on the main island of Japan after centuries of closed borders. The region is rich with history and monuments marking the past, but also bursting with new life that shapes the city's beautiful harbour and picturesque bay. 

 

Hydrangea in Shimoda

Hydrangeas in Shimoda Park. (Image credit: Shimoda Tourist Association)

 

In recent years the early summer hydrangea festival in Shimoda Park has become a favourite among flower lovers in Japan, and the nearby Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival is famous for kicking off Japan's cherry blossom season by blooming bright and early each spring. 

 

During the same spring season, the Minami-Izu Cherry Tree and Canola Flower Festival offers yet more glorious fields of flowers to frolic in, along with rickshaw rides and sparkling lights after sunset. Located all the way at the end of a peninsula, thrust far into the reaches of the Pacific Ocean, Shimoda is also blessed with ample seafood, especially kinmedai (金目鯛 golden eye snapper), along with luxurious onsen (温泉 hot springs) that draw visitors from all over Japan.

 

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Formed from a series of submarine volcanoes, the Izu Peninsula is now a verdant green spit of land south of Tokyo, still dotted with the peaks and plateaus that remain from its volcanic days millions of years ago. The long coast is a mix of rocky cliffs and sandy beaches that many claim are the best in Japan, and as of 2018, the sumptuous scenery has earned the area the honour of becoming UNESCO's 9th global geopark in Japan, the "Izu Peninsula Geopark." For travellers exploring Japan, the region offers a mix of spectacular natural beauty, unique historical importance, traditional culture, and of course, great food!

 

Make the planning process easy for your next cherry blossom trip to Japan. Hop on the JR East sightseeing Limited Express SAPHIR ODORIKO and come along on this trip to the end of the Izu Peninsula!

 

SAPHIR ODORIKO: Adding extra excitement to rail travel

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

The Shimoda area of the Izu Peninsula, located in Shizuoka Prefecture, is located at a distance from Tokyo that isn't exactly near or far. If you travel by local trains, with a transfer at Atami, the trip takes about four hours. If you opt for the JR Limited Express, however, the train goes directly from Tokyo to Shimoda in only about 2 hours and 43 minutes. To make the trip even more relaxing, JR East launched the luxurious sightseeing train SAPHIR ODORIKO in March 2020, which comes equipped with special seats and interiors for a superior railway experience.

 

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

The SAPHIR ODORIKO only offers three different seat options: standard seats in the Green Cars, deluxe seats in the Premium Green Cars, and private seats in the Green Car compartments. As there are no standard seats, please note that rail passes such as the JR EAST PASS and JR TOKYO Wide Pass would only cover the basic fare, and a separate top up is required for a Green Car or Premium Green Car seat on the SAPHIR ODORIKO. The standard seats on the SAPHIR ODORIKO offer the same level of added luxury as upgraded seats on the shinkansen, but the compartments provide extra privacy and space to stretch out, and the premium seats in the front-most car are designed for a luxurious experience. The movable seats rotate to give passengers the same vantage point as the driver, including some breathtaking views of the coast and Mount Fuji in the distance.

 

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Many people choose to ride on the SAPHIR ODORIKO for the great views out the window and the comfortable convenience, but passengers shouldn't miss the train's dining car while aboard! The interior calls to mind the swanky dining cars of another era, with stylish retro furnishings and huge windows to gaze out at the scenery while you eat. 

 

Food offerings in the dining car range from full meals to lighter options and desserts, which are good for an afternoon snack or tea time. Some of the most recent additions to the menu include a series of recipes provided by Chinese restaurants from the Atami area of Izu, including noodle soup with shrimp wontons and Shanghai hairy crab cabbage rolls, each arriving at your table piping hot while the train zooms through the Japanese countryside. (For the dining car, advance reservations via SAPHIR Pay are recommended. Do note the SAPHIR Pay site is only available in Japanese.

 

With comfortable seats, fresh flavours, and gorgeous scenery, this train trip of over two hours always seems to pass by in a flash. Long before you reach your destination, it feels like the fun of a trip to Izu has already begun!

 

Shimoda Ropeway: Find love and views of Shimoda Port

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Get off the train at Izukyu-Shimoda Station, and just about a minute away on foot you'll find the station for the Shimoda Ropeway (下田ロープウェイ), leading the way to one of Shimoda's most popular attractions. The ropeway makes its way up to the top of Mount Nesugata (寝姿山), reaching a point about 200m above sea level, where you can look down at the city streets, Shimoda Port, and the blue waters that once welcomed the "black ships" which arrived from across the world to do trade with a newly opened Japan. The restaurant at the top of the mountain, "The Royal House Shimoda", is also a must-visit for travellers heading to Shimoda. Diners can enjoy elegant drinks and desserts while relaxing in terrace seats overlooking the harbour below, or admiring the exquisite interior spaces.

 

The natural environment on Mount Nesugata also provides a great place to enjoy Japan's four seasons, including early spring blooms of Kawazu cherry blossoms, early summer hydrangeas, and flowers like narcissuses or wild tri-colored peonies throughout the fall and winter. Locals say that the scenery is especially beautiful in early summer, making it one of Shimoda's most famous hydrangea spots, alongside the Hydrangea Festival in Shimoda Park.

 

Travellers looking for love can also visit Aizendo (愛染堂), a little temple perched on the Nesugata mountainside enshrining a god of lust and desire. This octagonal hall honouring the Buddhist god Aizen-Myoo (a.k.a. Ragaraja) was once located within the Shinto shrine of Kamakura Hachimangu, and was only moved to Shimoda after the Japanese government declared a policy of Buddhist and Shinto separation in the 19th century. Even in its new location, the temple attracts plenty of visitors, thanks in part to the cute crowd of Buddhist statues, and the frog statues that symbolise a century of marital bliss.

 

Shimoda Ropeway (下田ロープウェイ)
Address: 1-3-2 Higashihongo, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0035 
Access: 1 minute on foot from Izukyu-Shimoda Station (伊豆急下田駅)
Opening hours:
 16 October~15 March: 08:45–16:45
 16 March~15 October: 08:45–17:00
Tel: +81 558-22-1211

Note: Ropeway may close temporarily in case of inclement weather. Please check the official homepage before arriving.

 

Perry Road: A meeting point between east and west, and a step on the path of history

(Image credit: JR East Yokohama Branch Office)

 

The name Perry Road (ぺリーロード) might not sound very Japanese (and that's because it's not), but Perry is certainly an important name in Japan's history books. For hundreds of years, Japan maintained an isolationist policy that forbade foreigners entrance to the islands, strictly avoiding trade and diplomacy with the West. But in the mid-19th-century, the US Navy sent Commodore Matthew C. Perry and 300 of his men to Japan in a fleet of "black ships", painted dark with pitch, on a mission to pry open the doors to Japan and start diplomatic relations. The mission ended in success for Commodore Perry, eventually resulting in the Treaty of Shimoda, which allowed US traders access to Shimoda's port, inevitably leading to Japan's arrival on the world stage.

 

Back in the 1800s, Shimoda's Perry Road was the path taken by the commodore and his crew as they marched to Ryosenji Temple, and modern-day visitors from abroad can retrace their steps along the willow-lined road as it follows the route of the Namerikawa River. Perry Road is still paved with stone cobbles, and old buildings from the Meiji and Taisho eras (late 19th and early 20th centuries) remain standing along the way. Some shops still sell traditional crafts, while others have been reclaimed as coffee shops or specialty boutiques. The traditional atmosphere preserved along Perry Road is a little bit different from what you might find in Tokyo's more retro neighbourhoods, with its own mix of Japanese and foreign influences, and it's a great area to explore on foot!

 

Perry Road (ペリーロード)
Address: Sanchome, Shimoda, Shizuoka, 415-0023
Access: 14 minutes on foot from Izukyu-Shimoda Station

 

Tsuchito Shoten Shop & Art Gallery: A blast from the past

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Located just northeast of Perry Road, Tsuchito Shoten (土藤商店) is a little store with a long history, founded all the way back in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), and still providing customers with bottles of local sake and other regional specialties. The building is an old warehouse, with a retro logo painted along one outside wall that people love to take pictures in front of as a stop along Perry Road, and across the street there's a warehouse art gallery with free admission

 

Visitors can not only take a peek inside an old Japanese warehouse, but also admire and take pictures with a whole collection of old signs, posters, cash registers, toys, and other bits of nostalgia collected by the shop over the years.

 

Tsuchito Shoten (土藤商店)
Address: 6-30 Sanchome, Shimoda, Shizuoka, 415-0023
Access: 12 minutes on foot from Izukyu-Shimoda Station
Opening hours:
 Shop: 09:00–20:00
 Gallery: -09:00–18:00
TEL: +81-558-22-0021

 

Shimoda Snacks: "Kaikoku" & Sea Salt Dorayaki

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Just a quick 7-minute walk from Izukyu-Shimoda Station, Kineido (金栄堂) is a local Japanese sweets shop that opened over a century ago in the 7th year of the Taisho period (1918), and is still beloved for its dorayaki (どら焼き). The shop has been in the Tsuchiya family for three generations, and the current owner attributes the shop's success to the great recipes and techniques inherited from his father. 

 

One of their most popular treats is their "Kaikoku" Shimoda Dorayaki, which refers to the "opening of Japan", referencing the role Shimoda played in Japan's history. Classic dorayaki are filled with red bean jam, but these Kaikoku Shimoda Dorayaki are made with added mandarin orange (grown locally) and fragrant bits of zest, for a little citrus kick. One of Kineido's other specialties is their dorayaki made with salted butter, which gives the red bean filling an extra layer of salty-sweet complexity.

 

If you love dorayaki, it can be hard to choose a favourite, so we recommend you try both! If the description of these tempting flavours isn't enough to convince you, then the kindness of the friendly owners (Mr. and Mrs. Tsuchiya) just might!

 

Kineido (金栄堂)
Address: 2-33 Takegahama, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0015
Access: 7 minutes on foot from Izukyu-Shimoda Station
Opening hours: 09:00–18:00 (Closed on public holidays)
TEL: +81-558-22-0350

 

Tsumekizaki: A sea of white flowers by the sea

(Image credit: Shimoda Tourist Association)

 

The Izu Peninsula has been recognized by UNESCO as an official Global Geopark, and that includes the many unique patches of coastal terrain, and one of the most striking spots is called Cape Tsumeki (爪木崎 Tsumekizaki). Located in the southeast corner of Izu, Tsumekizaki's western coast includes a so-called "supernatural" rock formation referred to as the Tawaraiso, a mass of rock columns that look more like human-carved architecture than like a natural formation. But the unusual rocky outcropping isn't the only thing that makes the spot such a popular destinationーTsumekizaki also has an iconic white lighthouse surrounded by a whole swath of narcissus flowers that bloom each winter.

 

(Image credit: Shimoda Tourist Association)

 

Take fun photos on the little path in front of the lighthouse, chosen as one of Japan's "100 Lighthouses to Fall in Love at", and make sure to check the route between the lighthouse and the seashore for more lovey-dovey photo spots along the way!

 

The sea water off the coast is bright and clear, with different shades of blue created by the shifting sands beneath the surf. On land, the grassy fields along the water provide space for some 3 million wild narcisusses (a.k.a. daffodils) that bloom in December and January every year, creating a breathtaking landscape unique to Shimoda. Brilliant red aloe vera flowers and towering crimson camellia bushes also grow on both sides of the path at Tsumekizaki, and together with the white narcissuses, they create a sea of red and white each winter—representative colours of a Japanese New Year!

 

Tsumekizaki (爪木崎)
Address: Suzaki, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0014
Access: From Izukyu-Shimoda Station, take the bus bound for Tsumekizaki from Bus Stop #10 (15 minutes), and get off at the final stop “Tsumekizaki” Bus Stop
TEL: +81-558-22-1351

 

Shirahama Shrine: Izu’s oldest shrine along white sandy beaches

(Image credit: Izukyu Cable Network Co, Ltd.)

 

The Izu Peninsula is a popular seaside destination for Japanese vacationers, but many travellers tend to flock to the beaches of Atami, on Izu's northern edge. What locals usually keep to themselves, however, is that there are quite a few beautiful beaches hidden along the southern end of the peninsula, too! One of those is Shirahama, literally "white beach," where Izu residents come every summer to enjoy the pristine sand and the clear sea water. But Shirahama isn't just a great place to play in the surf - it's also home to Izu's oldest shrine, commonly called Shirahama Shrine.

 

Officially named Ikonahime no Mikoto Shrine (伊古奈比咩命神社), this shrine is said to have a history that stretches back some 2,400 years, and it has long been a destination for those seeking happiness in marriage. Couples arrive from all over Japan to pray for marital bliss, and some even hold their wedding at the shrine, including popular '70s singer Hideki Saijo. In more recent years, now that taking pretty pictures to post on social media has become a part of everyday life, the shrine's striking torii gate on the rocky coast has become a popular spot for photos as well.

 

Shirahama Shrine (白浜神社)
Address: 2740 Shirahama, Shimoda, Shizuoka 415-0012
Access: From Izukyu-Shimoda Station, take the bus bound for Itado Ichiki (11 minutes), and get off at “Shirahama-jinja” Bus Stop
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00
TEL: +81-558-22-1183

 

Shimoda snacks: Hot spring melon monaka & more

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

If you're the kind of traveller that loves taking fun snapshots to share with your friends, then you wouldn’t want to miss these Shimoda "onsen melon" sweets from Ougiya Confectionery (扇屋製菓). These little treats are made using sweet green melons grown locally using the gentle steam of Izu hot springs, with melon filling stuffed inside a cute melon-shaped Japanese "monaka" wafer shell. They make a crunchy version too, with an extra crispy shell!

 

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Ougiya runs a cafe and dessert shop where they not only sell their popular melon monaka, but also a variety of melon cakes and pastries only available in-store, like melon tarts, cream cakes, soda floats, and more. The cute, pale green colour of the melon makes everything look as good as it tastes!

 

Since these melons are cultivated using the help of the local onsen, they're grown all year round, which means that Ougiya can offer their fresh melon desserts throughout the seasons. The shop is a bit of a trek from Izukyu-Shimoda Station, but the trip can easily be made by bus in a little over 20 minutes. Fans of Japanese melons, or anyone with a serious sweet tooth, will find it a journey worth making.

 

Ougiya Confectionery (扇屋製菓)
Address: 168-1 Shimogamo, Minamiizu, Kamo-gun, Shizuoka 415-0303
Access: From Izukyu-Shimoda Station, take the bus bound for Shimogamo from bus stop #3 (23 min), get off at “Hizume” Bus Stop (2-minute on foot from the bus stop)
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00 (Closed on Wednesdays)
TEL: +81-558-62-0061

 

Onsen accommodations recommendation: 5-star Resort Toki Ichiyu

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Since Izu is so well-known in Japan for its hot springs, it would be a shame not to enjoy the luxuries of a ryokan (旅館 traditional Japanese inns) while visiting, and the 5-star Toki Ichiyu can be found right next to Minami-Izu's popular Yumigahama Beach. The traditional Japanese wood-frame building is bright and airy, with tatami-floored rooms looking out onto views of the sea filtered through a green pine forest.

 

(Image credit: Toki Ichiyu)

 

As a hot spring hotel, Toki Ichiyu has large shared onsen baths along with a handful of private baths available for rental, and even a number of rooms with exclusive hot spring baths attached. The nice thing about the private baths at Toki Ichiyu is that they don't require any advance reservations or additional fees—guests are free to use whichever baths are open at the time.

 

(Image credit: JAPANKURU)

 

Another ryokan treat is the food, which features seasonal recipes made with fresh local Izu seafood and vegetables. At Toki Ichiyu, the traditional kaiseki (懐石) dinners include delicacies like kinmedai, grilled abalone, and seafood hotpot. In the morning, breakfast means another round of local kinmedai inside of grilled Japanese rice balls, plus spicy mentaiko pollock roe, and seared tuna.

 

Toki Ichiyu (季一遊)
Address: 902-1 Minato, Minamiizu, Kamo-gun, Shizuoka 415-0152 
Access: From Izukyu-Shimoda Station, take a taxi (15 minutes), or reserve a hotel shuttle bus (20 minutes)
Check-in/Check-out: 15:00~ / ~11:00
TEL:+81 558-62-5151

 

Keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 of this article!

 

This February 2024, another exciting collaboration"izu" happening! A membership and subscription service by JR East, JAPAN RAIL CLUB is launching a Valentine & Izu-themed snack box in collaboration with JR East Yokohama Branch Office! The "With Love, Izu" Omiyage Snack Box is filled with delicious regional snacks such as the Shio Katsuo Udon Snack as well as other additions like the SAPHIR ODORIKO Sand Cookies.

 

Get started on your subscription journey with JAPAN RAIL CLUB and enjoy savings of up to SGD55 (USD42) with these two promo codes—applicable when you subscribe to a quarterly (3-month) or bi-annually (6-month) plan with us — “IZUOFF3" or "IZUOFF6". The discount code is valid till 29 February 2024. We hope that this box will entice you to make a trip to Izu even further!

Header image credit: JAPANKURU / JR East

 

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