We still have an older post to catch up with, but I want to get started on our long weekend in Izu peninsula while it’s still fresh in my mind. On Saturday morning Jen and I caught a shinkansen down to Izu, which is about an hour south-west of Tokyo. We dropped our things in one of the always-convenient coin lockers at the train station and went exploring. The peninsula is sizeable, taking an hour and a half by train to go from north to south, lined with gorgeous rocky coasts, beaches, onsen-towns, and beautiful gardens. We spent Saturday afternoon walking the Jogasaki coastline, which stretches from a lighthouse and suspension bridge over the waves to a garden high up on the cliffs. The water is an astounding crystal-clear blue-green color and far out to sea you can see sizable islands with cloud-hats. We randomly ran into a woman I play taiko with there too! It wasn’t a difficult walk, but it was sunny, hot, and humid, so by the time we were done walking the coast we headed back to Ito, a couple stops up the train-line, to check into our hotel, unstick ourselves from our clothes, and get some dinner.
Our hotel turned out to be an amazing old building right on the river. We had a lovely large room with a balcony overlooking the river. “Japanese style rooms” in hotels here mean tatami floors (mats made out of a kind of straw) and futon beds that you put out when you want to sleep. Also usually a low table to use while sitting on the floor. I’m not a huge fan of the futons — I’m a side-sleeper, and I end up losing all feeling in my hip and shoulder — but the traditional rooms are very pretty. So then we went out to a local fish place for dinner, which was amazing. I got a mackerel in a sweet and salty sauce (plus the usual rice/miso/pickles accoutrements) and Jen got a dried and grilled red snapper. Tokyo gets fresh fish, of course, but there’s nothing like fishing towns to get amazing seafood. We ran by a Lawsons quickly, grabbed our go-to travel breakfast (boiled egg, packaged pancakes, tea) and stuffed it in our fridge at the hotel (modern amenities despite traditional lodging=vital, especially the AC in 90+heat and humidity). Then we had a dip into the onsen, which was heavenly (we were dubious since hot weather + hot water doesn’t sound idyllic, but it was very relaxing after a long hot day of walking around) and curled up and read for a while (going to sleep at 7:30 on vacation is disreputable).
Sunday morning we enjoyed our breakfast on the balcony, then packed up our things and headed for the train station. We headed down to Shimoda (more convenient coin lockers!) and took a ropeway (Japanese term for a gondola) up the nearest mountain which sits between part of the town and the sea. Shimoda is at the south end of the peninsula, and is famous with the locals for its beautiful beaches, but with tourists more because it’s where Commodore Perry landed with his black ships, marking the opening of Japan. (Jen is more interested in this stuff though, so she’ll have more to say about the history.) The ropeway and mountain gave us a great view over the town, bay, and off toward the open ocean. There was also a gorgeous garden up there. And lo and behold we ran into more people we knew from Tokyo. (Japan really isn’t that small of an island…)
We did some walking around town, heading over to Perry’s house and the first consulate (housed in a temple), of which my only comment is — for something about the arrival of the barbarians, there was remarkably little barbarian-scrawl in the museum. (In other words, I couldn’t read much of it. I was impressed by a quotation from Perry’s journal which makes him sound like a really dour fellow.) We got some sashimi after that, and then since we’d gotten discounted combo tickets (ropeway/boat cruise) we hopped on a “black ship” which takes you for a spin round the bay. We got some nice views from the boat, and Jen chased me around with a bottle of sunscreen while I took pictures.
We ran back into downtown to catch the last shuttle out to our hotel, (which we saw from the boat, sitting prominently on the coast just south 0f town) the drive was a somewhat hair-raising experience — steep hills, rocky cliffs down to the water, questionable manual driving skills/vehicular maintenance. But our room had a fantastic view, so we cooled off for a moment, and then headed back out to wander through a couple of the local temples (one of which was built out of timbers abandoned by a passing boat, all of the crew of which committed sepuku/suicide out of shame for abandoning their cargo in a storm, down to the 15 year old ship-boy who’d been commanded to report their failure to the shogun but was too shamed by his failure to remain living while his compatriots all killed themselves) and get dinner — this time at a little cute italian place that we just ducked into as it started to pour. We got a couple types of seafood pasta (tomato sauce, and wasabi sauce… for a somewhat less traditional italian option). Once again, back at the hotel we indulged in some lovely onsening (this time outside!), watched a bizarre japanese tv show, and turned in.
Finally, on Monday we walked back into town (appreciating the cooler temperatures and breeze off the water) and caught a bus for the coast. We headed out to Shirahama beach, which is beautiful white sand and teal breakers. Being Monday (and an American holiday, but not a Japanese one) it wasn’t crowded, and Jen and I wandered the length of the beach, wading into the surf and watching the surfers. At the end of the beach there’s a tori and a rope (used to indicate sacred space) strung across a gap in the rock. The weather was perfect — sunny but not too hot — and it was a very relaxing way to end our vacation. We took the bus back to town and grabbed lunch, which turned out to be slightly more of an adventure than we’d anticipated. Jen ordered the standard sashimi set, but I got a little crazy, and there was a sign we thought said “spiny lobster soup” and seeing as lobster is the best thing in the entire world, I thought, what the hell, I’m On Vacation. When my lobster arrived, however, it was not soupified — in fact, it was just a couple of the small legs sections and the head, all deep-fried and still in its shell. Poking around, I discovered there really wasn’t any meat to speak of (aside from some in the head and minute portions in some of the joints) which meant some of the pieces had no meat whatsoever. So the conclusion I came to was that I was supposed to eat the whole thing, shell and all. And I did. Yummy lunch of lobster shell and brains. It really was good, I just… hope I was supposed to eat the shell! We grabbed two beers and a bag of chips for the train, and presto, we’re back in Tokyo now with 4 rambunctious (and well cared-for) cats and no stomach pains… yet!