May 8, 2019
This traveler had had one eye on Golden Week 2019, Japan’s springtime 10-day holiday extravaganza, for some time, while the other eye had been getting all misty about the prospect of tropical beaches and balmy-evening mojitos. It turns out I should have had both eyes firmly focused on booking platforms the very moment an extra day of holiday in celebration of the transition from Heisei to Reiwa was conceived as a mere idea. Even months in advance Japan had apparently hoovered up any available rooms on, and flights to, Hawaii, Guam, Bali et al, like it was trying to get tickets for the last ever concert by The Rolling Stones.
The Izu will have to do then, that great short-weekend getaway peninsula some 100km southwest of Tokyo in Shizuoka Prefecture.
And our K-car go-kart will have to get us there. We managed to book what appeared to be the last available room in the beach town of Shirahama towards the peninsula’s southern tip (two nights, twin, no meals, shared bath and toilets) and then added on a business hotel room in the city of Numazu, near the base of Mt. Fuji, to break up the return drive to Tokyo.
This is how the three-night, four-day Izu road trip panned out.
Day one - Tuesday April 30
3:30 am - Tokyo somewhere
Japanese media loves to leer at national-holiday traffic jams and the hugger-mugger of airport departure gates as much as any other nation. So then, the fear of getting laughed at by armchair Golden-Week travelers watching us inch along in some Biblical line of traffic was enough to see us hit the road in Tokyo’s east at 3:30 in the morning.
Loading up the go-kart in what would prove to be the worst weather day of the 10-day Golden Week the lamentation of our luck is somewhat satiated by the hope that the pouring rain will make last-minute day trippers think twice about joining us on the road. The goal is to get on the west-bound Tomei Expressway somewhere around Shibuya before it snarls up. It turns out our timing is good and we make smooth progress through the Japan capital which appears as a sleepy dystopia in the morning dark and wet-weather haze.
4:30 - 6:30 am - Tomei Expressway service areas
Japan loves a good expressway service area and the one at Ebina on the Tomei Expressway is a belter (boasting of having once made more sales of freshly-baked melon pan in a 48-hour period than “anyone in the world”). At around 4:30 in the morning though Ebina appears to be some way off record-breaking form, although the gift shops are open (replete with melon pan paraphernalia).
An hour or so further down the Tomei though and Ashigara service area (just north of Gotemba Premium Outlets) is on much better form. The stand-out service at this service area is the hot-spring foot baths / cafes.
One of them is open so we drop 320 yen on a 20-minute session of foot soaking (towel provided) and drink bar. One of the foot baths is a “Dr fish” operation in which shoals of freshwater red garra nibble away at your skin. Not for the ticklish!
7:00 am - Numazu Fish Market
We pull off the Tomei at Numazu Interchange having made smooth progress thus far -- the reward for having gotten up so early. The downside though is that even at just after 7:00 am the fish market auction has already wrapped (if it was actually scheduled to take place on a national holiday).
The fish market complex at Numazu sits on the northern side of the mouth of the Kano River in Numazu Port, about 2 km south of Numazu Station. We’d likely have an eye-popping view to Mt. Fuji from here but for dense cloud and persistent rain.
Things are well sign posted though and we’re free to poke around the market’s auction observation platform and ogle at the large “Byuo” watergate (something of a symbol of the city).
One or two eateries are open (and commanding of sizeable queues) including one in the facility Numazu Fish Market INO which is decked out with anime images, many of which are from Love Live Sunshine!!, the Love Live! spin-off set at a school in Numazu. One or two itasha (cars decorated with anime characters) are parked outside.
10:30 - 11:30 - Toi and Lover’s Cape
Taking Route 136 east of downtown Numazu we head south and join the toll roads Izu Chuodo and Shuzenji Road before taking a right after onsen hot-spot Shuzenji to rejoin 136 and make for the Izu’s less-traveled (but still well-traveled) west coast, eventually running out of land at Toi.
While the weather has turned the waters of Suruga Bay into a grey and moody sludge, the mountains that frame the town and its hot-spring ryokan appear lush and green, topped with a coating of rain clouds.
A small visitors center near the mouth of the Yama River points us to Matsubara Park home of the world’s largest floral clock face (31 meters in diameter - certified by the Guinness Book of Records in 1991 and boasting of a plaque signed by Norris McWhirter himself) around which a series of foot-massage paths helps to take the sting out of operating the go-kart from Tokyo.
Around 5km down the coast from central Toi is Koibito Misaki, Lover’s Cape.
Perhaps it’s the breath-taking views toward Mt. Fuji that got people making proclamations of love at Toi Misaki but when all one can see is a dense horizon of slate grey, well, things don’t feel so romantic. Besides which, Japan is saturated with cobbled-together 'Instabae' spots professing to have some control over the course of the nation’s fortunes in finding love. Still, every little helps, so we make the trek from the car park, through the forest and along a wooden walkway down to the cape.
There are two bells to ring (thrice) and one or two photo-ops should the weather be more favorable before making the stiff trek back to a requisite gift shop and cafe.
12:00 - 15:00 - Dogashima, Matsuzaki and Route 15 to Shimoda
Dogashima’s dramatic coastline of rocky outcrops probably looks at its best when the sun is out, although in today’s conditions it does take on a certain broody repose.
We park-up just north of the Dogashima Onsen Hotel and make the steep walk down the facility’s south side (past a dormant outdoor pool) to a small beach looking out across the Tombolo Land Bridge (submerged at the time of visiting) to Nakanoshima Island. We spot two kaito (Japanese pearl divers - “ama” in more common parlance) emerging from the seas.
A wet a wild day isn’t the best of circumstances for exploring the Dogashima coastline (or taking one of the area’s cruises) and having been on the go since 3:30 in the am the legs aren’t feeling in the mood to trek. So, it’s back in the go-kart and along the coastal road to Matsuzaki around 3km to the south.
Even in the rain Matsuzaki is a proper charmer -- a town of sleepy lanes lined with quaint homes and their Lilliputian gardens, potted plants and petite fences, and the white namako-kabe plaster work and lattices of the traditional buildings (many of which can be found south of the Naka River in the blocks between the river banks and Johsenji Temple).
There’s parking behind Nakaza-tei, an old kimono shop and residence on Tokiwaohashi-dori (100 yen to enter, look out for the old-skool clock tower) and we stop for lunch down the road at Gallery & Cafe Aun where a friendly couple serve up soba noodles with local shiitake mushrooms. One of a group of elderly local diners at the table next to ours comes over to hand us some cookies -- gratefully received!
On your way into / out of town keep a look out for the Beatles “Abbey Road” motif.
Charming Route 15 cuts across much of the Izu’s south before linking up with the larger 414 to approach Shimoda from the north.
Along the picturesque route we pass through small onsen towns where steam protrudes from inviting hot-spring resorts before making a stop at Michinoeki Hana no Sansei-En Izu Matsuzaki, one of many “road stations” that dot the peninsula. Given the territory it’s no surprise to find a foot bath here (open until 17:00) and we duly indulge before taking a quick stroll under the cherry trees that line the banks of the Naka River.
16:00 - Shimoda to Shirahama
We’ve been on the road for over 12 hours now and have finally hit some traffic as we enter Shimoda, one of the sight-seeing jewels in the Izu’s crown. It’s anything but sparkling though as the rains get heavier and the winds on this side of the peninsula pick up.
A stop at Michinoeki Kaikoku Shimoda Minato, just east of the town center, is a mistake. Parking is fraught, the weather unrelenting, Golden-Week families look tired, and ultimately there’s little to excite at this road station. It’s early but we hot foot it to Shirahama around the headland on the Izu’s southeast. Shimoda on hold for tomorrow.
I had one of those stiff-upper-lip, ‘Yes, the weather is horrendous but we’re going to get out and enjoy it,’ moments after checking into the room at surf-beach-town Shirahama -- a walk along the beachfront to take in the storm-blown surf which resulted in a destroyed umbrella and a soaked set of clothes (from the rain, not the surf).
We stock up on supplies at a convenience store across the road from the beach in preparation for a long night in front of the TV and news about the emperor’s abdication, but not before slurping down ramen and beer at one of the town’s few eateries that we care to reach without an umbrella.
Izu road trip costs - Day 1
The costs for this road trip should be considered rough at best. Costs are detailed on a per person basis. We were a party of two so in the case of gas for example, the total was 3,000 yen (1,500 yen per person).
|Expressway tolls (ETC)||2,300 yen|
|Foot bath and drink bar package||320 yen|
|Dinner (ramen and a beer)||1,500 yen|
|Snacks and drinks||1,000 yen|
for the 2nd part of our tokyo to Izu road trip
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