THE IZU PENINSULA, Tokyo's Best Weekend Getaway


Typical Tokyo summers consist of disgusting heat, choking humidity, crowded subways, sweaty backs, sweaty thighs, and sweaty Ojii-sans pressed up against you on said subways. Think it's time for a vacation?  Well here's an idea, let's hit the beach!
For anyone tired of Tokyo's narrow alleys and bustling streets, one of the easiest and most relaxing weekend getaway trips is Shizuoka Prefecture's Izu Peninsula. Now wait, I know what you're thinking--"Shizuoka is a whole prefecture away from Tokyo!" And yes, you are correct. But thanks to Japan's awesome train system Shizuoka Prefecture and the Izu Peninsula are only 45 minutes away from Tokyo. Plus, the Peninsula's long-standing popularity with Japanese tourists has granted it many of its own specialty train lines departing from Tokyo, Shinagawa, and Yokohama stations (see below for more deets).
First thing you need to know, Izu is all about chill (trust me, I'm from California, I know). Izu boasts beautiful beaches, countless natural hot springs, hikes with views, local seafood, early-blooming cherry blossoms, temperate weather, and the town with the number-one sunset in all of Japan. Woah. You interested now? Well then here's five things that'll introduce you to the Izu way of life.

#1: THE BEACHES

The main appeal of Izu is the countless beautiful beaches it has. Beaches for surfers, swimmers, sand-castle makers, and even hikers. With wide ocean-views and perfect weather, nothing's better than Izu summer-time. Have some pictures to prove it!
A popular beach for surfing in Izu's southeaster city, Shimoda (source: https://matome.naver.jp/odai/2143934841171636101/2143936833598020403)
A small cove with beautiful views in the town of Nishiizu on the west coast (this is also the town with the #1 ranked sunset in all of Japan as seen in the cover photo, source: https://www.town.nishiizu.shizuoka.jp/albums/35.html).

#2: THE HOT SPRINGS

The Izu Peninsula is also known to Tokyo-ites as a hot spring ("onsen" in Japanese) paradise. Almost every town on the peninsula from the biggest to the smallest boasts some kind of natural hot spring ranging from large hotel resorts to humble and free-of-charge foot spas in the local park. Because of the wide availability and variation, the peninsula is a great place to experience natural hot springs for any price range.
A luxury onsen in Izu's north-eastern city, Atami. If you're not a hotel guest you can use the onsen between noon and 5pm for about 2,000 yen. (source: http://latest-news-studio.com/post-2178/)

#3: THE GEOPARK

In addition to its many natural hot springs, Izu is also home to one of Japan's thirty-five National Geoparks. The peninsula was originally formed by an underwater volcano, meaning that today there are still many interesting rock and lava formations to see around the territory. There's even mountains, rivers, and waterfalls inland, making Izu a great destination for hikers and other adventurers. Here are just a couple of the views you can find around the peninsula.
Sea-kayaking in Minamiizu (source: http://izugeopark.org/2012/08/07/kourageokayak/)
One of a collection of seven waterfalls in Kawazu (source: http://izugeopark.org/maps/area-kawazu-higashiizu/kawazu_nanadaru/eiz0307/)

#4: THE EVENTS

Izu has many events year round, popular ones including the Atami Plum Blossom Festival in January, the Kawazu Cherry Blossom Festival in early February, the Shimoda Black Ship Festival in May, and the Dogashima Fire Festival in Nishiizu in July. The most popular travel season for the peninsula is during summer break, where the beaches are popular spots for lounging, boat-rides, snorkeling, and diving. At this same time pretty much every town located on the coast hosts its own beach fireworks event; the best one I've ever witnessed being the Toi Fireworks Festival in mid-August. If you plan on visiting around that time I would definitely check it out! Another more flexible alternative, however, are the fireworks in Atami which are held almost every week during July and August.

The Cherry-Blossom festival in Kawazu held in early February.

One of the best fireworks displays I've ever seen at the Toi Fireworks Festival. (source: http://www.toi-annai.com/sinchaku/toi_summer.html)

#5: ACCESS

So you're all hype about coming to visit the peninsula, but how do you go about getting here? There are many different ways to get to Izu depending on your budget, time schedule, and where you want to go. The east coast is easily accessible by both local and rapid train-lines, while western and southern peninsula access is a combination of trains and buses. In some cases you can even get here by ferry! Like I said, it's all about the chill~

EAST-COAST

From Tokyo Station take the Odoriko or Super View Odoriko train that's headed to Izukyu-Shimoda and that'll take you all the way down the eastern coast line. The cost to go from Tokyo to Shimoda is around 6500 yen one way, but will be cheaper depending on what part of the peninsula you want to get off at. Cheaper alternatives also include taking the local Tokaido train line down to Atami station and then transferring to Izu's local train, the Izukyuko train, bound for either Ito or Izukyu-Shimoda stations. This route takes more time, but costs about 4000 yen one way.
WEST-COAST
Take the Shinkansen heading towards Shizuoka city and get off at Mishima Station (about 4400 yen). Then start your west-coast descent on the local train between Mishima and Shuzenji station (510 yen). A couple times per day you can also catch the same Odoriko-line train mentioned above, except instead of getting on the one bound for Izukyu-Shimoda, look out for the one heading to Shuzenji Station. If you're feeling extra adventurous, from Shuzenji Station you can continue your western descent via bus towards Matsuzaki (2150 yen). Although access to this region of Izu requires more transfers, it's well worth it to explore the unspoiled nature and charms of these less-visited areas. Also if you happen to be coming from the Shizuoka-city or Nagoya area you can also take a ferry to Toi City that departs from Shimizu port (2260 yen). From Toi you can take catch the local bus to head either north or south down the west coast.
SOUTHERN-TIP
To access Izu's southern most promised lands you can either take the east coast train to Shimoda and then take a bus towards Minamiizu, or after taking the bus from Shuzenji to Matsuzaki you could transfer again at Matsuzaki Bus Terminal onto the bus headed towards Minamiizu. Again, the transportation to these areas is more tedious but if you want to see what the Japanese countryside is really like then you'll want to make the journey!
PRO-TIP: HITCHHIKING
It's not for everyone, but honestly the best way to experience Izu is to cruise around in a car with your windows rolled down and your favorite playlist going. If you don't own a car yourself or can't rent one, there are plenty of friendly people around Izu who love to pick up hitchhikers. Japan is also one of the safest countries in the world, so if you've never hitchhiked before but you're curious then now is the time to try! I've seen and met many people who made their entire way around the peninsula by getting rides with others. It works. Recommended spots to hitch a ride include gas stations and near hotels. These spots give prospective drivers enough time to really see you and consider whether or not they want to give you a ride, as opposed to the mere two or less seconds they'd get if you just stood on the side of a busy highway.

One of Izu's tourism maps outlining some of the different sights and sounds (source: http://www.kdt-kousha.or.jp/tourism.html#manaduru)

CONCLUSION

Bottom line: the Izu Peninsula is FILLED with secrets, surprises, beautiful nature, awesome seafood, and funny quirks. Whether you're a seasoned Japan-traveller or it's your first time, add some variety to your experiences by taking a quick train ride down to the peninsula and see one side of Japanese life totally separate from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Japan is an island, remember? So why don't you come see what Japanese island life is really meant to be like.

Dana Nyberg