Only 2 hours by train from central Tokyo, Shuzenji Onsen is located in Izu and is easily accessible as a day trip. Founded by the well known Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi, it has the longest history of onsen in the Izu area, and is renowned as one of the top 100 onsens in Japan.
Shuzenji is also known as Sho-Kyoto (little Kyoto) for its architecture and traditional beauty. The beautiful Katsura river flows through the centre of the town and there are quiet paths to meander along the river and enjoy the natural beauty. Be sure not to miss the stunning Chikurin no Komichi (Bamboo Forest Path) – very much a feeling of Arashiyama in Kyoto, however without all of the crowds!
The Legend of Tokko no yu
It is said that in the year 807, Kobo Daishi was moved by the sight of a son washing his ill father in the Katsura river and as a result he used his Tokko (Buddhist walking stick) to crack open the rock on the river bank and out flowed the holy onsen water from the ground. Kobo Daishi then taught the son the healing power and wisdom of the onsen and the father was healed.
Today this spot, aptly named Tokko no yu, is used as a foot bath within the riverbed and can be enjoyed by all visitors to the area. As you sit with your feet in the foot bath with others, any language barrier melts away as you see the joy on people’s faces as they relax and let the water revive their spirit as the amazing warmth flows up from the feet right through the body.
Closeby to Tokko no Yu there is also another foot bath – Kawara no yu just by the riverside that is again a beautiful, peaceful place to sit and poinder and listen to the sound of the river and soak in the beautiful scenery.
Shuzenji Temple – Onsen miyamizu
Founded by Kobo Daishi in 807, this is an ancient historic temple that also became the stage for the rise and fall of the Minamoto (Genji) clan. If you are an onsen fan, you will be intrigued by the temple’s unique “mizuya” (fountain for purification) which is actually onsen water! Quite unusual and a surprise as the mizuya is usually very cold!
Day trip onsen
There are around 10 locations in Shuzenji that you can enjoy a one day onsen experience. The main public bath is Hako Yu, however there are around 9 other locations within hotels or ryokan that can be enjoyed. Further details are available through the local tourist information centre upon arrival at the Shuzenji Station. Always be sure to ring ahead if you are visiting a hotel or ryokan as they can change the times or close to day visitors without much warning. On the day, I chose to visit Sora Togetsusou Kinryu.
As with any of Japan’s towns and villages, there are always specialist foods to discover and try. Some of the local specialities of Shuzenji that you can’t miss are the goma manju (sesame steamed buns) and soba (buck wheat noodles). Along the way there were even river fish hanging in front of an electric fan drying in the mountain air!
There is also one sake brewery in Shuzenji, which is the Bandai Brewery, which is also apparently the only one in the Izu Peninsula. Unfortunately it didn’t make it to my list on this visit, but there is sure to be a next time to Shuzenji Onsen!
Located 140 km southwest of Tokyo.
Take the Kodama Shinakansen from Tokyo and change trains at Mishima to the Izuhakone Tetsudo Sunzu Line (105 minutes). You will see a great view of Mt Fuji on the way if the weather is fine. Try to get a seat on the right hand side of the train. Alternatively there are also limited express trains “Odoriko” running between Tokyo Station and Shuzenji Onsen (2 hours)