Having fallen in love wth Shimoda coastal areas, I was motivated to further explore the Izu Peninsula. There had been such beautiful scenery on the train trip that I decided to randomly choose one of the smaller resort towns along the eastern region of the peninsula, in the hope of finding an onsen overlooking the sea. After all, I have had had the perfect winter rotenburo experiene in the snow, so given the warmer summer season it was time to indulge my senses in nature by the seaside. My town of choice for a full weekend getaway was Atagawa Onsen. I was treated to many wonderful contrasting experiences that I will write about over 2 blogs.
About Atagawa Onsen
Located about 2 hours and 20 minutes by train from Tokyo, Atagawa Onsen is a sleepy little hollow set on a steep hill. Although perhaps a little bit past its hey day as a major resort, there is still plenty of character with oozing puffs of steam across the hillside from various hot spring turrets. It is definitively a town known for its onsen, but it seems to be equally famous for the Atagawa Tropical & Alligator Garden. Alligators were certainly not my priority for the day, so after calling in at the tourist information centre, and soaking my feet at their foot bath, I was ready to wander down the hill toward the sea in search of my outdoor bath with a view. It did not take me long to find.
Approaching Takaiso-no-yu was an adventure in itself. I walked along the seaside toward a small building right on the sea in order to purchase a ticket. At 11:30am it was very quiet with no one around except a couple of locals, so I paid 600 yen for my ticket and 150 yen for a small towel and headed down the steps past some empty outdoor swimming pools toward the entrance. It is in places like this that you need to be able to read Japanese as there were no coloured norens (curtains) to distinguish the male vs female bathing areas. As I entered through the little wooden door, I then saw the lovely little rotenburo overlooking the sea!
Being right by the sea, there was only a small change room with a couple of lockers. Toilet facilities were back up building where I had paid. There was a little shower and wash down area, but basically visitors were asked not to use shampoos and soaps in order to protect the environment.
On a clear day Takaiso-no-yu has a beautiful view looking out across the sea at the Izu Shichito Islands. Unfortunately it was an overcast day, but I could still make out the silhouette of a couple of islands in the distance.
Apparently there were male visitors seeking views other than the sea, and one random guy poked his head in the door while I was bathing. I didn’t notice, but one of the ladies who joined me in the bath was a local and she warned me to be careful and sit around the corner away from the view of the door. I took the advice on board and sat and savoured the ocean view in peaceful bliss without any further incident!
Following my bath, I wandered back along the foreshore to Hotto Park which is a free public foothbath. Much like Dopponoyu in Yugawara, it has a focus on reflexology where you can walk (or maybe hobble!) across various stone surfaces that stimulate the different reflexology points in your feet. It also a good spot to sit and gaze across the sea whilst soaking your feet!
Herb Garden – a change of scenery
Taking a break from the onsen theme, I decided to head up past the alligator park to a beautiful herb garden. The hill is extremely steep, so I took the local’s advice and went by taxi and was there in less than 5 minutes. There was a charming little cottage with a cafe and souvenir shop at the entrance, and quite extensive grounds up on the hill behind filled with colour from flowering herbs and plants. I had a brief chat with the owner on arrival, and when he disovered I was Australian he proudly showed me the Australian Lemon Myrtle which apparently he was one of the first people to introduce to Japan.
After enjoying the beautiful nature, I wandered back down the hill toward the hotel.
Generating wealth – Atagawa Onsen style!
As I was walking back down the hill, I came across a little shrine and hot spring outlet where by people were washing their coins in little metal baskets under the naturally running hot spring water. The water temperature was about 100 degrees celcius – so not something to dip your big toe into! There was no information available in English but apparently legend has it that washing your coins in the mineral water promotes wealth, so I was ok to give it a go! Kusatsu Onsen memories came to mind although those hot spring waters had the opposite effect as they are renowned for one yen coins dissolving into nothing within a week!
Atagawakan was my chosen accommodation for the evening. It is a medium sized Japanese style ryokan located right on the seaside with a magnificent view over the sea. Its onsen facilities were very nice with the view I was after, however unfortunately it was very overcast and rainy during my stay. The images below are the views from the outdoor and indoor baths located on the 3rd floor overlooking the sea….not something to complain about, just a pity the sun couldn’t peek through a little more!
Wthin the hotel lobby, there was a bamboo tree with decorations on it which were a part of the Tanabata festival held each year on July 7th. Tanabata is known as the “Star Festival” whereby Chinese legend has it that the two stars of Altair and Vega, which are usually separated from each other by the Milky Way, are able to meet, so many wishes are made at this festival time. It was a nice touch for guests to be able to write their wishes on paper and hang them on the tree in the hope that they come true.
The other image below shows Japanese geta or sandals at the front door. Guests are free to use these and walk around outside in their Yukata – especially nice given the ocean view promenade directly in front of the hotel.
My day ended with a candlelight surprise! Unbeknown to me it was the day of the candlelight festival whereby approximately 3000 candles are lit right along the foreshore. Below is a view from the hotel’s outdoor bath and another image along the foreshore. It was lovely to see the views from both perspectives and a beautiful way to finish day one of my Atagawa adventure.
The most direct route from Tokyo is to take the “Odoriko” or “Super View Odoriko” express train. Get off at Izu-Atagawa Station. (Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes)