The Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka is an excellent summer destination. Choose from the retro charm of Atami, outdoor adventures in the Ito area or the sun-drenched surfing hot spot of Shimoda. The peninsula is just over an hour southwest of Tokyo by train or car, making it easily accessible for a short break or weekend escape.
Atami—a relaxing and historical summer getaway
Atami is the gateway to the Izu Peninsula, and this charming, retro town has been a famous beach resort and hot spring area for generations. The shinkansen stops here, making a journey from Tokyo take less than an hour.
Hit the beach
Atami’s beach is aptly named “Sun Beach” and is the focal point for the summer season. The calm waters make it a good spot for families to paddle and swim, and there are nightly illuminations. The 400-meter (1,312 ft) stretch of sand makes for a pleasant evening stroll in the balmy heat.
Much more to explore
Head to the Akao Herb and Rose Garden to enjoy the fragrant herbs and blooms under the summer sun. The expansive landscaped gardens offer ocean views at every turn. The hilltop cafe designed by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (1954–) is a fine spot to cool off.
Atami Castle sits high on a hill above the town, with views over the Pacific Ocean. It offers exhibitions and a chance to dress up in samurai armor. From this vantage point, you can get good views of the Atami Fireworks Festival. Note that some events have been canceled or postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
To satisfy your artistic side, head to the MOA Museum of Art. The facility is a treasure house of Japanese and Chinese art that ranges from ancient to contemporary. Exhibits also include a Noh theater, a traditional tea house and Japan’s largest kaleidoscope displayed through projection mapping, perhaps the museum’s most quirky piece.
Historical hot springs
Atami’s hot springs have drawn visitors for over 1,000 years, including some famous and influential figures. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), the shogun and powerful warlord, loved soaking in the mineral-rich waters of Atami so much that he brought some back to Edo (now Tokyo) to recreate the experience. There are seven natural hot springs dotted around the town which supply thermal waters to the many resorts, modern hotels and traditional inns. A relaxing soak with a view of the sunset over Sagami Bay is the perfect way to end a day of exploring.
Active summer adventures in Ito and beyond
Ito retains the same retro charm as its larger neighbor Atami. However, the city is slightly quieter with a somewhat off-the-beaten-path feel. During the summer, enjoy the beaches, hot springs and a trip to the top of a fuzzy green extinct volcano—Mt. Omuro. Direct trains from Tokyo Station reach Ito Station in around two hours. Alternatively, board a local train from Atami for the 20-minute ride.
Ito beach life
This laid-back city has a tropical atmosphere, with palm trees lining the beachfront. Stay near the beach or enjoy traditional hospitality at one of the hot spring resorts that line the Matsukawa—the river that runs through the center of town. The main beach, Orange Beach, is right in front of the main town. Alternatively, beaches at the adjacent stations of Kawana and Usami tend to be quieter.
Refreshing breezes at the top of Mt. Omuro
Halfway between Ito and Izu Kogen lies Mt. Omuro—a compact, extinct volcano covered in fuzzy green grass. The stiff breezes from the top of the volcano are an antidote to the summer heat. Hop on the chair lift that whisks you to the top and enjoy beautiful views along the way. Wander the path around the crater for panoramic views, and if you are looking for a particularly daring summer adventure, you can try paragliding off the mountainside.
Explore the Jogasaki Coast
Further down the coast is the Izu Kogen area. Head into the forest where the natural canopy shades you from the summer sun, and wander along the easy trails to view the spectacular rock formations that make up the Jogasaki Coast. Enjoy the refreshing ocean spray as the waves crash onto the sharp volcanic rock formations and traverse the Kadowaki suspension bridge. The Jogasaki Coast is accessible on foot from Jogasaki-Kaigan Station.
Surfs up at Shimoda in the summer
Shimoda is a beach resort town at the southeastern tip of the Izu Peninsula. In modern times, the area has become a hub for sun worshippers who flock here for water sports and summer activities. However, Shimoda was the stage for one of Japan’s most important historical events. Reach the area in just under three hours from Tokyo by express train.
Pick your beach
In summer, the beaches are the main attraction and there are plenty to choose from. Nabetahama is a quiet beach ideal for families and is closest to the town center. Meanwhile, surfers and bodyboarders tend to head to the crystal-clear waters of Tatadohama, Iritahama and Kisami Ohama. For surfers, Shirahama carries a strong reputation for the best waves and draws surfers from around the world. If you are traveling light, there are rental shops dotted along the beach fronts, so you do not need to bring your own gear.
Life under the waves
Shimoda is ideal for snorkeling and diving, thanks to the warm, clear waters which support plenty of coral and tropical fish. Divers should head out to Mikomoto Island, one of the best places to see hammerhead sharks in summer. If you're not ready to swim with the sharks, Shimoda Floating Aquarium is a great place to see local sea life up close. You can snorkel with the dolphins or watch the antics of Humboldt penguins.
A site of historical importance
Shimoda was the site of Japan's historic reopening to the world in the mid-nineteenth century when Commodore Perry’s Black Ships sailed into Shimoda harbor. Mix your summer fun with some historical learnings by exploring the area more deeply. Wander along Perry Road that runs along a canal. The picturesque street is lined with traditional buildings and crisscrossed by bridges—the perfect spot for a summer evening stroll. The road leads to Ryosenji Temple, the site of the official opening of Japan to the world, where the Harris Treaty was signed between America and the Tokugawa shogunate in 1858. There is a small museum onsite with artifacts from the Black Ships. The feared ships are now a tourist attraction. Switch the summer heat for a refreshing sea breeze by cruising the harbor in a replica Black Ship.
About the author
Jeremy has enjoyed 15 Japanese summers. After a decade of trying to master the Japanese language, he has realized it will likely take another decade to get there.