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On the tracks of the Izu Dancer

I may not be the only one to have been introduced to Japanese literature by the short “Izu Dancer” (伊豆の踊り子) novel. It tells the story of a young high-school student going on a vacation trip to the Izu Peninsula (伊豆半島) in the early 1900s. He starts the trip alone and sad. Later, he meets a group of entertainers and travels with them down to Shimoda(下田). His mood gets a lot better, thanks to his cheerful company and especially the attraction he feels for a young dancer. The young age of the girl and the gap in social status will not allow him to have an affair, but our hero leaves for Tokyo from Shimoda by boat with much lighter feelings. The story is gracefully told by Kawabata’s elegant prose.
During my first trip to Japan, I ran into Izu Peninsula again when I looked for a quick “onsen experience” outside Tokyo. This brought me to Atami (熱海), the gateway to the Peninsula, and a popular modern resort. Being on budget, I did not go there by the aptly name “Odoriko” (Dancer) Express, and restricted myself to a cheap but pleasant onsen afternoon in a modern hotel, before going back to Tokyo by the regular commuter Train and eating cheap ramen noodles again for dinner.
A few years later, I could at least discover more of the Peninsula. The orange and green regular train brought me from Tokyo to Ito(伊東), a small fishing town and a Hot Spring (温泉) resort. I was quite disappointed by the outside aspect of the onsen ryokan (旅館) I booked, which looked more like a Tokyo suburb building than a holiday resort. However, the experience was unforgettable, as the staff was extremely helpful, and I could enjoy a relaxing tatami room. Food in ryokan is also great, with an elaborated dinner and breakfast served in the room. In Izu coast, it almost always includes raw fish, whereas boar (猪) is more common in the mountains. The best of an onsen trip is of course the long evening when there is plenty of time to enjoy the hot and sulphurous water, and to sleep with the whole body relaxed. Some ryokans are also set in old traditional house, with a great atmosphere. Old Japanese buildings however sometimes lack the sound isolation that would be suited in such a favourite date spot.
The coastal road south of Ito is interesting enough for an afternoon stroll, and offers beautiful views of Oshima(大島) islands. However, it is worth taking the train south to Jogasaki Kaigan (城ヶ埼海岸) Station. Nearby is the beautiful shoreline of Jogasaki (城ヶ埼), with its lava cliffs surrounded by pine trees and going straight into the see. The shoreline is beautifully preserved, and offers several kilometres of hikes. Nearby is also the surprising Mount Omura (大室山), a now sleepy small volcano that can be climbed by a chairlift. It offers nice views over the Izu Peninsula, nearby islands, and Mount Fuji. After climbing down the volcano, you could continue to Shimoda, at the southern end of the peninsula, by train. This historical port is where the famous American “black ships” landed in 1858, putting an end to two centuries of almost full isolation for Japan.On the way, you could stop on the famous “Shirahama” (白浜) beach, a popular swimming spot in summer, and a surf spot all year round.
It is however possible to reach Shimoda via the mountain road. This is the way taken by the party in the Izu dancer novel. Your trip will start in Mishima (三島), and should definitely include an Unagi (うなぎ) meal. The eel is grilled over a charcoal fire, with the sauce giving it a sweet flavour. You may also enjoy near Mishima the beautiful Kakitagawa (柿田川) springs. The very pure deep blue water is said to come from Mount Fuji, and the surrounding wetlands are very pleasant.
Back in Mishima, the train will bring you to Shuzenji (修善寺) town in central Izu peninsula. The nearby “Shuzenji onsen” (修善寺温泉) resort is home to some of the most renowned ryokan in Japan. There are also more affordable options, and It is a good place for staying overnight. From Shuzenji, you can travel by bus through the central road that goes down to Shimoda. The Joren waterfalls (浄連の
滝) are certainly impressive, but the best is probably a hike in the Amagi Toge (天城峠) road, now closed to cars. I was lucky enough to hike it during a misty afternoon, and the fog gave a touch of mystery to the forest. I would not have been surprised if the travelling party of the Izu dancer just came out of the fog in front of me. Also impressive was the completely dark tunnel one has to cross at the top of the road. Travelling further down to Shimoda, the road crosses twice a weird loop-shaped bridge, an original and supposedly earthquake-proof way of climbing the mountains.
Another way to travel to Izu from Nagoya or Osaka is the Ferry connecting Shimizu (清水) to Toi (土肥). It crosses the Suruga-bay with beautiful views on mount fuji on clear time. A reasonably frequent bus links the small town of Ooi to Shuzenji. Of course, it is possible to board the ferry with a car, and you may avoid the frequent traffic jams around Numazu on week-ends
Practical information:

Access to Atami: Tokaido Shinkansen Kodama(Y4288 - 27 Euro, 46min from Tokyo), Special ‘Odoriko’ Service (Y3900 - 24 Euro, 80min from Tokyo) or Tokaido main line (111 min, Y1890 - 12 Euro from Tokyo). The Odoriko service continues to Ito (Y4420, 104min) and Shimoda (Y6290, 164min). There are also local train services between Atami and Ito (JR Ito line), and between Ito and Shimoda (Izu express line).

Access to Mishima: Tokaido Shinkansen Hikari (Y4600 - 28 Euro, 44min from Tokyo), or Tokaido main line (119 min, Y2210 from Tokyo, train change in Atami)

Access to Shuzenji: Izu Hakone line from Mishima to Shuzenji (33 minutes, 500 - 3 Euro) Frequent buses from Shuzenji station (every 15 minutes) to Shuzenji Onsen resort (Izu Hakone bus or Tokai bus). There are around 20 buses a day between Shuzenji and Toi. Buses bound for Matsuzaki (松崎) stop in Toi.

Access to Joren Fall and Amagi Toge: bus from Shuzenji bound to Kawazu. Approximately one bus every 30 minutes. 30 minutes, Y800 - 5 Euro to reach Joren Fall, Y1060 - 7 Euros, 45 minutes to reach Amani Toge

Access to Toi from Ferry. Dream Ferry from Shimizu. Around 65 minutes, between 4 and 7 return trips a day. The first ferry leaves Shimizu at 8am, and Toi at 9.20 am. The last ferry leaves Shimizu at 4pm and Toi at 5.20 pm. One way trip is Y2000 - 12 Euro per person, and Y4300 - 25 Euro per individual car (less than 3m long).

Izu Hakone bus: http://www.izuhakone.co.jp/bus/rosen/index.htm (In Japanese)
Tokai Bus: http://www.tokaibus.jp/mainroot.html (In Japanese)
Toi bus schedule: http://www.toi-annai.com/access/basu.html (In Japanese)
Toi Shimizu Ferry: http://www.dream-ferry.co.jp/

Unagi Restaurant in Mishima : sakuraya (桜家) 三島市広小路町13-2 hirokoji-cho Mishima. Tel 055-975-4520. Open from 11am to 8pm or when sold-out. Meals from Y2620 - 16 Euros. Closed on Wednesday and holidays.

Booking an onsen hotel or ryokan: Yahoo Japan (http://www.yahoo.co.jp/ offers comprehensive accommodation booking service under the category ‘travel’. The secret Japan (http://www.secret-japan.com/) site offers independent advice in English and in French on Onsen destination, and also includes a guide to west Izu coast.




This post first appeared on Uchimizu In English, please read the originial post: here

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On the tracks of the Izu Dancer

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