Ito Onsen – Shizuoka

Ito Onsen in Shizuoka is a lovely onsen resort town that can be reached using the cool Super Odoriko train, from Tokyo Station. Ito Onsen is on the Izu Hanto (peninsula), famous for onsen (hot springs) and seafood. The train has extra large windows, which overlooks Tokyo Bay in Shizuoka (left side of the train going and right side returning to Tokyo).

Shizuoka has many seaside onsen resort towns. Atami is popular and has many options. Ito Onsen was on our radar as it is just beyond Atami and is known for having yasukute oishii ryokan, cheap and delicious ryokan. There are also many higaeri onsen, hot springs that you can use without staying overnight.

It is the first train that I have been on with beer on tap and plenty of beer-friendly snacks. In Japan this often means dried squid or processed cheese sandwiched between seafood flattened into a sheet.

If you have small kids, this is also the only train I have been on that has a play room. Be sure to ask to get your seats near the kids room. Our kid played the whole ride going and coming. It’s Japan, so of course, the kids take off their shoes when they go into the room.

We stayed at the Ito Garden Hotel, which had a simple rotenburo (outdoor onsen) and a small kids’ room with toys. It’s not a big selection of toys, but was suitable for a six-year old. There was also a small library of children’s books in Japanese and English. The hotel is up on the mountainside and we had a room that overlooked the city and the bay.

Dinner, served in a separate room, included steamed abalone, local sashimi, and some grilled meat. While guests are dining someone goes to your room to pull out the futons.

Traditional Japanese breakfast to start the day. Local seafood & sea vegetables (hijiki and funori) highlight the menu. There is a vending machine in the hotel if you need your coffee. It was not a luxurious hotel, but simple and the food was good and plentiful.

We spent the day exploring the city of Ito which is on the bay. There is a black sand beach and in the summer it is popular. There are many shops selling himono (butterflied and air-dried seafood) and some shops are even drying seafood in front of the shop.

There is a sculpture garden on the beach which is a great spot to look over the water and to climb on some of the sculptures.

For lunch I highly recommend Fujiichi (est. 1945). The first floor is a fishmonger and the second floor is a casual restaurant. Each table has its own barbecue, which makes any meal more fun. The table gets hot, so a good excuse to have an ice-cold beer. We ordered Pacific mackerel and squid that was served raw so that we could grill it ourselves. It’s a small shop and very popular, so time your visit around the main 12 noon lunch time (when the restaurant was packed).

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There are a few pedestrian shōtengai, arcades with many small shops selling omiyage (souvenirs), sweets, and the local green tea. Shizuoka is one of the famous tea regions in Japan.

One of the shōtengai, Yu no Hana Dōri 湯の花通り, has a large souvenir shop, Izu Guricha, selling local tea. In one corner is a small shop selling soft-serve ice cream, including a sundae topped with sweetened chestnuts, azuki beans, mochi, and kinpaku (gold sheet). Shizuoka-ken, Itō-shi, Shishido, 1 Chome−2, 静岡県伊東市猪戸1丁目2ー1

Nearby is Binya Coffee with an in-house roaster. Shishido 1-5-35

We loved our two days in Ito Onsen and I look forward to coming back.

Niigata Echigo Yuzawa

Just one hour from Tokyo on the shinkansen, Echigo Yuzawa is a fun get-away to a snowy paradise. There are mountains for skiing, and even play areas for kids to sled. Even ski gear and snow boots can be rented, so no need to go up with heavy bags. We left sunny Tokyo and after passing through a long tunnel near our destination, was surprised to be arriving in a winter wonderland.

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Yuzawa Ski Park Resort

We used Yuzawa Ski Park Resort with a free shuttle from the station. After arriving we signed up for a kids’ ski lesson and rented a sled.

Yuzawa Kogen is walking distance from the station. We took a cable car from the base to halfway up the mountain where there was a blizzard and we were in the clouds.

We stayed at Taki no Yu and had our own private onsen (photo above right) in our room. The kid-friendly ryokan had Purare-ru train set in the lobby.

The cuisine was very good. Below are photos of the small dishes for the okayu breakfast (left photo) and the appetizers for dinner (right photo).

Taki no Yu. Request the Kikyou Room for the private onsen in the room. The water made my skin feel soft and the temperature was not too hot. The rotenburo, outdoors onsen, was set in snow. Soaking in a hot tub while snow falls down is so relaxing. The room we stayed in had two beds and a separate tatami room for futons. It said it could sleep up to seven, so a good option if traveling with family.

http://www.yuzawa-takinoyu.com/rooms/#con_kikyou

The station has a large shopping area for omiyage including regional food products, knives, fresh produce, and rice. Niigata is famous for Koshihikari grown in Uonuma. There are several restaurants including a sushi-ya, soba-ya, and a nice cafe for mattcha latte and soft serve made with local milk.

Ponshukan is a saké tasting room for a flight of five saké starting at 500 JPY.

There is a visitors’ center in the station that is a warm seating area and has free wifi as well as some brochures in English.

For the return shinkansen we picked up two bentō at the ekiben stand in the station. Both bentō  include a heating unit under the bentō that heats it up in five minutes. There is a big selection of cup saké sold at the station.

Echigo Yuzawa would also be an easy day trip from Tokyo. Round-trip tickets are less than 15,000 JPY. One tip, ask for seats on the second floor of the shinkansen for better views. Another tip, many roads and sidewalks have running water to keep the snow from accumulating. Be sure to go with waterproof shoes, or rent a pair of boots at the information center just outside of the station.

Keio Takao-san Onsen Gokurakuyu 京王高尾山温泉極楽湯

There is a brand new onsen at the Keio line Takao-san Guchi station. It is located just behind the new station, designed by Kengo Kuma. If you are going by JR Chuo line, when you get to Takao station, transfer to the Keio line and go one more station. Mount Takao is a great mountain for hiking. For those looking for an easy climb, take a ride to the top and do some simple walking around.

There are indoor and outdoor baths, a sauna, a micro-bubble bath, and more. On the first floor there is a big shokudō (dining hall), but the food was disappointing. I would go back for a beer and some small bites, but don’t plan on having your lunch or dinner here. There are many soba shops nearby that are worth the short walk. If you are looking for a very special meal, then make a reservation at Ukai Toriyama. I love coming here for lunch to see the gardens in the light.

The onsen was very busy, even though we went first thing in the morning. I imagine that in the afternoon when hikers are coming down from the mountain looking to refresh that it would be packed.

The onsen water is slightly cloudy and white and is alkaline. Most importantly, it isn’t too hot, so if you are not used to onsen, this is a good spot to start.

It’s only 1,000 JPY for adults, 500 JPY for kids, and children under 3 are free. There is a short period (only about 3 weeks of the year) that the prices go up by 100-200 JPY.

Keio Takaosan Onsen 京王高尾山温泉

Tokyo-to, Hachioji-shi, Takao-machi 2229-7  東京都八王子市高尾町2229-7

8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (last entry is at 10:00 p.m.)