The Izu Peninsula was beyond anything I had ever imagined. For most people in Japan, Izu is synonymous with beaches and onsens. It’s a popular weekend trip from Tokyo, but I’d only been to the area once before, to see the early-blooming cherry blossoms in Kawazu.
Like many islands around the world, the Izu Peninsula was actually created over time. According to scientists, several million years ago there were a group of volcanoes on the sea bed just off the coast of mainland Japan. As they erupted over the years, they slowly rose higher and higher until they were above sea level. The volcanoes grew in number, forming mountains like present-day Mt. Fuji and Mt. Hakone, and together they created a new stretch of land, the Izu Peninsula.
Now, wild and rugged beauty covers the entire peninsula. From a mountainous forest full of waterfalls, rivers and onsens, to sandy beaches perfect for swimming, to stunning coastal rock formations, I discovered that this was an outdoor-lover’s paradise. I was in heaven!
From Tokyo, the JR Odoriko train cruises south for three hours, past Odawara and down the eastern coastline of the Izu Peninsula. The end of the line is Izukyu-Shimoda Station in the sleepy seaside town of Shimoda. My friend and I arrived around midday on day one of our two-day trip. We hired a car and set out to explore the peninsula.
Shirahama Beach, a 10-minute drive from Shimoda, could have easily been somewhere along Australia’s east coast. I don’t recall ever seeing a beach this wide in Japan! It’s regarded as the best beach in Izu—or the most popular at least. The sand was soft and white, which was such a nice change from the black sand found on many beaches around the country. The water was crystal clear and the turquoise colour glowed brilliantly under the sun. The waves were big enough for surfers to have a bit of fun, while closer to the shore, swimmers frolicked and played in the shallower waters.
We climbed some rocks at the end of the beach for an impressive view of the vast Pacific Ocean. On a very clear day, you can see the Izu Islands (volcanoes) on the horizon. With the gentle sea breeze, the sound of the waves crashing below and the smell of the ocean, I just wanted to stay there forever!
At the north end of Shirahama Beach is the peaceful Shirahama Jinja. Said to have a history of over 2,400 years, it is the oldest shrine in Izu. Around the grounds, you can see long-tailed roosters, 2,000-year-old trees and an exquisite wood carved building. In late October, the shrine holds a fire festival at the torii gate on the beach, complete with taiko drum performances, an omikoshi (portable shrine) procession and fireworks. It would be amazing to see!
The perfect refreshing mountain escape. The Kawazu Nana-daru, or Kawazu Seven Waterfalls, is a 40-minute drive north of Shimoda – more or less in the centre of the Izu Peninsula. As the name suggests, there are seven waterfalls grouped together. A 45-minute walk takes you past all the waterfalls, which range in size from 2 to 30 metres high. We chose to visit just one, the beautiful 10-metre-high Shokei-daru.
The temperature drop just from the carpark to the riverside was astounding. The humidity vanished, replaced by cool air. As we made our way to the waterfall I just kept thinking how truly remarkable nature is. In Tokyo, the concrete buildings do nothing but trap the heat and we have to endure 35ºC days all summer. If only we could have more waterways and forests!
Dotted around the waterfall area are statues of a girl and a boy, characters from the 1926 book, Izu no Odoriko (Izu’s Dancing Girl) written by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Yasunari Kawabata. The book tells a story of a boy from Tokyo who falls for a travelling dancer, and the statues always seem to place the boy behind the girl, perhaps a representation of who is chasing who!
‘Furin’ wind chimes hung up in summerSome hydrangeas still in full colour mid-July!Throwing three stones on the ‘Wishing Rock’ boulder
The wild and rugged south-western coast of Izu was the destination for our second day. There is very little public transportation, making it significantly quieter than the east coast. 45 minutes from Shimoda is the secluded seaside community of Dogashima. There’s only one thing to do here: head out on the water!
A 20-minute cruise will take you up and down the coast past amazing rock formations that are the result of volcanic eruptions. There are numerous sea caves, and the cruise goes into a huge one called Tensodo that is 147m long. In the middle of the cave is an open hole. When the light hits the water, it turns a stunning shade of blue.
This cliff looked like a gorilla to me! What do you see?
I wish we could have stayed longer in Izu so I could have spent more time relaxing—I’m definitely the type to just lay on a beach all afternoon! There’s so much to see and do all over the peninsula, but I was determined to spend some time in the water.
While planning this trip, I came across pictures of Senganmon Beach in Kumomi. It looked beautiful and I knew I had to see it for myself. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a challenge to find, though! We had to zoom in to the max on Google Maps to search for a path, then try drive as close as possible. Some roads were one way, others were too narrow for the car. After a few wrong turns I spotted some people in their swimwear and knew we were on the right track.
The start of the path is marked by a discreet sign you’d only see if you were literally standing in front of it. I got the feeling this place is frequented mostly by locals. We were a few steps along the path when I suddenly noticed monkeys up ahead. Wild monkeys! I couldn’t believe it. In my excitement, I yelled a bit too loud and unfortunately they scurried off away from the crazy human. The whole forest was full of monkeys. I even saw an adorable little baby monkey hiding behind a tree! What a treat.
It was a good 10 or so minutes on an overgrown, rocky up-and-down path before we got to the beach. There were about 10-15 other people in the main area, but the beaches to the left and right were completely deserted. It was so beautiful. The Senganmon rock – which is what I’d seen photos of – is made from solidified magma. It’s popular to see the sunset through the cave in the middle! The incredible rock formation is considered the torii, or gateway, to nearby Sengen Shrine.
Senganmon – the gate to Sengen ShrineDiving spot
While all of the sights were of course amazing, I can’t forget the food. Being an area surrounded by the ocean, seafood was the go-to choice. We had delicious prawn tempura udon at a restaurant in Shimoda, that featured fresh wasabi grown in the region. At our ryokan we had a dinner banquet of the sweetest crab and Japanese lobster. And in the surfing town of Kisami, we had fish and chips!
Have you ever been to Izu? Where is your favourite place to go in summer?