Starting to look ahead to the coveted Golden Week holidays? The usual dreamy getaways may include a shortlist of Okinawa, Nikko, and Kyoto. Skirt the areas expecting hordes of vacationers, and look towards Izu for your vacation destination.
The rugged terrain of Izu’s nearby slopes are not normally the main attraction. Shirahama, Atami, and Shimoda are places most flock to: the clear waters, white beaches, and small “mom and pop” shops are all valid reasons to visit. But, we’d like to vouch for an atypical vacation plan.
At the southern tip of the Izu peninsula, the closest station by several kilometers is Izukogen. Mt. Omoru is the only significant feature of the skyline, but offers up a whole day of adventures. Enveloping the foot of the mountain is the sprawling Gold Kawana Country Club, and adjacent park for frisbee players or picnickers.
Towards the slope of the mountain, explorers will stumble upon the significant Izu Shaboten Park – with a cactus park, pyramid-shaped greenhouses, castles and jungle gyms for kids to crawl all over, and a fair few animals to pet and interact with – is alone worth the trip down. Pick up gear for outdoor adventures, including scuba diving, here as well. It’s next to a large bus center for those commuting around the peninsula.
For a more hands-on weekend in Izu, give a shot at creating your own souvenir to take home: Izukogen has several pottery and ceramic workshops in the area, along with a glass-blowing “crafthouse.” Hikers and other active vacationers will love renting a bike down near the station and heading out in the mountain range, and biking around the canals and lakes in the valleys. Those interested in traditional souvenirs and less fire or exercise involved should take a look at a few of the museums in the neighborhood: The Kazuaki Iwasaki Space Art Gallery is the most off-beat, but there is also an African art gallery, the Doll World Museum, the Kawana Stained Glass Museum, and a ton of others right here.
The pinnacle of the area itself is, naturally, Mt. Omuro. Although from a distance it looked like a rather clean-shaven “hill,” the mountain has perhaps the most going for it. Take the ¥500 ski lift up the steep slope (and look behind you at the view, if your vertigo can handle it!), and visit the summit for a cup of hot ginger milk tea as you take in the view. At the top you’ll find Omuroyamaasama Shrine, and statues of the mountain’s guardians, overlooking the Izu mountain range. Paths wrap around the ring of the volcano’s crater, and the crater itself has its own purpose: an archery target range! For just ¥1,000 and a 5-minute rundown of how to properly handle the equipment, visitors can practice all they like for a handful of hours. Every March, the entire mountain is set on fire to “burn away” the dry and dead grass from winter, to make way for spring. The schedule changes annually, depending on the weather and climate, but is a spectacle to see all around.
Visitors looking for a place to eat won’t find a plethora of options, but a few gems instead, including a Mexican food joint, just a two minute walk from surrounding hostels and hotels. A few doors down, a pasta place, a soba restaurant, and a few other Izu specialty spots.
Wanting to stay longer than a day? Agoda.com and Airbnb will show you plenty of options for the area, but the one we stayed in was a great deal. Hotel Ambient Izukogen Cottage has the entire package. Not only is it on the main street where all of the museums, workshops, restaurants, and parks are, it’s also a mere ten or fifteen minute walk over to the ski lift up Mt. Omuro. The hotel has both Japanese and Western style rooms, with breakfast plans offered and facilities, including several onsen on-site, or you can rent your own cottage. Bear in mind, these “cottages” are actually much larger than the image that may pop into your mind. They provide full course meals delivered to your cottage daily for you to cook up, have private onsen (indoor AND outdoor!) and most have two or even three stories of rooms and living spaces. Park a car, your bikes, and stay a while! Prices fluctuate depending on the season and size of the group staying.
–Images and Text by Natalie Jacobsen