Nestled in a bay to itself, just past the reach of the outbound flow of traffic from Tokyo, is the Shizuoka Prefecture town of Ito, a small fishing hamlet turned low key tourist destination for those who like to amble their way through a weekend. A stark change of pace from Tokyo, Ito will leave your mind refreshed, your muscles relaxed and your palate melting from all it has to offer.
Arriving on the train from Tokyo, slightly numb and rattled by the local line, we wandered through the tiny town to our ryokan. Choosing the right accommodation is vital for getting settled into the relaxing break you need, but if you don’t want to splash out on luxurious ryokan or minimalist hotels, I can’t recommend K’s House Ito enough. Our 100 year old ryokan, overlooking the banks of the Matsukawa River, served as a peaceful retreat to relax in and forget about the lights and bustle of Tokyo. Exploring its endless tatami rooms, relaxing out on the decking overlooking the river, and searching for the mysterious “look out” room made us feel immediately relaxed and at home. The ryokan has fluent English speaking staff, and with private rooms and single futons in dormitories, there should be something to suit your budget.
Having settled in, we tried to catch some dinner before this seaside village went to sleep.
Taking a recommendation from the hotel desk we headed to Komaki for a traditional Japanese set meal. Inside the small wooden restaurant, whose owners have an affinity for The Beatles and collecting odd knickknacks, you’ll find some deliciously prepared local beef or, even better, a scrumptious tuna sashimi and avocado rice bowl. Of course, it is all served with miso soup, tsukemono, and traditional desserts like anko with yogurt.
Finishing up, we followed the river down to the seaside and explored the sculptures of Nagisa Park, walking along the shore of Orange Beach after. Full and tired from a full day of work, we made our way back through the teetering alleyways to wash up in the dimly lit marbled onsen at K’s House, relaxing on our room’s balcony overlooking the river after. There wasn’t a single bleeping crosswalk or car to be heard so instead we made do with listening to the trees rustle and the river flow.
We started with breakfast at Cafe Tati, a remarkable cafe run by a couple with an eye for design and a finely crafted menu. Whilst it would be totally at home on the streets of Omotesando, Cafe Tati is Ito’s touch of class, with mindful design at heart.
When we finished, we checked the weather. As it was August, it was sunny and warm, so we rented some snorkels from the hotel and headed to the bus station to catch the number 3 bus to the sandy Irukama Beach. It has a tame tide and a sandy beach which is well suited for families, but for a stony beach teeming with fish of all colors, shapes and sizes walk three minutes to your left, which is where we went. In between the two beaches was the star of the day, Kaijoutei. They offer some of the most succulent, rich sashimi you’ll find south of Hokkaido, and we were spoiled for choice by their enormous menu.
If you’re reading this while looking out the window feeling a little bitter, then don’t worry as there is another option for colder days. Earlier in the year we visited Ito and spent the cold, cloudy day hiking the Jogasaki Coastline, a lush area overflowing with the type of wild surroundings that will appeal to the intrepid explorer, featuring two picturesque suspension bridges overlooking the sea. Catch the train to Jogasaki-Kaigan Station to begin the walk and follow the signs back up to Izu Kogen Station to take the train back to Ito when you’re finished.
After onsening and relaxing back at the hotel, we headed out to my all time favorite izakaya in the whole of Japan: Kunihachi. This bizarre mom and pop izakaya features the weirdest decorations and finest Japanese izakaya cuisine we’ve ever experienced. For maximum eye candy make your way through to the back rather than sitting at the bar, and for the best eats avoid the set menus (though they are attractively priced and feature deliciously fresh fish) and order a la carte, paying special attention to their Spanish fusion dishes and small but stunning sake list. Fancy something different? Why not try crocodile or frog’s legs. If you can manage the Japanese, striking up a conversation with this cute couple is very rewarding, and you may even be asked to draw a picture of the chef to add to his customer book.
We walked off our dinner along the river, taking in the line of traditional ryokans lit up serenely at night.
Day 3 – Leaving Day
Waking on our last day we were a little disappointed that the end was coming, as we knew what was waiting for us on the other end of the train line. So, to keep that feeling at bay, we indulged in a day of Ito onsen water, an experience widely compared to Beppu and Hakone. There are eight public onsen in Ito City, named after the seven Deities of Good Luck, though my top recommendation is Wada Public Bath (Japanese website) for its historical layout. (If you have tattoos, then head to Matsubara Public Bath (Japanese website) and rent a private room for an additional ¥600.) After we’d soaked and relaxed to the point where we were feeling a little dreamy, we indulged again at Unagino Matoi, where we ate some highly recommended and seriously delicious eel. However, we had to ask our hotel desk to book us a table, which they only just managed to get. For guaranteed eel, I would ask your hotel desk to book a table as soon as you arrive at the hotel.
Having successfully escaped and relaxed away the weekend, we made our way back to Tokyo. But knowing Ito was only ever a few hours away when we really needed a change made things a little easier. But only a little.
On Friday evening jump on Tokaido Sanyo Shinkansen at Tokyo Station, changing onto the local Ito Line at Atami, which is the fastest and simplest service. Or, for half the price and an extra 45 minutes, jump on the Tokaido Line heading for Atami (passing Tokyo, Shimbashi and Shinagawa Stations), also changing onto the local Ito Line at Atami.