Often times when visiting a new country, we tend to hit the most popular spots, and in case of Japan places like Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima or Nikko, to name the few, steal the limelight. The truth is though, that the Land of the Rising Sun has way too much to offer and every time I go out to explore I tend to discover something new and special. Those who are following me on Instagram know that I have spent the last two weekends in Atami, a resort little town on the east coast of Izu Peninsula. It is an easy 70-min train ride from Tokyo and serves as an idyllic place for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
This charming little town has a nostalgic yesteryear feel and apparently, it has been quite popular back in the day. When traveling to Hawaii was not as easily accessible as now, Atami served as a primary honeymoon destination for Japanese. I could still spot couples romantically cooing along the beach. The town is seeded with numerous expansive resorts and boasts with numerous onsens with natural hot springs. As Naomi and I browsed the street of Atami we inevitably kept saying that with the palm trees and resorts, it doesn’t feel like Japan at all. It actually reminds me of Nice a little bit, although the city map compares it to San Remo. As you can tell, I quite fell for the city and in hopes to inspire you I am sharing these seven reasons as to why you should visit Atami.
It might be a bit unfair and untimely to start with this one, but it’s almost spring y’all, and I’m all about flowers, especially the cherry blossoms. Every January Atami hosts a beautiful festival dedicated to kawazu-sakura, an early blooming cherry trees. Apparently, this species of sakura have been brought here from Italy decades ago and feature soft pink five-petal flowers. Due to much warmer and favorable climate compared to Kanagawa prefecture, trees here bloom earlier.
One of the central quaint streets along the Ito River is lined up with these beautiful blooms and during the peak season the atmosphere is nothing short of magical. Sweet fragrance of the flowers, chirping of birds and cheerful festive vibe made it a wonderful place to linger.
I arrived at a perfect time, as the concert of local geishas was about to start. Apparently, there is a small population of geishas still living in Atami who entertain the visiting guests. I had a feeling they were friendlier and more willing to pose for photos, compared to busier and ever-so-elusive Kyoto geishas spoilt with attention and constantly rushing to engagements. The concert, albeit short, was quite mesmerizing. With beautiful blooming cherry trees as a backdrop and romantic Japanese songs as an accompaniment, watching them dance with utter grace and elegance will remain as one of my top experiences in Japan.
Atami Baien (Plum Garden)
Another reason to visit Atami is its gorgeous plum garden featuring 3,000 trees. I have written about the tradition of plum blossom viewing in Japan before, and this stunning garden is truly a great place to indulge in this cultural experience. You can browse the park to see the waterfalls and the Korean Garden; visit the memorial museum; savor your hanami moment under the trees while sipping green tea; soak up your feet in one of the hot spring foot baths; and take advantage of the stunning surroundings to take lots and lots of portraits. I know Naomi and I did.
Worshipped since ancient times as home to gods of good fortune and luck, this small shrine is home to a sacred Kusunoki, a 2,000 years old camphor tree rumored to house a Shinto god. They also say, if you walk the pathway around the tree, it will extend your life by an extra year.
A popular thing to do in Atami us boil an egg in the hot spring. You can do that in Atami. One of the fountainheads has a hot stream of steam coming out of it and smart Japanese have equipped it with a net where anyone can put their eggs and cook them just the way they like it. It takes eight minutes to “cook” a hard boiled egg, which had a slight sulfur taste to it, although nothing particularly special. Just a fun experience.
San Remo Boardwalk and Atami Beach
Atami has quite charming harbor and the beach. I am a huge lover of the sea so I spent some quality time hear soaking up the well-missed Vitamin D. January is not the busiest month here and the area was pleasantly deserted proving a peaceful retreat for those in need of some break from hustle and bustle.
A ropeway from the waterfront takes you to Atami Castle. Although not an original, it features interesting historical architecture, and being perched on top of the hill, privies sweeping views of the entire area.
Akao Herb and Rose Garden
Naomi and I also ventured out to the other side of the hill to check out yet another beautiful garden. It was not quite the perfect time to visit since none of the roses were blooming yet. However, the landscape garden overlooking the ocean blew me away, and we still found a few spots for ad-hoc photo shoots.
It made for an eventful, yet relaxing two weekends and definitely want to get back to Izu Peninsula to explore Shimoda as well as west coast – they say it resembles Hawaii a lot.
Have you been to less touristy spots that you totally fell in love with?
Linking up with wonderful ladies at Monday Escapes.
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