In the years since I started writing about Japan, I’ve been down to the Izu Peninsula a shockingly high number of times. Somehow though, I never managed to make it to Ito. Located a mere stone’s throw past the timeworn town of Atami, I somehow just skipped this amazing part of the prefecture despite it having been on my ever-growing bucket list for a while. Knowing that I needed to somehow rectify this mishap, I recently got my act together and finally crossed off this historic hot spring. Especially if you’re a nature lover, you’ll really appreciate a visit to Ito when next in Japan.
As anyone who has been to the Izu Peninsula can attest, there are a lot of options for onsen down here. Why one would choose Ito over alternatives like Shuzenji Onsen has a lot to do with its abundant nature. Though the Izu Peninsula is indeed blessed with scenic vistas, Ito really takes it to another level. From the craggy coastline of the Jogasaki Coast to the picture-perfect slopes of Mt. Omuro, the natural environs of Ito and its surrounding areas are truly the reason that one would want to select it over somewhere else.
While Ito doesn’t really lay claim to an attraction like Yamagata’s Yamadera that would cause one to want to travel all the way there just to see, it does present an eclectic smorgasbord of allures. If you’re anything like me and need to make a concerted effort to get away from the keyboard and spend some time out in nature, a trip to Ito is just what the proverbial doctor ordered. What’s more, Ito is a place that is blessed with many hot springs meaning that there’s a hot bath waiting for you somewhere after a long day of adventuring.
How to Get There
There are a number of ways that one can reach Ito. Assuming that you’re coming from Tokyo, the best and most efficient means of transportation is none other than JR’s Odoriko limited expresses. With one departing every hour, these speedy trains will take you down to Ito Station in only 100 minutes or so. All in all, the trip will cost you 4,500 yen one way. Note that many JR rail passes are valid on these trains though you’ll need to make a seat reservation in advance.
If you’re opting not to purchase a rail pass, you can save some coin by taking the Tokaido Line down and transferring at Atami Station. For my outing, this is exactly what I did as I wanted to spend some time writing at one of my favorite cafes after exploring Ito. Since I wanted to get work done on the way to and from Atami, I elected to shell out for the Green Car and I suggest you do this too if you don’t want to be crammed like sardines into the Tokaido Line on the way back with all the other schleps coming home.
Regardless of which option you elect to employ, refer to a service such as Jorudan to help calculate departure times. Along with Google Maps for buses, these tools make getting around Japan so much easier and have saved my skin more times than I can count. Do yourself a favor and let the technology do the heavy lifting for you so you can better enjoy your time in Japan.
Ito’s Central Areas
Located on the eastern side of the Izu Peninsula, the town of Ito is actually a pretty famous hot spring resort. All around Ito Station and up into the hills, you’ll find an endless sprawl of ryokan and equipped hotels to lodge at. Though you can of course make an outing to Ito as a mere day trip (and many facilities open their baths to just this type of traveler), the real charm of Ito can only be explored if you spend the night.
Though I’d like to avoid going into detail on where to stay, I do suggest that you swing by the former ryokan of Tokaikan. Nestled in the center of the city along the Ito River, this historic building dates back to the year 1928 and boasts a truly historic vibe. Though no longer operational as an accommodation option, Tokaikan now opens its doors for visitors to come and explore its homely halls. All in all, it’s definitely one of the “must-sees” in the downtown area.
In addition to Tokaikan, one other enchanting area is the aforementioned Ito River. After the sun goes down, its banks are illuminated by light-containing stalks of bamboo. If you happen to be spending the night down in Ito, I suggest that you dawn your yukata and go for a leisurely evening stroll along the Ito River. If you follow it all the way down to where it runs into the ocean, you’ll eventually come upon Ito’s Orange Beach where many people often can be seen setting off fireworks in summer.
The Jogasaki Coast
All things considered, the Jogasaki Coast might very well be the reason that one comes to Ito. Located to the south of the city, this 10-kilometer-long stretch of rocky coastline is absolutely spectacular to behold. There’s a great hiking trail that runs the entire length of the Jogasaki Coast though most people only opt to do a small section of the entire trail. Moreover, there also seems to be some solid options for diving too but I didn’t look into these enough to comment.
Most visitors to the Jogasaki Coast explore the meager strip between the New York Lamp Museum & Flower Garden (which is definitely worth visiting by the way) and the iconic 48-meter-long suspension bridge. That said, if you want, you can make a much more aggressive adventure out of your trip to the Jogasaki Coast. In my case, I did what many others do and only went as far as the suspension bridge because I needed to be back in time for a bus to Mt. Omuro.
Truth be told, there’s a number of means of getting to the Jogasaki Coast. From what I’ve seen, there are direct buses from Ito Station as well as from other locations in Ito. For my visit, I was taking a local train from Atami Station so I just stayed on all the way to Jogasaki-Kaigan Station. From there, it’s a 15 minute walk downhill to the Jogasaki Coast.
Magnificent Mt. Omuro
Along with the previously-highlighted Jogasaki Coast, Mt. Omuro is an iconic attraction in Ito. Found way up in the Izu Kogen highlands, this extinct volcano has the shape of an upside down rice bowl, thereby giving it a beautiful silhouette. Unlike with other crags, Mt. Omuro’s slopes are as smooth as can be and are blanketed by a charming sheet of grass. Hiking is entirely forbidden to preserve the picturesque conditions so those looking to go to the summit will need to take a chairlift up.
In addition the epic views of Mt. Fuji, Oshima and the hilly highlands of the Izu Kogen that can be seen from the top of Mt. Omoro, there’s also many more activities to be had at the 580-meter-high mountain’s base. Here, you’ll discover the Izu Shaboten Zoo as well as a hot spring. There’s also a number of restaurants and cafes. For the fans of archery out there, there is even a spot where you can try your hand at firing a bow.
Since it is located so high up in the mountainous core of the Izu Peninsula, getting to Mt. Omuro will require the use of a bus (and even that struggles). In my case, I caught one of the departures directly to the chair lift station from the Jogasaki Coast but it seems there are also ones that run from Ito Station. As explained in the logistics section of this article, you’d do well to refer to Google Maps when it comes to anything related to buses.
By the way, know that the Jogasaki Coast was actually formed eons ago when Mt. Omuro erupted. All of those jagged rock formations are the direct result of lava flowing from the caldera of the volcano and then cooling upon contact with the ocean waters of Sagami Bay. While it might look gentile today, there was a time when Mt. Omuro was as violent as can be and wrought fiery destruction on the coastline. Keep this in mind as you take the leisurely chairlift up to the summit.
Other Nearby Attractions
As wonderful as Ito is, you’d be a fool to skip out on some of the other wonders on the Izu Peninsula. Even if you just make a quick pit stop at Atami before heading back to Tokyo, you’d do well to add something else onto your outing to Ito. For example, those interested in learning about how Japan was opened to the west in the late 1800s would want to continue down south to Shimoda where Commodore Matthew C. Perry first landed. Here, there are all sorts of historical spots related to this key time in Japanese history.
If you’re not already hot springed out, consider also checking out the heavenly hamlet of Shuzenji Onsen. Allegedly dating back as far as the 800s, this secluded town has a mature and sophisticated atmosphere to it. In addition to its ample hot springs, Shuzenji Onsen is also home to an adorable bamboo grove that is sure to serve as the perfect backdrop for your next Instagram shot. Be sure not to skip the temple complex of Shuzen-ji that gave the location its name.
Finally, in addition to its perennial attractions, know too that the Izu Peninsula also has a number of seasonal draws. Those visiting Ito during the month of February will definitely want to add Kawazu to their itineraries. The birthplace of the Kawazu-sakura variant of cherry blossoms, this spot blooms far earlier than most others. Alternatively, the susuki silver grass of the Inatori Hosono Highlands will marvel you with its simple majesty during autumn.
Until next time travelers…