When we found out we were slated to move Yokosuka, Japan in the spring of 2017 , it didn’t take long for me to start researching what to see and do. But despite the months of research prior to moving, it wasn’t until three weeks after we arrived, that I really started to realize how much this country has to offer…and goodness it is wwaaayyyy more than I originally thought. I know the reality of it is there is absolutely no way to “see it all” in two years, but a girl can try…right?! Lucky for me, Dom and I think an awful lot alike, and since our house at the time was pretty empty (and a bit depressing) it didn’t take much for me to convince him that we needed to hit the road for the long Labor Day Weekend to start knocking some of these places off our Japan bucket list. Gotta hit the ground running, right?

***June 2019 Update: Fast forward nearly two years, and Izu is still one of our absolute favorite places in Japan. If you are living in or visiting Tokyo or Yokosuka, PLEASE take the time to explore this beautiful peninsula. Truly some of our best memories in Japan were made in this area.***

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TRIP ONE

[ D A Y  • 1 ] Zushi → Izu Peninsula: Shuzenji Temple, Tokko-no-yu onsen, Chikurinnokomichi Bamboo Forest, Jogasaki Coast

Early Saturday morning we commenced our first overnight Japan adventure to the Izu Peninsula (~3 hour drive). Being last minute, most everything within our travel budget had already been snatched up (most likely weeks ago) and pickings were a bit on the slim side highlighting to us early on the importance of planning ahead in Japan. We clearly needed to up our game. Noted.

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So after some deliberation on how exactly to tackle the issue, we ended up deciding to stay in the central portion of the peninsula in the city of Shuzenji at the Izu Mariott and day trip out from there. Granted, the Mariott was still far from inexpensive, but we found a great deal on booking.com and it was way less than most places we were considering in the Shimoda area. *Still two years later, Izu Peninsula is one of the most expensive places we have stayed to-date in Japan*

Overall, our experience was fantastic and we would highly recommend the Marriott as it was a wonderful introduction to Japanese hotels. In addition to the rooms surrounding a traditional Japanese garden, the place oozed every thing calm, clean, and minimalist. Our room had a beautiful view in addition to a comfortable seating area and two extremely comfortable western style beds + pillows. Although we highly encourage you to stay in a traditional ryokan while you’re here (it’s kinda a bucket list necessity!) we will note that our family overall sleeps a smidge better on western style beds compared to traditional Japanese bedding (with buckwheat pillows). This is obviously a personal preference and styles vary from person to person, so give the traditional setup a go at least once…but as we would find out later in Nagano and then again in Zao that perhaps once (or twice) might just be enough.

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After getting squared away in the room we drove ~10 minutes to  Shuzenji Temple, a Buddhist temple which dates back to the year 807. Here we found a place to park and then set off to explore the little town in which the temple was nestled in. Despite being a religious structure, the temple has quite the violent past as it was the sight of several assassinations, suicides, and power struggles – yikes! The current buildings are “only” about 100 years old, and there is a museum on sight which displays many artifacts related to the museum’s history. So if your littles aren’t too terribly wiggly maybe give that a go?

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Ours didn’t stand a chance, so we made our way to Tokko-no-yu onsen, the oldest geothermal hot spring on the entire peninsula. Legend has it that when Kobo Daishi, a Japanese Buddhist monk + scholar, visited the site in the 800s he saw a young boy giving his sick father a bath in the river. Taking pity on them sitting in the cold water, he threw a river rock down and the hot water bubbled from the earth. The healing waters of the onsen soon helped to heal the boy’s sick father.

Today, the original onsen is shaded by a gazebo, and it makes for a very relaxing place to take your shoes off and soak your feet in the warm waters. Miles in particular thought it was amazing and would have jumped in for a swim if we had let him (had to keep a firm grip on that boy while we were there – see above photo!).

Feeling refreshed, we headed to Chikurinnokomichi bamboo forest, following the path along the Katsuragawa River letting the kids run ahead for a much needed energy release. In the middle of the forest there is a large circular bench made of bamboo that makes for a perfect spot to lay down and stare up at the towering bamboo arching overhead. We’ve love to say that we laid down and marveled at the bamboo for a while, but we had two children running wild, sooooo yup…kids.

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Finally, we finished the day by driving ~50 minutes to the jagged shores of the Jogasaki Coast. We didn’t know it at the time, but Japan over the next two years would slowly turn our family into “hiking enthusiasts.” The coast is an easy relaxing hike featuring a paved walkway that winds along the edge of the rugged coast line. Blue waters, with white crested waves continuously crashing against the rocks made this place pure magic. I couldn’t help but stop multiple times to just soak it all in.  What a spectacular place to be surrounded by so much natural beauty and the best part…it was just us.

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We eventually turned around and headed back to the car following the same path. Since we had opted to enjoy the sunset along the coast part of this was in the dark. At the time we didn’t have them, but after hiking a substantial amount we have now added headlamps to our daypacks when we adventure. Although not a deal breaker on this particular day it would have been nice to have. At least we had cellphone flashlights!

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When we arrived back at the car we were the only vehicle left in the parking lot (I’m telling you, we maxed out our time and loved every bit of it). We all piled in, swung by the nearest convenience store (which would eventually become a traveling theme for us), picked up dinner,  and then headed back to enjoy all the Japanese deliciousness in our room. I still can’t believe we live in Japan!!

Shuzenji Temple:

  • Hours: Everyday, 0830 – 1630, October – March: closes at 1600
  • Admission: Free

Tokko-no-yu Onsen:

  • Hours: Open 24 hours
  • Admission: Free

Jogasaki Coast:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y  • 2 ] Izu Peninsula: Kawazu Nanadaru, Cape Tarai, Ryugu Sea Cave, Kisami Omaha Beach

The next morning, we packed the day pack and then headed south to hike the Kawazu Seven Falls Trail, a trail that leads you on a beautiful stroll through a series of seven waterfalls (Kamadaru, Ebidaru, Hebidaru, Shokeidaru, Kanidaru, Deaidaru and Odaru) located upstream on the lush Kawazu River. Although all of the waterfalls are gorgeous, the very last one, Odaru, is the largest standing at ~30 meters tall.

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Overall, we’d grade this hike as easy as it’s mostly paved and not technical at all (although it can get a bit slippery with the spray from the falls). Just be prepared for a good number of stairs – holy glute workout! We’d suggest just ditching the stroller for this outing and baby wearing – much easier! Like the Jogasaki Coast the day before, Miles was able to run ahead a good bit and explore “showing” us #allthewaterfalls he had just “discovered.”

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We purchased some sticks of “dango,” a Japanese sweet treat made from rice flour, at one of the many quaint shops on our way back to the car before continuing on to the southeastern part of the Peninsula to Shimoda, a city dotted with some of the area’s most gorgeous beaches.

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Here we parked the car and spent the next couple hours hiking out to Cape Tarai and exploring the Ryugu Sea Cave. These two spots are located very close to each other and are really nice because they are a bit farther off the normal tourist path. In particular, the hike up to the top of the Cape affords you a fantastic birds eye view of the various coastal rock formations and the crashing tide, and although the “beach” itself is extremely rocky, there are several nature trails that lead you through the adjacent forest. It is the kind of place which makes you feel like you are a million miles away from home…even if you could technically do it as a day trip from the Yokosuka area.

Note:  Only about three kilometers east of Cape Tarai and right adjacent to the Sea Cave is a natural “sand ski” dune which is a very fun place to spend some time sliding down the VERY steep slope. Scroll down to our Trip 2 section below for more details and pictures! 

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To end the day we drove a few minutes down the road to sink our toes in the sands of Kisami Ohama Beach for the evening. The white sand, crystal clear water, and towering cliffs surrounding the beach make for a stunning way to end the day. If you like to dive or snorkel, we’ve heard the underwater scenery is just as beautiful. We are convinced that there is not better place to enjoy the sunset. Covered in sand we headed back to the Izu Marriott to clean up and hit the sack.

Kawazu Nanadaru:

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Cape Tarai:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free
  • Location

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Ryugu Sea Cave:

  • Hours: 24/7
  • Admission: Free
  • Parking: There is a free lot in front of the entrance to Toji Sand Ski Beach and the Ryugu Sea Cave (these two spots are located next to one another).
  • Location

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Kisami Omaha Beach:

  • Hours: Sunrise to Sunset
  • Admission: Free

[ D A Y  • 3 ] Izu Peninsula → Odawara Castle → Zushi

We slept in our final morning (did we mention how comfortable the beds at the Izu Mariott were?) and then packed up the car for the 3 hour drive home. Like most getaways, it was a bit sad to head back, but there was also a good bit of excitement within our family, too. Our Japan adventure had just begun and already we had been “Wowed” by the country’s natural beauty. Questions like: Where to next? and How soon can we hit the road again filled Dom’s and my conversation (amidst sounds of Classic Disney Radio on Spotify).

Note: When planning your trip, make sure to plan some extra time for traffic, especially if you are taking the non-toll route along the coast. That particular section of route 1 albeit gorgeous is notorious for backing up on holidays and weekends.

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To break up the drive home and make it a bit more fun, we decided to make one final stop at Odawara Castle…because what road trip is complete without visiting a castle? Built originally in the mid-15th century, the castle was the center of the Odawara Hojo clan, a samurai family that governed the area. In 1703, however, the original building was unfortunately destroyed by an earthquake. The current structure was rebuilt in 1960 and then renovated again in 2016 to meet seismic requirements.

Obviously the day we visited wasn’t the most picturesque, but since we didn’t know whether we would have time to visit again we made it a priority. One of the travel mantras we continue to carry with us is “never put off today what you could do tomorrow.” Simply put, just go for it. Sometimes you’ll have an opportunity to go back to see/experience something and sometimes you won’t. Time has a funny way of passing us all by when we aren’t paying close attention – so take advantage of every. single. opportunity. If you can fit it in to the day without stressing out like Tim Gunn would say, “Make it work!”

*If you are planning a trip in the springtime, Odwara Castle Park (the area directly surrounding the castle) is one of the top 100 historic parks in Japan and is home to hundreds of sakura (cherry blossom) trees.

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After letting the kids run around the park for a little while we hopped back into the car to finish the drive, stopping to pick up groceries for the busy week ahead. Izu was the perfect long weekend for a road trip for so many reasons, but in particular, it opened our eyes to how much there was to see and do in Japan. Even with a lot of other stops on our Japan bucket list, we knew we would be coming back at least one more time to explore the rest of the beautiful Izu peninsula.

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Odawara Castle:

  • Hours: Every day (second Wednesday of December and from December 31 – January 1), 0900 – 1700 (entry until 1630)
  • Admission: 300yen (museum only), 650yen (castle keep and museum)
  • Location

 

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