JAPAN TRAVEL GUIDE: IZU & KANAZAWA
Japan, as I’m sure you know, is a vast country with plenty to explore. If you’re there for such a short amount of time like I was, there’s no chance you’ll see even half of it but, if you do what I did, then you’ll get to see more than just the “usual suspects” (Tokyo, Kyoto…) - which are obviously amazing, but there’s so much more to Japan.
For this blog post, I’ve grouped two different areas of Japan together (for my writing up sanity as these blog posts take quite some time!) as these are two good suggestions to add on to your Japan trip, even if just for two nights at a time (which I would recommend).
Our first port of call was west of Tokyo to the Izu Peninsula along the Pacific coast. My trip to Izu was part of my trip with Small Luxury Hotels (which I mentioned in my first Japan blog post on Kyoto) but the second part of this blog post when I’m in Kanazawa was entirely my own solo excursion.
We headed to Izu on our first full day in Japan, catching the train from Tokyo Station. The train itself is about two hours long and passes through towns and scenic landscapes along the way. Getting to Izu is fairly simple and you have a fair few options - I could list them here but I suggest you just read this instead.
Once arrived at Izu we were whisked away by our hotel driver to our abode for the next two nights.
First thing to mention here is that I would probably recommend, if you do visit Izu, that you arrange with your hotel first to pick you up at the station (and drop you back off when you leave). Izu isn’t the busiest of places and whilst I saw a handful of taxis, it’s by no means a bustling place where cabs are available at the raise of a hand so plan ahead and that’ll ease the stress of getting from A to B when you arrive. You could hire a car but I wouldn’t want to tackle getting around as I didn’t note many English signs so it’d be my recommendation to do the above, and maybe book a guided tour or have a taxi arranged for the day when you’re out exploring.
But back to our resting place.
Abba Resorts Izu is part of Small Luxury Hotels because it’s exactly that: small (there’s 30 rooms with a mixture of Japanese and Western rooms) and luxury (not in an extravagant way but rather a quiet and refined kind of luxury).
The resort began as a traditional ryokan over 50 years ago and was built slowly into a peaceful, calming retreat. Even the resort’s ancient name gives a clue as to what guests get up to during their stay which is: ‘sit back and enjoy’.
From Tokyo’s hustle and bustle to Abba Resort’s water-trickling, bird-song filled mornings, you notice the difference immediately.
One thing you are definitely reminded of during your stay at Abba Resorts Izu is that you are very much in Japan (something which you could be forgiven for forgetting in the likes of Tokyo for example). From the design to the service, to the traditional rituals and to the food. Everything is very Japanese. Sounds like an odd thing to say, but you get a real sense of Japanese identity here.
From the moment you arrive through the doors of the lobby (a very un-lobby looking lobby) you take your shoes off and are given slippers to pop on, greeted with green tea and shown to your rooms. And our rooms weren’t just any old room but rather a beautiful, spacious Abba villa suite.
Muted tones, bamboo sliding walls, woven floors, a walk-in shower room, Bulgari toiletries, a Dyson hairdryer and an outdoor pool to take a dip in (though it was a little too cold for that in January!) were just some of the highlights of the suite. More than enough space for two never mind one and to top it off, our very own private onsen which was just heavenly morning, afternoon and night.
Immersing yourself into the traditions and culture of Japan is a must whilst in Izu. Whether that’s partaking in a traditional tea ceremony which the resort can put on for you or dressing up in a kimono (a time-consuming, intricate process that takes around 30 minutes from start to finish) and seeing if you’re able to walk once it’s on - a difficult task, I assure you.
The restaurants at Abba Resorts Izu offer world-class cuisine. From Yamamomo, a French restaurant which combines classic French cooking techniques with local Japanese produce, to Sakura, a beautiful Japanese restaurant which offers the traditional 12- course extravagant kaiseki dinners. For those less adventurous in the culinary department, you might find some of the dishes a little out your comfort zone, I found it easier to ask for slight modifications in Yamamomo than Sakura but if you’re one for really getting your tastebuds to grips with the local food then I guarantee you’ll be in your element.
When the time came to leave Abba Resorts Izu we were fully rested, relaxed and ready for our next adventure which involved heading back to Tokyo.
Thank you to all the staff at Abba Resorts Izu for a most magical stay and for waving us off till we disappeared out of sight on our last day. It felt very special indeed.
Book your stay here: www.slh.com/hotels/abba-resorts-izu
As we didn’t have long in the area, I can’t give you an extensive guide to the Izu Peninsula - for that, google away - but I do have a few recommendations based on my trip which I’ve jotted down for you below.
THINGS TO DO IN IZU
CABLE CAR UP MOUNT OMURO
For a good view over Izu (and beyond) catch the cable car up Mount Omuro - an extinct volcano and sisiter to Mount Fuji. On a clear day you even see Mount Fuji herself, but don’t whisper how amazing Fuji is whilst on Mount Omuro, she’ll get jealous. Once at the top of the mountain you’re greeted with 360 degree panoramic views and can even try your hand at a spot of archery in the crater if you so wish. Otherwise, walk around, take in the fresh air and beautiful surroundings.
EXPLORE THE JOGASAKI COAST
Izu Peninsula is known for its natural beauty and unsurprisingly the Jogasaki Coast is on many guides lists to do whilst here. You can hike along the coast for almost ten kilometres, taking in the natural beauty and raw jagged cliffs. We didn’t have the time (or the footwear) to do this, so instead went to one of the most popular parts of the trail which was the Kadowakizaki Suspension Bridge and walked for a little, watching as the waves crashed against the cliff edge for a while.
EAT AT OMURO KEISHOKUDOTHE
At the base of Mount Omuro is Omuro Keishokudothe - an inconspicuous udon noodle restaurant which looks completely unassuming from the outside but will have you falling in love with it once you enter. A living example of don’t judge a book by its cover. A beautiful restaurant inside which serves up extremely tasty bowls of noodles and treats. We couldn’t get enough of the restaurant and photographed every corner we could, much to the amusement of neighbouring tables.
It was from our lunch at Omuro Keishokudothe that we discovered Ennokama. The achingly beautiful pottery school and shop which provides the restaurant with all its ceramic is only about a 10 minute drive away from the base of Mount Omuro. The shop was closed when we got there meaning we had to peer in and swoon like school children until we finally found someone to come open the shop for us. Then we really let loose, photographing and buying up the shop - I think the owner was overwhelmed but absolutely beaming at our flowing compliments. It was one of the most beautiful, chic shops I’ve ever seen (it would make a killing in East London!). The shop takes cash only so come armed with plenty and leave happy with your new pastel pottery.
COME FOR THE CHERRY BLOSSOM IZU FESTIVAL
So we didn’t come for the festival, this happens during cherry blossom season which takes place around spring-time. I’ve heard glorious things about the beautiful cherry blossom here and people flock to the area to witness Japan in bloom.
Jumping around a little to my last destination from my time in Japan and landing in Kanazawa.
Historically one of Japan’s most powerful cities which has over the years become overlooked in favour of the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Arriving on a very grey day, the city felt a lot quieter then everywhere else I’d been previously but I think that might just have been thanks to the weather/time of the year. What really draws people to Kanazawa is its close links to history with many preserved neighbourhoods and gardens to explore.
My time in Kanazawa was extremely short - approximately 20 hours or so, but I still managed to cram as much in as possible - even in the miserable weather that came with my visit!
Visit Omicho Market
More spacious and less crowded than Kyoto’s Nishiki market but still gives a true feel for a Japanese market. Stalls upon stalls sell local seafood (the area is known for having amazing seafood) as well as plenty of fruit and veg, alongside a few restaurants for good measure.
Explore the historical neighbourhoods
The Higashi Chaya neighbourhood is a small but perfectly preserved area filled with traditional geisha houses. Most have been converted into restaurants or townhouses, and the likelihood is you won’t see geishas but a plethora of tourists. For a quieter experience, visit the Kazuemachi Chaya Area, which is much less crowded and still as pretty.
Whilst you’re on your roaming adventure, pay a visit to the Nagamachi Samurai House area to witness a collection of preserved samurai houses. Some houses have been restored and you can have a peer in.
Visit Kenroku-en Garden
Ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan, I explored in the most drizzly of weather which I’m sure dampened my experience somewhat but it was still a beautiful setting to wander. I was lucky enough to catch sight of the first signs of spring whilst there.
Where to Eat
Given the brevity of my time here, I’m afraid my eat and drink recommendations can’t really be extensive! But had I had longer here, I would have checked out The Cottage - a homely sounding restaurant run by an Irish and Japanese husband & wife team. Itaru Honten sounds like a good bet too for authentic Japanese fare and is known as one of the city’s best restaurants.