If you’ve already checked off Nikko, Kamakura and Hakone, where can you go for a two- or three-day break from Tokyo? Halfway down the east coast of the Izu Peninsula, south of Mount Fuji, it’s well known for its onsen, and for its small place in Japanese history—English navigator Will Adams, the inspiration for James Clavell’s Shogun, set up a shipyard here.
It doesn’t take long to see the sights of the town. Behind the station, Shogetsu-In is a restful temple with an attractive landscape garden, and the seafront is home to a quirky sculpture park. Back near the station you’ll find an old-style shotengai with stores dealing in souvenirs, sushi and local confectionery. But Ito is best seen as a good base to explore the surrounding countryside.
South of the town lies the Jogasaki coast, a stretch of rough-hewn cliffs and promontories formed by lava flow 4,000 years ago. Enjoy the rugged scenery on a walk to a lighthouse now serving as an observatory, near which a suspension bridge crosses a narrow inlet. There’s also a 9km hiking course or, in summer, a seawater pool at neighboring Izukaiyo Park.Heading inland from Ito, a 40-minute bus ride brings you to Omuroyama, an extinct cone-shaped volcano, which at 580m is among the peninsula’s highest peaks. Its striking appearance changes with the seasons; the dry brown grass of winter is burnt off in February, allowing for lush green growth to cover the mountain. Its chairlift is a fun, quick way to the top, where a circular trail around the summit rim gives you a complete panorama of the area. On a clear day there is a fine view of Mt. Fuji and, far in the distance, the Southern Alps. An archery range down in the crater plus parasailing possibilities from the trailside offer some activities.
On the way to Omuroyama from Ito, stop off for an hour or two at Lake Ippeki. Near the bus stop there’s a small shop of knick-knacks, where the friendly proprietress will welcome you with a cup of green tea. A few steps further at the waterfront you can rent a paddle-boat, or set off to join locals walking their dogs on the 4km circuit round the lake. The scenery is pleasant rather than spectacular, but on a still day the surface of the lake will give clear reflections of the hills and, in spring, of the lavish cherry blossoms around the lakeside.
A brisk walk up the hill towards Omuroyama will bring you to the Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art. The spacious interior allows you to view large canvases at the requisite distance, and the collection is impressive for a small provincial museum. In addition to regular special exhibitions, their permanent collection includes works by Dali, Warhol and Picasso, and the selection is rotated every three months.
After a day’s exploring the region, have a soak in one of Ito’s numerous onsen baths. One of the most atmospheric must be the Tokaikan, a traditional wooden building which opened as a ryokan in 1928 and was acquired by the city after it closed. It was restored and reopened in 2001 as a museum, and is open to bathers at weekends and on national holidays.
Ito is twenty minutes on the JR Ito line from Atami, which is less than two hours from Tokyo on the Tokaido line or, if you’re feeling rich, the Tokaido Shinkansen. Izu Tokai Bus connects all the sights around Ito; a one-day pass, available from the station, costs ¥1,300 for adults, half for children.