Located in Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula, the Shimoda Yamatokan resort ryokan (Japanese-style inn) is built on high ground along the coast, facing the beautiful white-sand Tatado beach. All rooms come with their own ocean-view terrace.
In mid-January this past winter we went to take a first-hand look at the facilities and stayed in a room with en-suite open-air hot spring bath, where you can relax while watching the ocean view, and tried the fresh Izu seafood at the newly renovated charcoal-grill hotel restaurant, Umi.
The famous hot spring resort of Atami - the doorway to the Izu Peninsula - is less than 1 hour from Tokyo by shinkansen (bullet train). This area, blessed with the natural beauty of both sea and mountains, is a popular tourist area on Tokyo's outskirts.
Heading south from Atami by train you can watch the ocean from the window. By taking the JR Ito Line and then transferring to the Izukyu Line you can get to the terminus of Shimoda in about 1 hour 30 minutes. (Or you can take the Tokkyu (Limited Express) Odoriko train directly from Tokyo Station which will get you there in 2 hours 30 minutes.) Shimoda, located just about on the tip of the peninsula, is the place where the US' Commodore Matthew C. Perry landed his black ships in 1853, thus ending 200 years of Japan's self-imposed national isolation and marks the spot that caused Japan to reopen itself to the world.
The Shimoda Yamatokan is reached in less than 10 minutes from Shimoda Station via free shuttle bus. Seeing the view of the ocean from the lobby of the hotel, high above the coast, will increase your feeling of excitement about your stay in Japan.
We stayed in a room with a private open-air bath on the second floor. As is normally found in Japanese ryokan inns, the floors inside the room were made of tatami straw mats; however, the area in front of the large window was made of wooden flooring and had some chairs that were perfect for lounging and watching the ocean.
The window opened out onto a terrace, which flowed out and felt like an integrated part of the room, giving the whole living space a feeling of openness.
Taking a look up at the night sky from the terrace, you will see it glittering with stars. The changing color of the ocean at dawn and dusk is yet another sight to behold.
The whole of the Shimoda Yamatokan's 5th (top) floor is a hot spring bathing area called Paradise View. The design of the baths is split into Japanese/Western-style areas, which include open-air baths, Jacuzzis, and Japanese cypress wooden baths, meaning you can enjoy the ocean view from different types of baths.
The bathing areas are open to either men or women at different times, meaning that during your stay you will be able to try out all the baths available!
The bath I would most highly recommend has to be the mountain-top open-air bath called Kirara, reached by climbing the stairs outdoors. This open-air bath is surrounded in nature - the sun, sea and mountains - and is overflowing in rustic beauty. The feeling of being there was something really special.
I made the most of the opportunity and took the chance to try out the luxurious reservable (family) open-air baths. There are two to choose from, both housed in the Spa Villa: Pine (JPY 4,000 for 50 min) and Bamboo (JPY 3,000 for 50 min). Discounts are available depending on the length of time required. The baths have a modern design with a pine or bamboo theme and are private spaces finished to a high standard. The feeling of satisfaction of relaxing there, enjoying the refreshing morning breeze, made me wish I could spend the whole of my stay right in that spot!
We had dinner at the newly renovated charcoal-grill hotel restaurant, Umi. Each booth in the restaurant is partitioned for extra privacy, allowing guests to relax at mealtime.
Dinner started with a course of hors d'oeuvres and local, seasonal sashimi (raw fish). On the charcoal grill located in the middle of the table, we were able to grill our own Japanese scallops and high-quality abalone.
The meal was made all the more enjoyable thanks to the sweet smell and the sound of the food sizzling on the grill. As the seafood was fresh and could even be eaten raw, we didn't have to worry about whether it was undercooked. Or, if you want, you can ask one of the staff members to cook the food for you.
We then had the local specialty fish (called a Splendid Alfonsino) cooked in a pot, and then ended the meal with a mixture of the fish soup, rice and vegetables called zosui... but not before having our selection from the dessert buffet, which included cakes and fruits.
For breakfast, we were able to choose from three types of dried food to cook on the grill. After a little while, one of the waiting staff appeared with trolley on which there was a hot stone pot, into which they poured hot water and spring onions to make a delicious-smelling miso soup right in front of our eyes. Dessert was a colorful vegetable-juice jelly. This breakfast will certainly give you the energy you need to start the day.
As well as making best use of the distinctive flavors of the specially selected ingredients, the food here allowed us to enjoy a lot of painstakingly prepared seafood, too. For a typical Japanese inn experience, where you can enjoy seasonal, local seafood, hot springs, and great ocean vistas, why not try the Shimoda Yamatokan?
From JPY 23,600
Rooms with private hot spring bath, from JPY 49,400.
(per room/per night for 2 guests with dinner & breakfast included).
If you are coming all the way to Izu, before or after your stay at the Shimoda Yamatokan, it is definitely worth staying at Ito City's Seizan Yamato ryokan. With its high-end mix of the traditional and the modern, here you can immerse your senses in Japanese beauty.
Ito is only 30 minutes from Atami by train, and the ryokan is only 10 minutes from the station by shuttle service.
The ryokan's modern Japanese-style structure is located on a quiet hilltop, slightly elevated from the town, allowing views over the Ito townscape, mountains, and ocean.
The hospitality of the Seizan Yamato starts from the very moment you arrive. With the sound of the clear stream bubbling through the Japanese garden in the background, you make your way into the elegant Japanese-style entrance hall and then into the lounge, where a specially made welcome drink awaits you before check-in.
Female guests are then able to choose a yukata (light cotton kimono) to wear from a range of patterns and colors.
There is English information on offer, making it easy for guests to spend a relaxing and hassle-free stay at this Japanese-style ryokan inn.
The Ito Onsen area (in which the Seizan Yamato is located) boasts the highest volume of spring water in the whole Kanto region. The baths in this ryokan use hot spring water directly from the source, meaning that guests can make the absolute most of the region's fresh spring water.
The large indoor and open-air public bathing areas are separated by gender, with the areas for use by male and female guests changing each morning, so that during your stay you will be able to try out all the baths available. There are also private baths that can be reserved and used for free.
Surrender to the relaxing, quality waters and slip into an extraordinary new world.
One of the main events when staying at a ryokan is dinner. At Seizan Yamato, the kaiseki-style individual dishes are served in-room and are made using a variety of seasonal, local fish fresh from Ito Port, carefully arranged on specially selected dishes. An impressive feast for the eyes!
To cater to individual preferences, the aperitif, main dish, and dessert can each be selected from a choice of three. (This service is available for groups of up to 10 adults; please check-in before 5:00 p.m. on the day.)
From JPY 54,600
(per room/per night for 2 guests with dinner & breakfast included).
Each guest who stays at both the Shimoda Yamatokan and Seizan Yamato ryokan will be entitled to one JPY 1,000 shopping voucher redeemable at the shops and lounges within the ryokan. (Not exchangeable for cash, no change given. For full usage details, please ask directly at the ryokan.)
To be eligible, book a stay at each ryokan separately on JAPANiCAN.com, and then contact JAPANiCAN.com Customer Support and let them know about your booking at both establishments.
The Shimoda Ropeway, located just outside Shimoda Station, takes you up to a viewing platform on Mt. Nesugata that commands great views over Shimoda Bay. I also recommend taking a cruise on the Izukyu Marine, a ship modeled after Commodore Perry's Black Ships, which will take you on a 20-minute cruise around Shimoda Port.
Baystage Shimoda, located at the ship's boarding area, houses an interesting museum that brings the history of the area to life, as well as a conveyer-belt sushi restaurant and the morning market every Sunday; all worth a visit!
You should definitely try and get out and enjoy the wonderful nature that surrounds Ito. You could take a walk along the exciting Jogasaki-kaigan coastline, or on a clear day go and see the view of Mt. Fuji from the top of 321 m-high Mt. Komuro. The area around it is a park where, during April and early May, 100,000 azalea flowers blossom.
The Tokaikan in Ito City is a cultural facility housed in former ryokan inn; a wooden building in a purely Japanese style. The lavish use of high-quality woods such as Japanese cedar and Japanese cypress in the building's interior is a real must-see. Here, you can see how the rooms were when the ryokan was still in use, as well as visit the cafe or make use of the public baths (on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays only).
I also recommend the geisha experience, available for an extra charge, during which you can try on a kimono, be made up like a geisha, and take pictures.
There is an event held July that is very popular with international visitors: the Tub Race! Known in Japanese as the Tarai Nori Kyoso, this fun race involves competitors riding in big wooden tubs about 1 m in diameter down the Matsu River, which flows through the heart of Ito City. Tourists are allowed to take part, too!
For more information on sightseeing areas around your accommodation, just ask at the hotel's front desk.