The Izu Peninsula, Japan: Matsuzaki to Kawazu

The Izu Peninsula was not a place I ever intended on visiting, but I found myself there for two reasons: 1. I found some possible campsites and 2. I wanted to witness the sun rising over the Pacific.

As most of my camping attempts on the trip post Scotland, this one didn’t work out.  The sites on Izu are closed during the winter.

When I reached Tago Beach and discovered this, it was dusk, and it was beginning to rain.  I needed shelter, and Tago didn’t have any hotels or hostels.  So, I started walking south along the highway towards Matsuzuki and tried to hitch a ride.

That is how I met Mr. Yamamoto.  He was driving the fifth car and pulled over to give me a lift.  He spoke little to no English, and, beyond the many “thank you’s” I said in Japanese, our conversation was fairly limited.  I kept saying hotel, and Mr. Yamamoto kept saying his English was “no good.”

He pulled up to a building in Matsuzaki that I thought might be a hotel.  It wasn’t.  It was an office of some sort connected to the chamber of commerce and tourism.

Mr. Yamamoto insisted I stay with the car as he ran into the building and ran back out with Mr. Iyama and Ms. Chiharu.  They spoke English, and I explained that I had intended to camp but now needed a place to stay for the night.

Mr. Iyama was just one of the great people in Matsuzaki who helped me find a place to stay for the night.

I soon became an office project of sorts.  Everyone flew around trying to help me find an accommodation on short notice.  Ms. Chiharu said that she had found a spot, and Mr. Iyama offered to drive me.

I thanked him, and he said that he was glad to have the chance to practice English.

“I love the U.S.  I lived in Nebraska 25 years ago to learn English.  I wanted to go to New York, but there are too many Japanese there and I wanted to focus on learning English.”

We soon pulled up to the Iteon Hotel.  Mr. Iyama walked me in and helped me get checked in.

So, instead of camping my first night on Izu, I ended up in a spa resort.

Now, this place was old school, and it was largely filled with older clientele.  I felt like I was in The Godfather II in the Miami or Cuba scenes.

The Iteon towers over the beach and has a tiled walkway to the sand. All of the rooms are oceanside and have tiny balconies.  There are western beds for gaijin like myself, but half of the room is also the traditional Japanese style, with a little table and rolled up bedding in the corner.

It was a smoker’s room too.  An ashtray sat on the little table with a pack of matches, and the scent of its previous owners lingered.  Still, I was kind of intrigued by the experience.

This is just a part of the massive buffet meal that they served at the Iteon Hotel. By the way, the staff there is amazing.

For the room and dinner and breakfast, I was paying $85, but I was out of the rain and had a place to take a shower and sleep. It was more than I would like to have spent, but it would be alright.

When I reached the dining hall, my tepid reaction dissipated quickly.  I was going to be treated to a traditional Japanese meal buffet-style.  I had hit gold.  All you could eat sushi and sashimi, plus a number of other types of dishes.  And the sake was high-end, included with the meal, and unlimited.

I decided to get my moneys worth out of the Iteon, and I did.

When I woke up the next day, I decided to explore the nearby I area.  I discovered a Shinto shrine at the top of a volcanic rock that was almost as high as the hotel itself and protruded out over the sea.  I sat by it for a while and just enjoyed the silence.  So many of the shrines that I had been to had been surrounded by tourists.  This one wasn’t.  It was really a nice experience.

When I started back to the hotel, the rain really let loose, and I decided it was time to head to the east coast of Izu.  Matsuzaki sits on the west coast and offers beautiful sunsets to its guests, but I wanted to see the sunrise.

Plus, I had discovered a hostel on Hostelworld that seemed really promising.

This is Takeshi, Horumi, Taruki, and Shiho. On March 3, it was Daughter’s Day in Japan. The family was having a special dessert of cake, whipped cream, and strawberries. They shared a piece with me.

After a bus ride with some elderly people and school children and a short train ride up the western coast, I found myself in Kawazu being met by a man named Takeshi.

Takeshi is the owner of Guesthouse Sakuramine.  He runs it with his wife, Hosumi.  They also have two small children, a son named Haruki and a little girl named Shiho.

While this was a hostel, it was the closest I had been to spending time inside a Japanese home with a Japanese family, and I felt privileged to have that opportunity.  Takeshi and Hosumi are great hosts and work to take care of the needs of their guests, but they are also a very a loving family.  I kept getting glimpses of them when they were just being parents, Takeshi sitting with Haruki and playing a game or Hosumi fixing a snack for Shiho.

Hosumi is originally from Hokkaido, Japan, and told me that I should definitely visit it when I got the chance.  She also taught me a little more Japanese.

Takeshi is from Tokyo, and he’s glad to be Kawazu now.

“Tokyo is too busy.  In Kawazu, we have more access to nature.  Also, we have close relationships with our neighbors.”

He also noted that the cost for school was considerably lower in Kawazu.

They opened the hostel seven years ago, and they are still going strong.  There were a number of guests there on both nights that I stayed.

I was staying in a two-person dorm room, and my roommate the first night was a young woman from China named Lu Lu.  We got to talking, and she told me that she was taking a short vacation in Japan before heading back to Shenzhen to start her new job.

She showed me the pictures she had taken when she was at Fuji and told me that I had to go.  She told me that she loved astrology, and we laughed when we discovered that we were both Leos. I told her that I intended to get up at 5:30 and make the 30 minute walk to the beach (the Guesthouse Sakuramine is a little outside of town up a steep hill) to watch the sunrise.  She told me that was a little too early for her.

So, the next morning I quietly extracted myself from my bunk bed and snuck out and headed down to the beach.

The day before I had walked up into the mountains and even left the marked path and got lost in a pine forest, but the morning was about the beach and the sun.  I spent almost an hour and a half taking pictures and enjoying the sunrise (you can see a lot of them in the video below).

When I finally got back, Lu Lu was getting up.  I knew she was leaving that day, and I asked her if she would like to share some breakfast and get a cup of coffee.  She agreed.  I showed her some of the pics from the beach, and she wanted to go there and get some for herself.

Lu Lu made my day in Kawazu a real delight. She was fun to hang out with. Plus, she speaks Japanese better than I do.

After returning to the beach and getting some coffee, Lu Lu and I walked up and down the river enjoying the Cherry Blossom Festival.  There were street vendors all along the walkway selling food, tea, sweets, and fruit.  Lu Lu sampled a squid on a stick, and I got a fish on a stick cooked over coals (we both shared a bite and both were good in very different ways but I think I would go for the squid next time if I had the opportunity).

We both took a lot of pictures and even left the pathway where most of the tourists were and walked down to the river’s edge.

By the time midday rolled around, Lu Lu had to get back to the station, and I had to get back to Sakuramine to do some laundry.

There was a lot of things I could have done in both Matsuzaki and in Kawazu, but I was happy to experience what I did–both of the natural surroundings and of the people that I met.  I found the Izu Peninsula to be charming and beautiful.

Until my next post, keeping looking to heavens and seeking your own star.

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