Kristina Foster slips out of the city stress and bares it all with the family on a journey to the nature filled landscapes of the Izu Peninsula.
The Izu peninsula is a resort area popular for hot springs, statuesque coastlines, and scenic mountains. Located about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo and just two hours by fast train, Izu is a popular escape for locals.
We started by sliding into the hotel slippers and traditional yukata robes at Yokikan, the oldest ryokan (Japanese inn) in the beachside suburb of Ito. Akihisa Inaba and his wife are the fifth generation of his lineage to run this humble resort. As with most ryokans, the resort centrepiece is the communal hot spring bath. Men and women have separate soaking times and bathers always shower off before submerging into the spa, stark naked with only a small hand towel for coverage.
After a few embarrassed glances, my daughter and I checked we were alone and stripped off, sinking into the outdoor pool of natural spring waters – the perfect ‘aching legs’ remedy. Yokikan has remained fairly unchanged for the last 110 years (bar some modern creature comforts such as air conditioning) and boasts a quirky cable car that hauled us straight from the soothing, hot bubbles to the fluffy futon beds in our traditional tatami mat room.
The next morning as we wandered out, the neighbourhood was abuzz. Teams of zany costumed villagers from all around the region had gathered by the riverbank. Ito hosts the Tarai-nori Kyoso, an annual washtub boat race.
On the first Sunday of July, more than 200 competitors frantically paddle rice-scoop shaped oars as they barrel down Matsukawa River inside wooden Japanese washtubs.
Inaba-san, our gracious host at the Yokikan and community bigwig, pulled some strings, scoring the kids a highly sought after entry into the popular contest. As the commentator belted out their names in Japanese, my seven-year old son, Jack spun all the way over the finish line, narrowly beating his sister by scooping a jumbo splash of water right into her eyes – a little brother strategy that brought fat chuckles from the crowd of merry spectators.
Next we dried off and spruced up for a trip further down the peninsula to Hanafabuki in the rocky township of Izu Kogen. Nestled in a lush forest beside black, volcanic cliffs this isolated luxury inn radiates serenity.
We were led over a little bridge to the outskirts of the sprawling woodland, an ideal family villa location for rowdy youngsters – far away from loved up honeymooners and tetchy twilighters. The individual private hot spring spas scattered throughout the leafy grounds were a welcome relief to our brood of prude nude bathers.
After a tranquilizing, hot soak we sat down for a kaiseki (multi-course) dinner with the nostalgic 77-year old creator of Hanafubuki, Shingo Ichikawa, a wholehearted environmentalist. His son and Hanafabuki’s head chef, Daigo Ichikawa prepared a plethora of impeccable culinary delights. Daigo’s haute cuisine is a work of art highlighting seasonal and local specialties, with many ingredients foraged from the forest floor. From the starter of silky Mineoka tofu, a dish from the Edo period of 1603, to the cherry leaf flavored sea bream sashimi and pheasant and leek skewers, our tastebuds were singing like the Japanese robins perched outside the window.
As the sun rose the following day, we took a slow amble down a mossy pathway beside a brook, which opened up to the spectacular Jogasaki coastline. Waves crashed onto the dark, jagged cliffs and the beauty of nature was truly laid bare.
Following the invigorating hike, the tribe submerged into our last hot spring bath. As the forest owls hooted that the day was over, wistfully we knew it was time to get fully-clothed and back on life’s fast train.
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