Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Summer Vacation: Izu, Karuizawa and Nasu

You can tell if you had a good vacation when it feels like you have been away longer than you actually have. No computers, smartphone use restricted to GPS services and one e-mail check a day, and lots of clean, cool air and communing with nature. Four refreshing days in some of the most lovely parts of Eastern Japan.

With my trusty JR Kanto Pass in hand, the first part of the journey was to the onsen and beaches of the Izu Peninsula. There is something wonderous about getting on a train and watch as the landscape slowly transitions from skyscrapers, to factories, increasingly smaller towns and eventually beautiful long stretches of seascape. A million miles away from the hot, unmoving air of Tokyo, as each time the doors open it lets in fresh, clean-scented sea air.

After dropping off my bag at the stunning K's House in Ito (seriously, gorgeous hostel with a tanuki-graced onsen), I started my descent towards Shimoda with a stop at the DHC Akazawa Onsen in Ito-Kougen. The rotenburo is cantilevered, overlooking the sea, cliffs and bright blue sky. With a cool breeze and friendly patrons, it was totally glorious.

A long train ride later, I was in Shimoda. After quickly checking out Perry Street (Shimoda is where the Black Ships landed), it was beach time! Unfortunately Shirahama was more crowded and a bit dirtier than I thought, although the furthest end was quite nice, with a torii gate and gorgeous views of the sunset. For future reference I think the Kisami area might be worth checking out.

The next morning I was up early, as the only way to get to Karuizawa on this particular pass was to go all the way back to Tokyo station, then take a shinkansen. Unusually, I fell asleep around Atami, in the cool, empty train. I woke up around Yokohama to find the car jam-packed, which was a bit of a shock.

Karuizawa is lovely and breezy. After taking in a bit of the Ginza, we escaped towards the forest, where the churches and summer homes of the wealthy are shaded by huge trees. Karuizawa is entirely green and shade, cool enough to even have cheese fondue for lunch at a little Italian restaurant called Adagio . The salad was plentiful and fresh, and the sheer quantity of cheese would easily constitute a portion for three people back in Tokyo... joy!

A bit of wandering and steep bus ride later, we were on the top of the mountain, at the border between Nagano and Gunma prefecture... apparently this is a 'power spot' (what does that mean, anyway?!). The mountains, as if dipped in ink, stretch out forever in a stunning ombre effect. The cool wind and scent of trees were almost intoxicating.

When the rain started we rushed to Guesthouse Rin, which is run by a very informative and accomodating couple. When the shower abated, we were off for some of Nagano's famous soba at Kagimotoya. Being a bit of a Kansai girl at heart, I usually prefer udon, but their soba is something else, chewy and earthy in the right proportion. In the morning, before heading off to catch the shinkansen, we spent an hour luxuriating at Harunire Terrace's Maruyama Coffee, listening to the stream flow by. They are dead serious about their coffee, and the cappuccino was a cup of heaven. It may well be better than coffee I had in Italy. I simply cannot wait to go back to Karuizawa, and may well sign up for a road race there as an excuse to go back in the fall.

The last two days of my trip were spent in Nasu, crashing at my friend Hippy-chan's place along with Nuts-chan . I simply adore the whole area... which is probably greatly due to the fact that she has a car, and knows all the best hidden spots. Everytime I leave Nasu I feel refreshed and at peace with the universe.

Starting off with locally grown veggies at Voi Etta, the following two days were filled with playing in completely irresistible rivers and waterfalls, barbeques, fireworks and eating enough cream (in various incarnations) to sink a small ship. We tried a couple different onsen, including the biggest ashiyu in Japan (or at least Tochigi) and were generally silly. The perfect way to end an (all too brief) summer vacation.


  1. Eep, your holidays always look so wonderful, serene, and perfect. What are the azuki (?) with cream things (crepes?) in your picture?

    1. Thank you, I do my best ☺
      Those are actually really interesting. They are called toteyaki, and are something the Nasushiobara area eateries decided to try for publicity. We got one of the sweet ones, but there are also ones filled with fish, yakisoba or fruit, depending which place you go.