Izu - A top Vacation Destination
The Izu Peninsula’s beautiful natural scenery and plentiful hot springs make it a top vacation destination for Japanese tourists. The scenery and hot springs have been around for a long time, but getting here was not always easy. Steep mountains rise from the ocean and cover the entire peninsula.
Before rail and modern roads, trade and commerce happened by sea much more than by land. When the first railroad was built, old Izu began to disappear, and a new Izu was born.
Because of its self-imposed isolation, railroads came to Japan later than other countries. The first rail line, from Tokyo to Yokohama, was completed in 1872. Soon, business and political leaders throughout the country began to understand the economic benefits of rail transportation. Early delegations to the US saw that railroads could not only ship products out, but they could also bring tourists in.
Community leaders in Izu understood this potential and began efforts to build a railroad here as early as 1889. However, economic conditions, political challenges, and wars delayed their dream of an Izu railroad for decades.
On January 10, 1953, the Tokyo based Tokyu Corporation established the Izu Development Concept, a project to study the design and feasability of a rail line in Izu. The final result was the Izukyu Railroad. Completed in 1960, the Izukuyu Line runs along Izu’s east coast from Ito in the north to Shimoda in the south.
The resulting transformation of Izu into a tourist destination was so complete that few people ever think about the fact that there was an old Izu.
The Tokyu Corporation developed and marketed Izu as a vacation destination with onsen resorts, vacation villas and a host of tourist attractions. During Japan’s economic boom, Izu’s easy access from Tokyo and Yokohama made it a premier domestic travel destination. Owning a villa in one of Izu’s many villa communities was a point of pride and a genuine status symbol.
Companies kept up morale by building ‘dormitories’ where employees could stay for vacation or retreats. Izu entered a golden age and the dream of those early community leaders was fulfilled.
What happened to old Izu?
As the pandemic took hold of our lives, I suddenly had a lot of time to explore and learn about Izu. I began to wonder about the old Izu. I knew there was some important history here. Shimoda was home to the first US consulate in Japan. Izu was also the setting for one of my favorite novels turned TV miniseries – Shogun. So I started to look around and do some research.
The little village of Ike (pronounced like the letters E-K) near where I live is a very old community. Pottery dated to the Yayoi period was found here. That means people lived here at least 2,000 years ago. Even older pottery was found in neighboring communities.
Our local Buddhist temple plays an important role in an old folktale called The Red Cow of Ike. The tale tells of a wandering priest who converted a dragon god to Buddhism and went on to found the current temple some 500 years ago. We also have two old Shinto shrines dedicated to water and mountain gods.
Although many of the old rituals, songs, dances and festivals have disappeared, a few remain, enough to remind us that there was an Izu long before the train came. For me, this makes Izu one of the most interesting places I have visited in Japan. The contrast between the old and the new is very fun to explore. Just look around a little bit, and you will discover many layers of history and charm.
Thanks to the railroad, Izu is very easy to access, so come, explore and discover the charm that lured so many Japanese people for so many years.
Travel consulting and getting around Japan by rail is the specialty of Stephen Turner, President of TS Japan Rail Travel. In the following guest post, Stephen shares his tips for enjoying a rail trip to Izu.
Start your Izu experience on the way there….
Your trip to Izu can start in style. Yes, we believe that the travel part of your trip in Japan should also be part of the experience and getting to Izu is no exception, in fact JR East and Izukyu have between them two luxury trains that as well as letting you travel in great comfort will also allow you to enjoy local cuisine and enjoy the local scenery.
The first train is JR East’s “Saphir Odoriko, which travels between Tokyo and Shimoda once a day, with an extra service on weekends and holidays from Shinjuku (but returning to Tokyo). This train’s accommodation is all “green car” and “premium green car” (First Class and Premium First Class). There is a cafeteria car where you can get a hot meal and refreshments, and two cars have private compartment style seating. Of course the train is designed so its passengers get great sea views as the train travels down the eastern coast of the Izu Peninsula to Shimoda.
The second train is the “Royal Express” which certainly lives up to its name in both style and service. It is a restaurant train so passengers can enjoy a full meal whilst watching the scenery pass by. It operates on particular days only, between Yokohama and Shimoda and passengers. Travel on this train must be booked as a travel package (i.e. you cannot buy tickets at the ticket office for this train). Packages can include a luxury onsen overnight stay in the Izu area or you can travel just one way with a meal.
Don’t worry though if all that luxury is too much for you… there are ordinary limited express trains (Limited Express Odoriko) to Izu which are still very comfortable. Although not so much fun you can get the shinkansen to Atami and then ride on an Izukyu train from there. If you are lucky, you may even to get to ride on one of two of Izyukyu’s “Alpha Resort 21 trains”. These trains have window facing seats giving passengers a great view of the sea. They used to run between Tokyo and Izu as Limited Express trains (Resort Odoriko), but now are used on local services, except the one that was completely renovated to become the Royal Express..
Picture: Izukyu Alpha Resort
And for rail enthusiasts, Izukyu being owned by the Tokyu Corporation nowadays runs ex- Tokyu 8000 series trains for most of its local services. The depot is adjacent to Izu Kogen station.