An artificial beach, hot springs, proposal spots and a sex museum make for one packed day out.
With the season heating up and no real sign of the rain usually promised in this sultry month of June, why not head out to Atami beach in Shizuoka to escape the city’s alphalt trodden by the drudgery of salary men looking to make ends meet.
Built on the slopes of a volcanic caldera, Atami literally means “hot sea,” a reference to the hot springs that abound there. Even as far back as the 8th century, the area was known for the quality and quantity of its onsen.
Atami’s big boom began in 1950, when it was declared an International Tourism and Culture City by the Japanese government.
Its popularity only grew when it became a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen, and during the bubble years it was packed to the gills every weekend with corporate retreats and vacationing families.
After the economic troubles of the 1990s, its popularity declined somewhat, leaving it today with a faded charm, as well as cheaper prices and fewer crowds.
It’s easy to find hot springs open for day visitors all around town, but Chikurin-an-mizuno offers lovely views of the bay, private baths that can be reserved for couples and 1.6 hectares of forested grounds to explore.
Also worth considering is Atami Seaside Spa and Resort, which is centrally located and very English-friendly.
Even a walk around town can be onsen-oriented. There are seven small monuments to the original seven springs of Atami, known as Atami Nanayu.
Tourist information at the station has maps with the monuments marked and children can collect a different stamp at each one in the great Japanese stamp-rally tradition.
Hit the beach
The seaside of Atami curves around a crescent of sand known as Sun Beach. It was artificially created in the 1960s and ringed by rows of palm trees, giving it a more tropical and resort-like feel than other beaches around Tokyo.
During the day, bathers of every age sprawl under umbrellas and splash in the waves, but by night, Sun Beach is the haunt of young couples out for a romantic stroll.
One of Atami’s most obvious landmarks is found along the beach, a statue depicting a scene from Koyo Ozaki’s classic novel, “The Gold Demon,” which was set in Atami.
The young man Kanichi is shown kicking his lover Omiya, who had just left him for a banker’s son, and shouting at her, “You have been blinded by a diamond!” Next to it stands the sprawling pine tree under which the scene is supposed to have taken place.
The beach also hosts fireworks displays year round, with 5,000 rockets sent up over the waters of the bay each time.
Art, love and afters …
If you’ve thoroughly relaxed the body at the beach or onsen, you may want to give your mind some love as well. Atami is home to the MOA Museum of Art, whose collection is packed with thousands of pieces of Oriental artwork and crafts, including three National Treasures and 65 designated as important cultural properties.
The museum also hosts activities such as flower arranging and tea ceremony demonstrations.
The botanically inclined will want to visit the Akao Herb and Rose Garden, a terraced garden that sits atop the hills south of town.
There are 14 different areas, each with its own theme, including a Japanese-style rock garden with a 600-year-old bonsai tree said to be the largest in the country.
More than 1,500 different species can be seen in the park, including hundreds of varieties of roses. There is also a craft center where visitors can try their hands at flower-themed projects.
And for anyone thinking of matrimony, they have an aptly named Proposal Garden where besotted lovers can pop the question.
Perhaps a logical progression, there’s also the highly popular Hinoukan adults-only sex museum.
You haven’t lived until you’ve seen, among other frisky displays, erotic woodblock prints, giant reproductions of whale genitals and holographic porn.
Being on the ocean, the seafood in Atami is top-notch, with many of the onsen resorts offering combined bathing and lunch set plans.
Oranges are plentiful in the area as well and you can buy bags of them at the souvenir shops, along with orange-flavored sweets of all shapes and sizes.
Another local specialty is deep-fried fish paste that can be eaten hot or cold.
Let them know ahead of time (055 963 2628) if you’re going to stop in for a pint and you may be able to tour their brew house too. Sounds like a perfect way to end the day before heading back to Tokyo.
Getting there:The Shinkansen from Tokyo Station takes about 50 minutes to reach Atami. costs ¥3,570 for an unreserved ticket and ¥4,280 for reserved.
The same route on the JR Tokaido Line will set you back ¥1,890 and take almost two hours.
You can also take the Odakyu Romance Car from Shinjuku to Odawara (¥1,720) and then transfer to the Tokaido Line for Atami (¥400).