Rainy day in Izu, Japan

Justine Tyerman finds a lonely girl in torrential rain in a remote area of the Izu Peninsula in Japan. 

Outside in a garden, sitting hunched against the driving rain, the young girl looked so forlorn and alone. She had a hypnotic effect on me. I wanted to take her home but she was firmly attached.

Studying ‘Wind and a Girl – Versilia’ by Masamichi Yamamoto at Uehara Museum of Art near Shimoda, I discovered a fascination for sculpture. The Three Electras by Lynn Chadwick caught my attention too.

The museum visit was a rainy-day alternative to our hike to the Kawazu Seven Waterfalls, organised by our ever-resourceful guide Yohei on Day 3 of the Izu Geo Trail with Walk Japan. Not only were the hiking tracks and roads closed, there were evacuation warnings out for some nearby island communities. This was serious rain.

Established to house the collections of Uehara Shoji of the Taisho Pharmaceutical Company, the Uehara Museum of Art has two galleries – the Buddhist Art Gallery (originally founded in 1983) and Modern Art Gallery (originally founded in 2000). The Buddhist art includes magnificent sculptures and sutras from the Nara to the Kamakura Period (8th - 13th century), ancient writings and modern statues and paintings.

The modern art collection features 19th-20th century European and Japanese paintings by Matisse, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Sotaro Yasui, Kunitaro Suda, and Kokei Kobayashi.

I found a favourite Monet in the gallery, a haunting Picasso and some exquisite work by Japanese artists. 

Doing a fine job of making it up as we went along, Yohei found an excellent little restaurant called Yabu in Nishihongo for lunch which served soba buckwheat noodle dishes similar to the one on our original itinerary. We also got to grate our own wasabi to add to our noodles. Absolutely delicious – especially with a glass or two of Kirin beer. 

Sometimes Plan B is just as good as Plan A . . . only different.

After lunch, the skies had cleared and watery sunshine was shining on the 1200-year-old Shirahama shrine with its 2000-year-old tree and bright red torii gate, a dramatic landmark on an exposed promontory facing the sea. The rock on which the torii stands is called Daimyojin after the presiding deity of the shrine.

Yohei led us in a purification ritual at the Shinto temple before we climbed to the top of the rock where a multitude of photos were taken framed by the striking red gate against a backdrop of the angry sea. 

Offshore, there’s a string of volcanic outcrops known as Burning Islands. Every October a fire festival, Hitachi-sai, is held here to offer prayer to the deities of fire.

Heading south, the port of Shimoda holds an important place in Japanese history. It’s the site where in 1853 Japan’s seclusion from the rest of the world came to an end. In 1853, Commodore Perry and his Black Ships sailed into the bay threatening to use force if the Japanese government did not open a limited number of ports to foreign trade by the following year. He returned in 1954 to press his demands. The Treaty of Kanagawa was signed in March 1854, between the United States and the Tokugawa shogunate effectively ending Japan's 220-year-old policy of isolation by opening the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American vessels.

We strolled around Shimoda’s harbour and pretty back streets, visiting Gyokusen-ji Temple founded in the 16th century. The small Zen temple was the residence of Townsend Harris, the first American consul to Japan, from 1856-59. On September 4, 1856, Harris raised the United States’ flag for the first time on Japanese soil and in 1858 the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (also known as the Harris Treaty) was signed opening five major ports to trade and granting the right of United States citizens to reside in Japan.

In slow decline, the Tokugawa shogunate finally fell in 1868 and power was restored to the Emperor Meiji.

Momentous historical events occurred in this tranquil little town. 

Toutei, a modern ryokan-style inn with onsen baths and rooms overlooking the beautiful white sands of Iritahama Beach awaited us at the end of the day.

By now I had become familiar with the shoe shuffle at the entranceway, and the bowing etiquette had become second nature. In fact I relished it, and was delighted by the gracious manners of the hotel staff. I found myself looking forward to the tea ceremony in my room and our evening chat sessions in the ladies’ onsens. I had become completely relaxed in my ‘birthday suit’, as Yohei called it. I also loved the uncluttered simplicity of rooms without large Western beds dominating the space. The futons are made up on the tatami matting in the evenings and tucked away in a wardrobe during the daytime. I’m tempted to introduce the concept at home.

We all dressed in matching navy and white yukata and haori for dinner at Toutei, another outstanding array of gourmet Japanese cuisine, so artistically presented, it seemed a crime to eat. Lobster, sushi, shellfish, shrimps, tempura vegetables, tofu, sashimi in the shape of a rose, a dumpling wrapped in a leaf, and a delectable broth prepared for each of us at the table. Gourmet heaven.

During dinner, I sat with a fellow hiker from Hong Kong whose grandmother had fled China during the Japanese invasion last century. She had bound feet and could only hobble but eventually made it safely to Hong Kong. An incredible tail of survival, one of many fascinating conversations on our Walk Japan tour.

In the bright morning sunshine, the white sands, palm trees, sparkling sea and blue sky at Iritahama Beach looked like a tropical island. A few surfers were up early making the most of the big swells after the storm. I walked the length of the gorgeous little beach bookended by rugged rocky headlands and felt blissfully happy to be part on this exceptional experience.

Our long table at breakfast barely had a square centimetre of spare space, such was the variety and number of dishes. I devoured an omelette, cooked mackerel, salad and fresh fruit along with other Japanese delicacies including lobster miso, tofu, rice and raw eel.  

The Toutei staff, including the delightful lady owner, were out in force to assist us into our hiking boots with long shoe horns – a marvellous invention – load the luggage and farewell our coach bound for Cape Irozaki, the southernmost point of the Izu Peninsula.

To be continued...

Factbox: 

  • The Izu Geo Trail is a 7-day, 6-night guided tour starting in Tokyo and finishing in Mishima. The trail explores the Izu Peninsula in the Shizuoka Prefecture, one of the most unique geological areas on Earth. The mountainous peninsula with deeply indented coasts, white sand beaches and a climate akin to a sub-tropical island, is located 150km south west of Tokyo on the Pacific Coast of the island of Honshu, Japan. 

Read Part One and Part Two of Justine Tyerman’s Japan visit. This article originally appeared on Over60.