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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Atami

熱海
View of Atami, Izu Peninsula.
Atami is a small town a little way down the east coast of Japan's Izu Peninsula. The town is less than two hours drive from Tokyo and has long been a favored resort for Tokyoites.

Atami literally means 'hot sea', and it rises out of the sea in a slow curve that suddenly steepens into the imposing hills that overlook the town - reminiscent of Naples. Eons ago these hills formed one side of a volcano, the other side lost to the sea. The town is built in the remnants of the crater. With this geological history, there are hot springs all over the area, which, along with its fine views of the sea, makes it the ideal resort.

The town’s most conspicuous man-made feature is its high-rise buildings, mainly hotels, which give this small town of just over 40,000 inhabitants the look of a city at least two or three times the population. On closer inspection, though, a lot of these buildings have an air of yesterday about them. Also, although we visited yesterday (i.e. at the start of Golden Week, Japan's peak vacation season) there were still vacancies signs visible.

The weather was way too good to be stuck inside, so we shelved plans to visit the MOA Musuem of Art and decided to focus on as much outdoor sightseeing as possible.

You can’t visit Atami without trying the seafood, so my first stop was Shogyo, a restaurant on the southern cape of Atami Bay with a wonderful view of the bay, the town, and the center of the local fishing industry. There’s something to be said for dining on seafood, delicious anyway, while enjoying the view of right where it came from.

Akao Herb and Rose Garden, Atami.Next stop was the Akao Herb and Rose Garden: a steep valley that has been terraced and laid out with gardens of various nationalities and species. It was a decent enough spot to enjoy the brilliant sunshine and cool breezes of early spring, but that was about as far as it went. Although a lot of work had gone into the landscaping and upkeep, it was rather uninspiring, and in places tacky. The tea house was outrageously overpriced, especially for the insipid 'rose flavored' refreshments served. The only thing they got right was the Japanese garden featuring, according to them, examples of the world's largest bonsai. We should have gone to the MOA Museum of Art, however good the weather was.

Hihokan Adult Museum, Atami.The afternoon was drawing to a close already, so we finished it with an extra helping of sauce after the insipid Akao Herb and Rose Garden: the Hihokan, or 'Adult Museum'. The Hihokan is directly accessible from the ropeway that starts in the middle of the town, and the price of the ropeway is included in the ticket. It wasn’t cheap at 1,700 yen, and, like Atami itself, the Adult Museum had definitely seen better days. But there was a lot of ‘it’ in every position, size, color, species, and taste. A big eye-opener is the life-size reproduction (so to speak) of whale genitalia - audible gasp inducing! The bottom line of the Hihokan is humor, and if you leave any prudishness at the door you’re in for a good half- to three-quarters of an hour of chuckles. Some of it is extremely full-on, so, as just mentioned, definitely not for those sqeamish about sex.

Atami Castle.Just across from the Hihokan Adult Museum is Atami Castle - a generic Japanese castle that is nevertheless very imposing in its size and setting.

The alternative to driving to Atami from Tokyo is taking the Kodama shinkansen, which takes less than an hour.

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