50 minutes by bullet train, and what seems like a world away from Tokyo, is the seaside resort town of Atami. After a dazzling week of food, markets, restaurants and shopping with Eating Tokyo, in the crazy bright lights of the metropolis, Sue and I booked a night away in a tranquil and traditional Japanese ryokan.
Atami (meaning-hot ocean) is an onsen town on the Izu Peninsula with hotels and ryokan promoting their own hot springs spas. The town had its heyday in the 1950s and today we find the shabby chic resort is less touristy than nearby Hakone and attracts a more local crowd.
We are travelling just after Golden Week and with the major holiday over Atami is being overrun with groups of excitable day-tripping superannuitants.
Stepping out from the JR Station and winding down the hillside to the sea we find 2 covered streets lined with shops selling gifts of local specialities. Wasabi is grown in the region and I pick up an eye-watering wasabi oil, wasabi paste and pickled mushrooms with a hint of….wasabi.
With souvenirs bought we take a taxi to Sekitei Ryokan high in the hills. Immediately we relax in this calm oasis as we are led through the stone-paved formal gardens and across a bridge to our suite. And by suite I mean a 2 storey traditional Japanese house complete with tatami floors, shoji screens and its own pocket garden.
Downstairs is a large entranceway, Japanese bedroom with futons, a lounge cum dining room, bathroom and small kitchen. Upstairs there is a western bedroom with 2 beds and a separate toilet. After the size of our accommodation in Tokyo we feel overwhelmed by the space.
Ours is one of 29 suites some of which have their own private outdoor hot spring bath. With gardens and tiny stone pathways running in all directions we barely notice the other guests.
We are introduced to Yuki, dressed in traditional kimono, who is to look after us during our stay. She serves us tea then, with much hilarity, dresses us in yukata robes.
We book the private hot spring rather than risk scaring the locals in the communal, segregated baths. The water in the outdoor pool is piping hot and minerally. We skinny-dip in and out and emerge the colour of carp after our 45 minute slot is up. We return to our rooms and find ourselves succumbing to an afternoon nana nap.
At 6.30pm Yuki begins setting up for the Kyoto style kaiseki dinner in our suite. We sit down at 7pm and over the next 2 hours Yuki serves us course after course of beautifully presented, delicate Japanese fare. We choose a crisp, chilled local Shizuoka sake to accompany the meal. The seasonal menu of 10 courses includes 2 appetiser plates, sashimi, grilled sea bass, simmered duck loin, a tempura selection and dressed salad with clam. Dessert is a papaya slice with a jelly filling, strawberries and a powdered green tea bracken rice cake with black syrup. We are presented with the menu in English as a souvenir.
After an excellent night’s sleep for us poor old Yuki is back at 8am with breakfast. Again it is a multi-course affair but served together at the same time. If you are after toast and muesli the Japanese full breakfast may not be for you. We eat grilled fish, tamago omelette, sashimi, miso, pickles and rice, a pot of fresh tofu bubbles away on a burner. I am surprised by how much I eat after last night’s feast but the flavours are just so good I can’t resist. Coffee is offered too, thankfully.
Then all too soon it is time to go. We never made it to the library, cafe, bar or beauty salon. Next time. We take photos with Yuki who had looked after us so well. She bows deeply as she waves us off.
Getting there: from the JR Tokyo Station the Shinkansen bullet train leaves approximately once an hour. Pick up a takeaway meal at the station to eat on the train. I know it’s only a 50 minute journey, but they are famous for their boxed bento meals.
Stay: Sekitei Ryokan
Address: 6-17 Wadacho, Atami, Shizuoka