Scuba Diving and Seafood: Shizuoka’s Stunning Izu Peninsula
Today’s piece focuses on my trip of the Izu Peninsula area of Shizuoka Prefecture: from scuba diving at Izu Oceanic Park, to sushi in Ito, and a smorgasbord of seafood in the seaside town of Atami.
Shizuoka, Izu and the Rugby World Cup 2019™
On a sultry evening in late July, coated in a layer of epidermal moisture, I stepped foot in Jogasaki Kaigan, a quiet township located in the verdant hills of southern Shizuoka Prefecture. On arrival at Jogasaki Kaigan station—a fetching little wooden chalet erected on stilts overlooking the surrounding area—I stood alone on the platform watching the train from which I had just departed trudge off toward its final destination at Izu Kogen. My initial feeling was one of complete solitude; forests envelop this mountainous quarter of the Izu Peninsula, with a handful of timber huts and salubrious homes lightly peppering the winding lanes that dissect the inclines.
As I made the undulating stroll towards my hotel, the sounds of nature pervaded the air: chirruping cicadas, the rustling of trees in the hot summer wind, the cadence of avian mating calls ricocheting from one tree top to another. The noise bordered on incessant. But I don’t mean that in the pejorative way; the area has yet to be despoiled by high-rise corporate canyons and tacky chain stores; nature still rules the roost. It was undeniably refreshing. This was my first introduction to Shizuoka and the Izu Peninsula, and it was wonderful.
While it would be disingenuous to claim that the entirety of Shizuoka Prefecture benefits from such industrial evasion, the Izu Peninsula showcases one of the prefecture’s real charms: the charm of untouched Japan. Yet at less than two hours by train from Tokyo station, it is considerably more accessible than its apparent isolation would suggest.
As a host destination for Rugby World Cup 2019™, Shizuoka will be flung into the international limelight, if only momentarily. The four matches to feature here—including a mouthwatering Pool A encounter between Japan and Ireland on September 28th—will be played at the 50,889-capacity Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, in Fukuroi City (incidentally, the same stadium where Brazil beat England 2-1 in an unforgettable FIFA World Cup quarter-final in 2002).
Yet it’s beyond that where the real beauty of Shizuoka lies. It’s abounding in gorgeous landscapes—11% of the prefecture’s landmass is designated national park—and rugged coastline along the peninsula; sprinkled with an array of charming seaside towns; has some of the freshest and tastiest seafood in the country; and is home to Japan’s most sacred volcano, Mount Fuji.
Scuba Diving at Izu Oceanic Park
After a more-than-agreeable evening at a hot spring hotel in Jogasaki Kaigan, I was whisked off towards Izu Oceanic Park at 9am the following morning. The main agenda for the day was scuba diving. The Izu Oceanic Park dive spot is located on the peninsula’s eastern coast, skirting the side of Suginami Bay. It’s a striking coastline of jagged volcanic rocks, banked by palm tress and lush green foliage. Inside the water is no less arresting as coral, shellfish and countless other aquatic species populate the temperate, saline waters of this portion of the North Pacific.
Following a few mid-morning greetings and pleasantries with my fully bilingual dive master and the rest of the crew, it was time to get geared up for the dive. Wetsuits, wetsocks, underwater gloves, breathing apparatus, flippers and goggles were all provided on site. Geared up in my new attire, and having gained a new layer of sweat that was equally thick, I felt positively cumbersome, and no less uncomfortable. However, I was assured that all would be right once I was submerged.
Diving at Izu Oceanic Park is particularly good for beginners, but there are plenty of spots around the peninsula’s coastline for divers of all levels of ability. In recent years Izu has become increasingly popular with foreign dive enthusiasts which, naturally, has seen an increase in the number of dive schools in the area who offer some kind of English support. Outside of Okinawa this may well be the number-one dive spot in the nation, and once I had plunged my head under the surface it was easy to see why.
As this was a beach dive—as opposed to a boat dive in open water—I was approaching the endeavor with some hidden skepticism; could there really be a genuinely interesting aquatic world this close to the coast? Thankfully, the answer was yes.
Weighed down by my gear and the newly applied 6kg weight belt, the dive master guided me ungracefully along the beach and into the water before leaving me to maneuver mostly of my accord. After a minute or two of getting my head around the logistics of underwater breathing, off we ventured into the world below.
The topography of the ocean floor consisted of uneven rocky terrain with hollows and crevices which all sorts of beguiling marine life called home. In among the rocks were colorful tendrils of coral, spongy anemone, various genera of seaweed and a startling menagerie of fish, all combining to form a thriving underwater metropolis. The species on show included: moray eels, flounder, clown fish—bearing, to my surprise, neon blue stripes—squid, rock fish, sea turtles and a plethora of shellfish (that no doubt taste as good as they looked). And all of this at only five meters down. It blew my meagre expectations out of the water, as it were.
The Izu Oceanic Park also features an underwater postbox. Before your dive you can purchase a postcard in the dive office, write a message of your choice on it, give it the official stamp, have it laminated, and finally bring it on the dive with you to post to whomever you see fit. I managed to successfully deposit a card in the postbox addressed, rather inspiringly, to myself. But, despite my blatant lack of imagination, I appreciated it as an interesting novelty. I just hope your choice of recipient is more pleasantly surprised on receiving the card than mine was.
Shizuoka’s Seafood and the Town of Atami
The dive had built up my appetite so I was all too grateful when we sat down to a delightful lunch of sushi, constructed by a charming couple who must be reaching the three-figures in age, in the nearby town of Ito an hour or so later. The omakase (“chef’s choice”) featured, among others, amberjack tuna, queen snapper, marlin and red sea bream. It was superb.
Well satiated, I spent the rest of the afternoon navigating the long, yet scenic, coastal road to the town of Atami. Atami is like Japan’s version of the French Riviera: high-rise buildings and classy flats are built into the ascending leafy hillsides, no doubt providing epic vistas of the coastline; a stony promenade with adjacent piers runs the length of the town; and thin-trunked palm trees rise gracefully towards the clouds along the promenade’s edge. The rest of the waterfront area is kitted out in open green spaces, seafood restaurants and a collection of gleaming yachts docked at the marina. It’s all very chic indeed, and it should come as no surprise that Atami is a common weekend getaway for big city elites.
I unloaded from the car at Atami station, where there is a large shotengai (shopping arcade) selling all sorts of sweets, treats, local produce and souvenirs which offered a nice little opportunity for an amble and a stretch of the legs before I headed to dinner.
For dinner in Atami, seafood is often the order of the day. Having tackled a smorgasbord of raw fish in the afternoon, we veered towards fish of the shelled and cooked variety for our evening meal. At a small izakaya (restaurant/bar) by the sea, under a tented canopy we grilled turban shells, scallops and clams—which I couldn’t help but wonder if I had spotted in the flesh during my morning dive—at the table in front of us, and of course washed it down with a cold nama (draft) beer.
I had had a truly enjoyable experience on the Izu Peninsula, and was pretty enamored by Shizuoka overall. After seeing this little slice of life on Japan’s Pacific coast just a couple hours from Tokyo, I’m itching to get myself back to see a little more.