A city of Shizuoka Prefecture, Atami is conveniently located between Tokyo and Osaka, just 40 minutes by bullet train from the capital and an hour to the popular resort area of Hakone. Trains connect Atami to other well-known tourist spots on the Peninsula such as Shimoda while stunning views of Mt Fuji await those who venture just 30 minutes by bus to Toge Pass. With a mild climate, beautiful ocean and alpine scenery, as well as hot springs and its convenience as a gateway city, Atami’s popularity is understandable.
Atami has been visited by many over the years, drawn by these attractions. In fact, in 1888, as a first for the resort town, an imperial villa was specially built for the Emperor, suffering at the time from poor health. Following this, prominent political and business figures continued to build holiday houses in the area. A number of great Japanese writers too frequented Atami, producing well-known works. 1919 saw a Western style inn “Kiunkaku” constructed as a holiday home, and then in 1936 in a break from typical such accommodation of business came “Kyu Hyuga Bettei”, a one-of-a-kind design of Bruno Julius Florian Taut, considered extravagant living at the time, was visited by many as a model. For a relatively small city of just 38,000 inhabitants, more than six million people visit each year. Be sure to follow in others’ footsteps and check out the beauty of Atami yourself.
Atami is a resort area blessed with a moderate maritime climate throughout the year, with pleasant weather experienced both in warm winters and cool summers. With Atami’s main attraction being the sea, there are numerous vantage points to enjoy stunning scenery of its beaches and the city alike. As an ideal spot to watch the sun rise over the water, the beaches draw both locals and tourists as a great place for a morning walk. At night too, with the beaches lit up, they take on a magical sense.
Blessed with a temperate climate, another attraction of Atami is its abundance of year-round flowers. Japan’s famed cherry blossoms for instance which normally appear in spring grace the streets of Atami as early as January. Added to this are the beautiful plum blossoms, allowing one to enjoy flower viewing earlier than is normally possible. The month of May sees azaleas and roses blossoming while from June one can enjoy bougainvillea and jacarandas. While jacaranda are also known as a purple cherry blossom that generally only flower in more southern climates, Atami is actually the northernmost point on the main island of Honshu where they bloom. The autumnal changing of the leaves happens a little later too, from November to December, allowing one to fully appreciate the beauty of nature throughout the entire year.
Known as the gateway to the Izu Peninsula, Atami is where Izusan Shrine is located the namesake of the city, inhabited by the god of Izu. This 2000 year-old shrine adorned with one red and one white dragon to symbolise fire and water respectively is also the location of a guarded hot spring where the hot water is brought about by the power of fire and water. The dragons are said to boil the water deep under the ground, some 837 steps from the surface to the source. With the water flowing from the dragon’s mouths, the water is believed to be sacred.
The Izu Peninsula has a long history of being famed as a hot spring resort of which Atami is especially representative. This in fact dates back to 1603 when the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ruled Japan under the Edo Shogunate for some 250 years, first visited Atami from modern day Tokyo, and even transported the Atami water back to Edo Castle. As a result of the Shogun’s custom to the area, the news of Atami’s hot springs soon spread throughout Japan. In fact, the hot springs are well known for their low alkalinity ideal for the skin, and with abundant places throughout the city, it is easy to find one to enjoy.
Blessed with nature that encompasses the ocean and mountains, Atami is a treasure trove of food. With plenty of restaurants, enjoying a meal couldn’t be easier at the many establishments both on the main streets and in the back alleys. There are few major chain restaurants which one normally finds in larger cities, and instead many more locally-run places promising lots of character and charm. In addition to of course sushi and other seafood restaurants, the sheer competition of many other types of food including Italian, Chinese and ramen shops will surely please even the most discerning gourmet lover.
Following the construction of an imperial villa for the Emperor in 1888, more and more influential political and business figures in the area as well as famous authors frequented the area, resulting in the food culture of Atami ultimately becoming much more sophisticated. Tastes and flavours of Japanese sweets have been maintained and valued to this day from the time when the imperial villa first allowed entry to the common people.
Another characteristic worth noting is the large number of western establishments that serve tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) and curry, acknowledging that such western food was developed in a particular Japanese style since Japan reopened its doors after seclusion in the latter half of the 19th century. Be sure to sample some of these flavours at a number of popular restaurants and cafes, establishments that remain to this day from when they first opened between 1940 and 1960.