For almost 1000 years, Atami has been known for its hot springs. During the 1980’s, the city was booming and many giant resort hotels and condominiums were built. In the 1990’s, Japan’s economic bubble burst and Atami began a long slide into disrepair. However, with a gorgeous location, ever-flowing hot springs, and easy access from Tokyo, Atami is coming back!
Many hotels have been remodeled in recent years. New shops, cafes, and restaurants are opening, and sightseeing spots are being revamped. Only 40 minutes by shinkansen from central Tokyo (or 100 minutes by a slower, less expensive train), Atami is a great choice for a day or overnight trip.
Visit in mid-to-late February to view Japan’s earliest blooming cherry trees and some of its earliest blooming plum blossoms. Pink and white blossoms of about 750 plum trees are on display in Atami Baien, a plum tree garden that opened in 1886. Normally free to enter, during the festival it costs 300 yen. However, entrance to the lovely and unusual Seiko Sawada Museum (which is located beside the garden) is usually 320 yen – but it offers free entry to anyone visiting the garden during the festival period.
The easiest way to Atami Baien is to take a taxi or a bus from Atami Station’s bus stop #1. In addition, depending on connections, you can change trains at Atami Station to the Ito Line and travel one stop to Kinomiya Station. Then walk about 10 minutes uphill.
A short walk from Atami Baien is Kinomiya Jinja, a shrine whose origin dates back to the year 710. Within the grounds are two sacred camphor trees, one of which is over 2000 years old. It is believed that worshippers who pray to the tree, leave an offering, and then walk in a circle around it, will extend their life and/or be given help in granting a wish.
The grounds of the shrine have been completely transformed over the past ten years – there is now a ‘tunnel’ of torii gates, walking paths are lined with bamboo, and there are three different outdoor cafe spaces where visitors can sit and relax under a green forest canopy.
From Kinomiya Shrine, slowly wander downhill and find the Itogawa, a stream lined with gorgeous Atami Sakura, cherry trees that bloom in mid-February. If you have an interest in temples, there are some quaint ones along the way that you can quickly visit. The lower section of the Itogawa runs through what was once a booming entertainment district. It is now pretty quiet, but there are still many restaurants and cafes in which to have lunch. In this area, running parallel to the stream, is Atami Ginza, which is a short shopping street that is also coming back to life.
The Itogawa soon empties into the sea. Just to the left is Atami Sun Beach, which is a great place to go swimming in the summer.
In front of you and to the right are interesting multi-level decks overlooking a harbor filled with sailboats and yachts.
The decks are the perfect place to view one of Atami’s many firework displays (held approximately 15 times a year). Also to the right is the dock of the Sanremo, which offers a quick 30 minute sightseeing cruise.
Although you won’t really have enough time on this visit, just beside the harbor is the Atami Marine Spa, a family-oriented hot spring facility of pools, a waterslide, a mini ‘lazy river’, and more.
Instead, however, just a short walk from the spa, there is time for a visit to Kiunkaku, a mansion-turned luxury inn-turned museum. Upon entry (510 yen), visitors can wander through a variety of beautiful historic buildings and the lovely garden they surround.
There are two different bus stops near Kiunkaku, with buses traveling back to Atami Station quite frequently. Or, if you are staying overnight, make your way to your hotel and recoup from all this walking with a nice hot spring bath.
*Day trippers can also enjoy a bath before heading home. Stop by the tourist information center for a list of hotels that allow day visitors.
Back at Atami Station there is also a really large ashiyu, a hot spring foot bath that is free to use – just be sure to bring a small towel with you. There are also two retro shotengai, Japanese traditional covered arcades, that are full of souvenir shops and cafes that will keep you busy until it is time to board your train.