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Atami: More Than Just a Beach Town

This article introduces Atami(熱海), a coastal city in the eastern part of  Shizuoka prefecture(静岡県), and not a huge distance from Tokyo. Atami is a charming destination which mixes the quaintness of a European coastal village with distinctly Japanese seafood and of course, the hot springs. 

Atami is accessible via Shinkansen from Tokyo station and takes about one hour. It is also accessible by the JR Tokaido line.

Where is Atami?

Atami is located in Eastern Shizuoka ant at the northern end of Izu peninsula. It has a long history of being a resort town centred on its hot springs and beach. In particular, the beach during the warmer part of spring or early autumn can be easily enjoyed with sufficiently warm weather, and relatively few people, as the Japanese tend to only visit beaches in the peak of summer where the weather is at its warmest. 

Atami was historically a destination for 社員旅行(sha-in ryokou, or company trips) up until the economic crisis of the 1990s, but has experienced a decline since this time, but this has allowed the city to become more authentic and full of character, without succumbing to commercialisation and conforming itself to urban development. You will find local cuisine establishments around every corner, and the whole area feels like the Japan of 30 or so years ago. In addition, there are some hidden finds that make Atami all the more worth visiting. Further, Atami is experiencing somewhat of a revival as a commuter town due to its proximity to Tokyo and Yokohama. 

Kiunkaku(起雲閣): A veritable melange of architectural styles

Kiunkaku is a historical building in Atami that has been influenced by cultures from around the world. It provides an intriguing reflection of overseas influence in a place that feels otherwise more remote and “Japanese” than other destinations. 

Kiunkaku was a villa built by Nobuya Uchida in 1919. It includes traditional Japanese architecture with exhibitions of other rooms with Chinese sculptures, Arabesque patterns and even an area that resembles a Roman bath. The central garden along with the tea room provide the perfect backdrop to relax and contemplate the area’s history, and it being representative of the dynamic relationship between Japan preserving its unique culture and taking on and absorbing aspects of other cultures from around the world. 

- Address: 4-2 Showacho, Atami 413-0022, Shizuoka Prefecture

Hihokan(秘宝館): An "Adult museum"!?

As previously mentioned, Atami was a popular destination for company excursions, the seedier side of which was visiting “adult museums” with many “revealing” as well as downright zany displays. Many of these museums have fallen out of favour in recent times, but Hihokan (秘宝館). It is accessible by Atami rope way near Atami castle. The name might well be very fitting, as “hiho” is probably the type of stifled laughter that you might hear when seeing the bare chested mermaid welcoming you into the museum and displays of various fetishes. Largely unchanged, its representative of the portrayal of sexuality in Japan during its bubble economy era, although certain new additions such as hologram displays have been added. 

To enter costs 1,700 yen and of course ID proving being over the age of 18 is required. Certainly Atami offers a way of getting hot and steamy without needing to go to an Onsen!

- Address: 8-15 Wadahama Minamicho, Atami-shi, Shizuoka

Go on a sea food diet for a day: If you see food, eat it!

Atami is a dark horse for delicious sea food. It seems that wherever you go, only the highest quality seafood is ripe abound, whether it’s in supermarkets or restaurants. In addition there are various Sushi establishments which are well worth your visit:

・Mimatsuzushi(三松鮨) - serving customers with their recommended course and matching the sushi with the relevant season. Located in Ginza cho.
- Address: 4-6 GinzachoAtami, Shizuoka Prefecture  413-0013

・Sushi dokoro hatsugawa(寿司処 初川)- popular for its JPY 1,000 lunch set with nigiri, chirashi or bara chirashi lunch (check out our Sushi article for more info). While dinner is more expensive, the lunch sets at 1,000 yen are very affordable.
- Address: 14-11 Chuocho, Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture 413-0015

・Sushi dokoro miyoshi(すし処美旨)- A high end nigiri sushi establishment. The food is simple but high quality, although the prices are as well, with the cheapest sushi course being 5,000 yen. 
- Address: 13-1 Showacho, Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture 413-0022

Koa Kannon(興亜観音): A colourful history

Koa Kannon refers to the statue of Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion, located atop mount Izu. It featured a clay Buddha statue and is dedicated to those who died in the second sino Japanese war. What is more controversial, however is that it also contains the ashes of executed war criminals such as Hideki Tojo, an army commander and later the wartime prime minister who ordered the pearl harbour attacks. It is unique that unlike a typical temple, it has no graves and no patrons except for relatives of the war criminals. Therefore this is unlike the majority of the other temples you will see in Japan. 

- Address: 1135 Izusan, Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture 413-0002

Don't miss out!

Despite its small size, Atami is dense with colourful history but is often overlooked by many tourists. Atami is quite a pace change from places such as Yokohama or Kamakura, and is well worth a visit with so many hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. This article hasn’t even covered the Kinomiya temple and Yuzen shrine, the mind trick museum, Atami castle, trinket shopping from small shops or local night life in the small “snack” bars in the main town. It’s all waiting for you to discover, let us know what you find! 

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Claudia Anderson

Claudia Anderson

Author & Translator