By Margot Black
There was a moment as I was relaxing in a Japanese hot spring by a waterfall when I genuinely wondered how I was ever going to plug back into my everyday life. My husband, son and I were on a walking tour of the Izu Geo Trail, which explored the Izu Peninsula and some of the most spectacular scenery this planet has to offer.
This seven-day, six-night adventure took us to the peninsula's southernmost tip at Cape Irozaki and over its central mountain region via many seaside towns and rugged western coastlines. We ended our tour in Shuzenji, a historic hot-spring resort town.
We left with our guide, Taku, from Tokyo Station and arrived at Izu-Kogen Station on the coast at midday. Here we enjoyed a picnic lunch before setting off on our first walk. We carried our needs for the day in backpacks that contained items suggested by Walk Japan. They also supplied us with a list of easy-to-learn Japanese phrases so that we could express basic pleasantries.
We spent the first day walking along a coastal trail that featured sea caves and crashing waves to a small port along the Jogasaki Kaigan. It gave us our first glimpse of the beauty of the region and also an idea of how the week was going to look and feel. We ended Day One with a divine soak at the Akazawa Onsen, our cliff-top hotel. ("Onsen" is the Japanese name for thermal hot-spring baths.)
The next day we explored the stunning Amagi Highlands and a gently ascending beech forest to the landmark Amagi Tunnel. We then descended a thrilling spiral bridge to Kawazu, where we enjoyed an exquisite seafood dinner and another very welcome onsen.
One of the best things about this holiday was that it allowed our family to try new foods. My son became very good at using chopsticks to eat his sushi, and watching him try raw tuna for the first time was priceless.
Day Three saw us making our way over paved footpaths, mountain trails and rough tracks to the Kawazu Seven Waterfalls, which was my high for the trip. We lunched on buckwheat (soba) noodles at a local restaurant and then had a stroll around the market. My son found a stuffed toy dog that looked exactly like our dog at home, and our guide named him Wasabi.
The simplicity of the noodles, the toy and the market were magical.
We traveled by bus to Shimoda, a lovely white sandy beach where we explored the harbor and the town. We saw the Gyokusen-ji temple and the home of Edward Harris, the first American consul to Japan. Again we ended the day with a soak on our inn's onsen. By that time we were all addicted.
On Day Four we continued toward the southernmost tip of the Izu Geo peninsula, where the scenery changed dramatically from white sandy beaches to more rugged cliffs. At Toji we were delighted by a sea cave on a giant sand slope, which is now a popular place for children to go sledding. My son was able to flatten a cardboard box and go whizzing down the dunes, and we all loved the hiking along the beach trails.
When we arrived at Cape Irozaki, Izu's southernmost point high above the Pacific Ocean, we visited a family-run factory that produces katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes that are used in Japanese cooking. Then we went to Matsuzaki, known for its period buildings that feature black clay tiles. We watched the sunset from our balcony of another incredible inn.
On Day Five we faced an elevation gain of 1,870 feet up a winding trail along the clifftops. While this walk was the most challenging, the view -- including Mount Fuji in the distance -- was worth it. We saw many coves and rock formations as well as turquoise waters. The onsen at our hotel here overlooked the ocean. I never wanted to leave.
We had a final seven miles to cover and an almost 1,000-foot elevation. The next morning we had free time to explore Dogashima, the cliffs and a long tombolo, a spit of land that surfaces as the tide recedes, offering access to a small island. We reached the peak of Mount Daruma, a dormant volcano, and ate lunch as we caught glimpses of Mount Fuji in between the scuttling clouds.
Shuzenji, an enchanting village, was our final overnight stay at a historic resort that's more than 160 years old. It features the oldest onsen inside a hotel and has been declared an "important cultural property" by the Japanese government. A lovely hostess in a traditional kimono greeted us before we explored the gardens and their koi ponds. One of the ponds is connected to the onsen, so when I was soaking the fish were looking at me, which was both hilarious and strange.
We have so many good memories about this trip -- the smile of the old lady drying her fish, our capable tour guide who became my son's new hero, the sound of the seven crystal-clear waterfalls. The tranquility, the manners of the Japanese and the majesty of the coastline will remain in our hearts forever.
WHEN YOU GO
Walk Japan's attention to detail allowed us to immerse ourselves fully in Japanese culture and nature: www.walkjapan.com.
Margot Black is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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