My Paradise: Retro seaside fun in Atami

Photos by Sarah B. Hodge
Photos by Sarah B. Hodge

My Paradise: Retro seaside fun in Atami

by Sarah B. Hodge
Stripes Korea

A convenient 1.5-hour train ride from Yokosuka, Atami (the town’s name means “hot sea”) has been a famous hot spring destination for over a millennium. The city experienced a massive building boom during the 1980s bubble economy and was a popular weekend getaway for company retreats hosted at Atami’s many hot spring hotels.

Today, the town has a charming, slightly worn feel with its 1980s condos, dated entertainment like the Atami Adult Museum, Atami Castle (a recent construction), and delightfully retro kissaten (coffee shops) and old-school covered shopping arcades dotted around town, but that just adds to the fun.

How to get there: JR Tokaido and Ito lines or Tokaido Shinkansen 
Getting around town: Grab English-language maps and information at the small tourist information center next to the station, then hop the Yu-Yu Loop Bus outside Atami Station for an easy way to get to the major tourist destinations. A one-day pass is 700 yen for adults and 350 yen for children.

Hot springs 
Atami’s seven hot springs are rich in chloride and sulfate. There are more than two dozen hot spring hotels and bathhouses scattered around Atami; the larger ones offer foreign-language support. For a quick dip, there are several footbaths around town, including the free Ieyasu-No-Yu right outside JR Atami station. Towels are available from the vending machine for 100 yen. Another free footbath can be found at the lovely Atami Plum Garden.

Fun fact: Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa loved Atami’s hot spring waters so much he transported them to Edo Castle!

Ryokan Kiunkaku
A melding of traditional Japanese and Western architecture, Kiunkaku was originally the private villa of a shipping magnate. Built in 1919 and converted to a ryokan in 1947, Kiunkaku hosted a number of notable Japanese writers and other celebrities until its closure in 1999; today it is owned by the city of Atami and is open to the public as a museum. Although most of the signage is Japanese, there’s a free app and audio-guide available in English that unlocks the secrets of Kiunkaku. Standouts include the landscape garden, stained glass windows, and Roman baths. The lovely Yasuragi Café overlooks the traditional gardens.

Address: 4-2 Showacho, Atami, Shizuoka 413-0022, Map
Yu-Yu Bus stop #13

Geisha and cherry blossoms
Elegant geigi (geisha) are most frequently associated with Kyoto, but did you know there are still geisha across Japan? Although numbers are far smaller than pre-WWII, you can still find these skilled performers in Tokyo, Nagoya, Kanazawa and Atami. There are free dance performances in conjunction with the Atami Cherry Blossom Festival, or you can catch a weekend performance at Atami Geigi Kenban. Atami’s cherry blossom festival in January is one of the earliest in Japan and features a variety of free entertainment, including enka singers and geisha performances.


ACAO Forest 
Boasting 12 gardens, a shrine, and numerous photo spots, this is a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. They also offer flower-flavored drinks, baked goods, and several dining options.

Price: Adults 1,000 yen, children 500 yen
Address: 413-0101 Shizuoka, Atami, Kamitaga, 1027-8, Map
Yu-Yu Bus stop #11

Izusan Shrine
Atami’s 2,000-year history is deeply entwined with Shinto. If you’re up for a steep but rewarding climb, brave the 837 stairs to small-but-scenic Izusan Shrine, where Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first Kamakura shogun, sought refuge and met his future wife (hence the matchmaking charms and reputation as a “love shrine”) and Ieyasu Tokugawa was said to worship. The shrine’s iconic dragons are the guardians of Atami’s hot springs and said to be the source of its hot spring waters (the red dragon represents fire and the white dragon represents water).


MOA Museum of Art
Commanding a spectacular view of Sagami Bay, MOA Museum of Art offers a number of national treasures and important artworks including Korin Ogata’s red and white plum blossom screen, tea-leaf jar with wisteria design by Nonomura Ninsei, and a Tokugawa tea ceremony room crafted of entirely of gool. Founder Okada Mokichi, an avid art collector, also founded the Hakone Museum of Art in Gora.

In addition to the galleries, MOA boasts a beautiful Japanese garden, tea ceremony room, and several Japanese restaurants.


Shimizu Bus #8, Map

Atami Plum Garden
Located 10 minutes on foot from JR Kinomiya Station (Ito Line) or a 10-minute taxi ride from JR Atami Station, the Atami Plum Garden is home to some of Japan's earliest blooming plum varieties. The annual plum festival showcases nearly 500 plum trees from nine different varieties. 


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