A Volcanic Gift From The South, Izu GeoPark
Izu Peninsula is a popular leisure retreat just 40 minutes west of Tokyo on the bullet train. But Izu hasn’t always been a Peninsula. Izu started as a volcanic island on the northern tip of the Philippines tectonic plate. This plate is slowly moving northwards and into Japan’s Honshu mainland, forming today’s landscape. That’s why Izu is sometimes described as a ‘volcanic gift from the South’.
Perhaps the most obvious evidence of ongoing northwards movement of the Philippines plate is Mt Fuji. This Japanese volcanic icon marks the current collision zone between the plates, and can be spectacularly viewed from Izu’s western side. The west is also the oldest part of Izu, the newest part being the eastern volcanoes around Ito City, represented by the largest - Oomuro Yama. This volcano was formed in an eruption about 4,000 years ago, which must have startled Japan’s Stone Age Jomon Period inhabitants.
UNESCO recognizes 100 GeoParks in 33 countries. A GeoPark has outstanding geology, geography, and geothermal areas. The term ‘Geo’ comes from ‘Gaia’.
From a visitor’s point of view a big attraction of the Izu GeoPark are the hot springs, known as onsen in Japanese. Izu’s gateway city of Atami has been a popular onsen resort since the days of 17th century Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, who made Tokyo Japan’s capital and established the Edo Period. Visitors to Atami get into the onsen mood the moment they step off the train. They are greeted in front of the station by Ashi no Yu, a free foot bath onsen. Just the thing to warm up those winter chill-blains.
Atami was also home to one of the world’s three great geysers, Ohyu, which unfortunately stopped playing around the time of the Greater Tokyo Earthquake in 1923, although its steaming remains can still be enjoyed today.
Even the Japanese cakes in Atami are sold as ‘Onsen Manju’. One such shop close to the station, Tan Naya, has been run by the same family for 4 generations – since the opening of the railway line in the first decade of the 20th century. Other popular onsen resorts around Izu include Ajiro, Ito, Izu Nagaoka, Atagawa, and Yugashima.
Scenery is another feature of Izu GeoPark. In addition to some of the spectacular geological features already described, visitors can enjoy such vistas as Castle Mountain (Joo Yama) in Izu’s north-west corner. Joo Yama was originally an under-sea volcano which was later thrust up above the land. Exposed to the atmosphere, the soft outer layers of ash have been eroded away leaving only the hard magma core plug thrusting skywards, resembling a castle on the landscape.
Izu GeoPark is also famous for its food. Pure, naturally warmed water provides an ideal environment for growing wasabi. Smoked eel is a prized dish in Japan, the quality of which is decided on the purity of the water in which the eels have lived. Izu’s pure waterways provide the ideal environment for eels. Being a Peninsula with a long coastline, delicious fresh seafood abounds, such as giant crab.
People also like to visit Izu GeoPark to enjoy natural experiences. These include guided tours of the geography, kayaking around the coastline, cruises, para-gliding, and diving. Izu is a year-round destination, providing a welcome chance to swim in pristine seas in the hot summer, but also having a warmer winter than Tokyo due to its southerly location. Plum and cherry blossoms abound in spring, and autumn provides spectacular vistas of golden leaves.