Historically Cool Little Seaside Hot Spring Escape From Tokyo : Atami

Photo: cozymax on Flickr

Historically Cool Little Seaside Hot Spring Escape From Tokyo : Atami

Tony Everitt

Atami City acts as the gateway to Izu Peninsula, conveniently located at its north-eastern corner, and on the Tokkaido bullet train line that connects Japan’s 3 largest cities – Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. It takes just 40 minutes to reach Atami on the Kodama Tokkaido bullet train from Tokyo or Shinagawa Stations.

Atami has a rich history. Japan’s first Shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo, met his influential wife Masako here in the 12th century. You can still see their stone wedding seat at Atami’s Izusan Shrine. In 1600 Japan’s most famous Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, prayed at Izusan Shrine en route to the Warring States Period final epic battle at Sekigahara, where he defeated the western forces to establish the Edo Period. After this success the Tokugawa clan had a soft spot for Atami and had its hot spring waters brought to their new castle in Edo (now Tokyo Palace occupied by the Emperor) on a regular basis.

Visitors to Atami during the Edo Period came primarily for the healing properties of the natural hot spring mineral waters. Recommended treatment was a one month course. During their first week, visitors were advised not to even get in the waters, but just splash them over their skin to get acclimatized. From the second week a careful treatment program of progressively longer daily emersion began. It was usual for these visitors to deposit their wallets with the hot spring inn-keeper for the duration of their stay, and the inn-keeper would then hand out any necessary small change for outside expenses on a daily basis.

Atami’s development as a seaside hot spring resort really gathered momentum from the mid 19th century Meiji Period with its rapid industrialization, associated wealth generation, and increased freedom of movement around Japan. In 1896 the train line from Tokyo arrived. But there were initially insufficient funds to put a steam train on it, so a small carriage was pushed by human labor from Odawara to bring visitors the last leg of the journey from the capital. It took over 4 hours to push a maximum of 8 passengers the 25km from Odawara.

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Finally in 1907 the first steam trains arrived in Atami and the Zuso Jinsha train pushers could take a well-deserved rest. The steam train cut down the journey from Odawara to 2.5 hours, at a fare of 70 sen, 0.7 yen, about ½ penny.

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Atami’s popularity was further boosted by the appearance in 1897 of the hit story series Konjiki Yasha in Tokyo’s Yomiuri newspaper. Konjiki Yasha is a love story centered in Atami. The protagonists met on Atami’s beach under the Omiya Matsu (old pine tree) which regrettably has not survived, although its stump has been preserved on display in Atami City Hall’s lobby.

Atami boasts a number of shops and establishments still housed in original buildings from the Taisho Period, now nearly a century old, spared the wartime devastation which befell Japan’s larger cities.

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Atami boasts a number of shops and establishments still housed in their original buildings from the Taisho Period, now nearly a century old, such as the Tokiwagi cake store.
By Taisho year 14 (1925) Atami was welcoming over 30,000 visitors annually. Still, this is only 1% of today’s visitor numbers of about 3 million people. Why not be one of them?