Nikko. Kawagoe. Kamakura. Hakone. When people visit Tokyo, they also want to know what would be a good day-trip or overnight trip from the big city, and these places are classic suggestions. But there’s one more overlooked gem that really should be in this list, and unlike the others which largely have one main feature (Hakone for onsen, Kamakura for culture and beaches, Kawagoe and Nikko for history), this place has a unique and balanced blend of them all. I’m talking about Ito City.
Ito lies on the eastern side of the Izu peninsula, about 100km south of Tokyo. If that sounds far, bear in mind that Nikko is even further away than that! Trains can also whisk you out from Tokyo and into Ito in 75 minutes, though slower trains may take up to 2 hours (which is still comparable to Nikko).
So what’s in Ito? A quick glance at the map gives a big hint: it’s a seaside town. Alight at Ito station, and you’re welcomed by the smell of the salty sea air and a line of omiyage shops: perfect for grabbing those all-important souvenirs at a convenient location, right before you make your return journey.
From here, wind your way through the heart of Ito via the narrow bricked street known as Ekimae Nakamaru Dori (駅前中丸通り), a delightful little labyrinth of pathways packed with little eateries, bakeries and local stores. You can’t help but wander down the inviting alleyways, and your curiosity is always rewarded.
Eventually, you’ll come to the Matsugawa River, and you get your first hint of another of Ito’s features: it's also an Onsen Town. Perched along the banks of the river is the Tokaikan, a historic inn and bathhouse that has been preserved and is open to public visits. If you'd like to experience a bit of a hot spring yourself, Ito is a great place to do so. The southern end of the town is clustered with onsen hotels, and while they may not match Hakone for hot spring quality, it's not far behind, and it more than makes up for it by being a little more gentle on the bank balance.
Photo: Sugita Maya on FlickrYou'll definitely want to check out the beach too. This compact strip of sand looked over by palm trees always has some kind of event going on, and the sheltered waters make it far safer than Kamakura for taking any young ones out for a paddle. There's also the adjacent Nagisa Park for those who want to relax by the sea without getting sand between their toes!
If you're up for a walk, go for a stroll up the north coast for 20 minutes until you get to Ito Marine Town, a building packed with local goods, gift ideas and more restaurants. It's a great place to take shelter should the weather take a turn for the worse.
Ito is also a great staging post for other nearby attractions on the Izu peninsula. Neighboring Mount Omuro is an almost perfect cone of a mountain that can offer great views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day, and the rocky Shiogasaki Coast is where you can experience the thrill of crossing a rope bridge between windswept crags.
Ito is a great, balanced city, and an overlooked gem on the roster of day-or-overnight trips from Tokyo. It’s big enough to keep you occupied without being sprawling. While it may not excel it's rivals in any particular field, it does do a little bit of everything, and do it right. So if you find yourself torn between which day trip to choose from Tokyo because you want to experience a bit of it all, Ito is the place for you!