Atami was another weekend trip I took mid December last year. The name, in Japanese as well as Chinese, translate directly to ‘hot sea/ocean’, referring to the abundance of natural hot spring waters (called onsens) in the area which make it a popular vacation destination for locals – Atami station is about 50min train ride away from Tokyo, located in Shizuoka Prefecture. We had a great view of Sagami bay from our resort which was located on a steep slope. We arrived at the station after taking the JR Tokaido Shinkansen and then hired a rental car driving up into the hills to our resort and also the first destination – the MOA Museum of Art. MOA is a private museum which has a collection of some 3500 paintings and artworks, sculptural pieces and historical pieces such as earthen ware and vases as well as a Noh theater and a golden tea room. It also has great views of the bay. Looking at the old earthen vessels was a highlight as you get the sense of Japanese design and aesthetic – the preference and acceptance for ‘imperfection’ and the rustic – quite a contrast to the Chinese tradition where similar vessels and vases would be almost perfectly smooth and symmetrical (think of the standard in Chinese ceramics, the hand crafted porcelain wares dating back to the Han Dynasty). I felt I was starting to understand the Japanese ideology which values uniqueness and originality. The architecture of the museum was interesting in which you pass through a series of tunnels with escalators after purchasing your ticket before you reach the galleries. There must have been 3 or 4 of these massive escalators with light effects surrounding them taking you up the museum which is built on the sloping site overlooking the bay. The actual museum is built from stone and marble, apparently the floor is created from ten different kinds of marble from six different countries.
We stopped to have a stroll around the nearby plum garden. It was raining a little but we still got to catch the last of the autumn colours. The best time to visit this garden would be in January when the plum season starts and the trees are in full bloom. Little buds were just starting to appear during this time.
Day two we went on a walk along Jogasaki Coast – a busy rock shore that was formed from erosion, after the eruption of Mt. Omuro about 4000 years ago which caused lava to flow into the ocean. There are many cliffs along the coastline with reefs below extending deep inside. The views from here were spectacular.
The natural hot water springs are not only used for onsens but also to run places like indoor gardens and an alligator zoo place. I’m not too sure how to call it but basically it was an indoor area which housed a lot of alligators of all shapes and sizes, some were in tanks others were behind metal fences. This was probably the closest I have encountered one.
One thing I noticed was that there weren’t that many foreigners around. Not even that many at the resort. Apparently you need to know locals who know the area to take you to the best onsens as many of them do not openly advertise, you see signs along the road but it’s all in Japanese. Thank goodness for my family friends who have lived in Japan for twenty years I get to experience Japan from a locals point of view!