I went to Atami last week. Atami is a city in the Shizuoka prefecture, famous for their hot springs. It’s located a convenient 1 hour shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Tokyo, so it’s a perfect day trip.
Atami has been a popular hot springs town since the 8th century, noted for its hot summers and surprisingly short winters (along with the beach and the variety of natural onsen hot springs).
In its prime, Atami was one of the top weekend destinations – especially company sponsored trips to the hot springs. But when the Japanese economy bubble popped, Atami was hit hard. These days, it’s still a popular hot springs spot and weekend getaway for company sponsored trips… but nowhere near to the same extent.
Oddly enough, I found that charming. The mix of vegetation, grand and run-down foreign-inspired buildings, and temples was relaxing. Perhaps I’m just weird.
There is a surprising amount of things to do in Atami, though, regardless of the time of year. I happened to visit on a day when a typhoon was hitting mainland Japan (oops) and still had a lovely day walking around.
These are my recommended spots in Atami (if you’re looking for things to do):
1. Relax at an Onsen (温泉)
First and foremost, Atami is famous for their onsen. I saw steam rising from grates in the pavement, from the top of buildings, and mysteriously through cracks in the rock at a shrine.
Atami is a hotspot for natural, authentic hot springs… and if you’re going to try hot springs anywhere in the Tokyo area, Atami is the place to go.
But then again, I’m rather addicted to onsen, so I’m biased.
2. Make some wishes at Kinomiya Shrine (来宮神社)
Kinomiya Shrine is by far the most impressive temple or shrine in Atami. It’s known as one of the “power spots” in Japan (areas that have supernatural powers).
Adjacent to the shrine is a massive camphor tree. It’s the second largest and oldest camphor tree in Japan and is rumored to house a Shinto god. And estimated to be over 2000 years old.
Apparently if you walk on the pathway around the tree, it will extend your life by an extra year and/or grant a wish that you concentrate on really hard.
They didn’t have anything in English, so that’s just my rough guess based on what I could read in Japanese (like 80%).
Kinomiya shrine itself is a beautiful, fun shrine nestled in nature. They have a koi pond, a couple side tori gates that lead to smaller shrine things, and an indoor area where you can buy charms, plaques of wood to make wishes, and other trinkets.
3. Ride the Atami Ropeway (熱海ロープウェイ)
If you want to get a good view of the city, make sure to take the ropeway up to the top of the mountain. It’s only 600yen for a round-trip ticket to the observation deck. From there, it’s only a flight of stairs to the wildly inappropriate adult museum and a three minute walk to both Atami castle and the trick art museum.
You can technically hike up the mountain, but since it was pouring the day I visited, I choose not to.
You can get a 500yen discount for the adult museum if you buy your ticket the same time as you buy the ropeway ticket.
4. Feel mildly uncomfortable at the Adult Sex Museum [only people over 18] (熱海秘宝館)
The Atami Adult Sex Museum / Atami Hihokan is… exactly as inappropriate as it sounds. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside (of course) and even if I could, I wouldn’t put them on this blog. My family members read this.
They have lots of drawings, some interactive figurines, and figures depicting a whole collection of fetishes. It was memorable, to say the least.
I was also like the only female in the museum. The rest of the patrons were groups of 2-5 young men, giggling at all the displays.
5. Enjoy the sights at Atami Castle (熱海城)
Atami Castle is the first (and only) castle I’ve been to that was built solely as a tourist destination. Or at least it’s the only one I KNOW of that was. Atami Castle was built in 1959, during the thriving years of Atami.
As far as I know, Atami has never had a castle… it seems like this was built part as a museum and part as a tourist destination. Reasons aside, it is an extremely fun castle.
You can dress up in Edo styled costumes, play various Japanese games, and learn all about the old samurai life. They have a couple temporary exhibits that change depend on the year. It costs 900yen to get in.
I highly recommend Atami Castle during the cherry blossom season – I’ve seen photos, it’s gorgeous.
You can also get a great view of the city from outside the castle.
6. Bend your mind at the Trick Art Museum (熱海トリックアート迷宮館)
Trick art museums are famous in Japan, for some reason. I’m not complaining – they certainly are fun. The one in Atami reminded me strongly of the one near Mt. Takao. It costs 900yen to get in.
You can get a discount if you buy tickets to Atami Castle and the Trick Art Museum at the same time, 1500yen for the set.
7. Sooth your soul at Yuzen shrine (湯前神社)
I wandered upon Yuzen shrine while trying to get lost in Atami (I find my best adventures when I’m traveling is when I just meander around till I get lost).
It’s a great contrast to Kinomiya shine – the vast difference between a famous (and tourist-y) shrine and a virtually unknown, tiny shrine. I met a nice old couple who were there praying but other than that, I didn’t see a soul the whole twenty minutes I sat on the steps resting.
To the right of the shrine, there was a small statue surrounded in steam. Upon closer inspection, I realized that the shrine must sit on top of an onsen, because the steam was coming up from underground hot springs. It was pretty cool.
8. Enjoy the architecture at Kiunkaku (起雲閣)
I like architecture as much as the next person and ended up having a lovely time at Kiun-kaku. Kiun-Kaku used to be a hotel and housed a number of famous authors (many of who I later learned committed suicide. Someone please explain why there is such a high rate of suicide among famous authors in Japan).
As an author, I was intrigued. And hoped that some of their awesome author-ness would rub off.
It’s only been a couple days, though, so I guess it’s too early to tell.
Kiun-kaku is a mix of Eastern and Western style architecture, with a lovely Japanese style garden. They also have English pamphlets! It costs 500yen to get in.
9. Soak up the art at MOA Museum of Art (moa美術館)
The MOA Museum of Art is a pretty solid art museum. It houses over 3,500 works of art from all over Japan, ranging from paintings and calligraphy to sculptures. It costs 1600yen to get in.
10. Dip your toes in the ocean
Well, if it’s the summer, you should go ahead and just jump in. Atami is known for its beaches and is apparently REALLY popular on weekend during the summer.
I went on a rainy weekday in September, so I was the only one on the beach.
11. Grab a drink at a “snack bar”
In its prime, Atami had a thriving nightlife to accompany the company-sponsored trips to the onsen. These days, the nightlife is still doing rather well (it’s just smaller).
If you’re in town, I recommend getting a drink at any number of the “snack bars” lining the streets near the beach. These bars are tiny – some with only seven or eight seats – and offer an authentic window into nightlife outside of Tokyo.
Most places open around 5:00pm and there are plenty to choose from.
12. Go shopping for trinkets along the old streets
The shopping streets near Atami station seem to be frozen in time. They look exactly like what you would have found if you visited two decades earlier – with small shops run by little old ladies. I bought several bags of souvenirs, tea, and clementine oranges from these stalls.
And, in a nutshell, that was my trip to Atami.
It was a fun day trip, despite the crazy rain. Towards the end, I was able to get about an hour of light sprinkles (so I could ditch the umbrella and just use my raincoat – to give my arm a break).
I highly recommend Atami if you’re bored and want a fun place to relax!