Sign Up for Our Monthly Asia Newsletter
The lure of the open road in Japan dates back five centuries, to the early 1600s, when feudal lords were required to make biannual pilgrimages to Edo (now Tokyo), Japan’s capital city.
With no motorized vehicles, or even paved roadways, Japan’s upper class faced an arduous trek to the capital along the country’s mountainous pathways.
Members of the upper class and their entourages, often numbering as many as 100 followers, traveled along five major routes leading into Edo. The most popular route, the Tokaido (East Sea Route) stretched along the coast between Tokyo and Kyoto and housed 53 government-sanctioned post stations along the way.
One of the busier post stations was the 11th station in Mishima city, which prospered as merchants flocked to the area to sell their wares to the travelers passing through on their way to and from the capital.
Today, travelers can skip the walk to Mishima, as the city is now conveniently served by the Tokaido Shinkansen rail. The bullet train ride from Tokyo takes less than an hour, making this an excellent day trip for visitors who are looking for a respite from Tokyo’s bustling energy.
Mishima, located in the eastern part of Shizuoka Prefecture, sits at the entrance of the Fuji-Izu-Hakone National Park, and the views of Mount Fuji alone make this an excellent reason to visit.
The city’s location, directly to the south of Mount Fuji, also means that it is a collection point for much of the mountain’s annual melt water, making it the site of some the cleanest waters in all of Japan. These pristine waters, and the resulting tributary rivers, have given the city the informal nickname “City of Water.”
The fresh waters are perfect for cultivating Japanese eel, and Mishima is famous throughout Japan for its unagi (eel) offerings, with dozens of unagi restaurants lining the city’s streets. The item to order is tokuju unadon, a rice bowl with eel that is basted in a sweet soy sauce marinade and then char-grilled over a high-grade charcoal.
While in town, the city’s most popular attraction is the Mishima Taisha shrine, Izu Peninsula’s first shrine. Although the shrine’s early origins are unknown, anecdotal evidence suggests that it dates back to the Nara period (710-794). The shrine garnered fame when Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (1147-1199), who would become Japan’s Shogun in 1185, came here for 100 days to pray for his family’s return to power.
The lovely temple grounds, which house a 1,200-year-old osmanthus olive tree, are particularly pretty in springtime when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. The temple grounds are frequently the site of local marketplaces, where vendors and artisans sell ceramics and hand-sewn garments.
Adjacent to the temple is the small “Treasure House” museum, which features several national treasures, including a lacquerware box donated by the wife of Yoritomo. Behind the museum is an enclosed area where the deer of Mishima Taisha make their home.
Groups of five or more can organize a formal tour of the shrine through the Mishima Tourist Association. Clients will be escorted by a Shinto priest and visit areas of the shrine not usually open to members of the public.
Another popular attraction in Mishima is Rakujen Park, a Japanese-style garden built around a pond sourced by water from Mount Fuji. Built by the Imperial Family Komatsu-no-miya in 1890, the original family home remains within the park confines, and is open to the public several times a day.
The park is also home to a small zoo, which catapulted to national attention when Lucky, a rogue macaque monkey, was housed there in 2010 after she spent several months roaming the streets of Mishima, reportedly biting or attacking some 120 residents. Lucky, who also bears the nickname “running away monkey,” jumped back to attention in January 2011 when she escaped the zoo, although she was recaptured some 24 hours later.
Today, Lucky continues to make her home in Rakujen, much to the delight of visitors from around Japan.
Although Mishima is a perfect stopping-off point for passengers traveling on the bullet train between Tokyo and Kyoto, clients who want to completely decompress might want to spend the night. Mishima is home to several local hotels, but a better bet is the luxurious Sanyoso Hotel, where Emperor Hirohito stayed when he visited the area. The resort, which features an excellent natural hot spring and a gorgeous garden, is a 20-minute taxi ride from Mishima Station.
Also nearby is the elaborate Gotemba Kogen Resort — home to three hotels and two cottage areas — with dramatic, unimpeded views of Mount Fuji. The resort is particularly well known for its award-winning Gotemba Kogen microbrew beer, which is served in all-you-can-drink portions at the resort’s Mugibatake World Kitchen buffet. Gotemba Kogen resort is about 40 minutes from Mishima Station, but free shuttle service is available.
Hoshinoya OkinawaJapanese hotel developer Hoshino Resorts, which runs a variety of luxurious traditional inns throughout Japan, has recently opened HoshinoyA Okinawa. The hotel’s signature concept of “authentic Japan with modern comfort” is in full play in the resort’s tropical setting. The 16-acre property consists of 48 red-tile-roofed villas with private gardens, white coral sand paths and ocean views. http://global.hoshinoresort.com
CupNoodles MuseumThe interactive CupNoodles MUseum, located in Yokohama, was built as a tribute to Momofuku Ando, inventor of the world’s first instant ramen. The facility includes a visual history of instant noodles, featuring some 3,000 different noodle packages. Children will likely enjoy CupNoodles Park, where slides, ropes and other playground structures will allow them to reenact the “life” of a noodle. Adults will enjoy the experience of making their own ramen, including designing their own cup and selecting the flavors for their noodles. The tour culminates at the noodle bazaar, a street market serving different types of noodles from around the world. www.cupnoodles-museum.jp
Kabuki at Tokyo’s National TheatreTokyo’s National Theatre is home to popular Kabuki performances. The theater is taking strides to make Kabuki more accessible to international visitors and now offers an “Earphone Guide,” which translates the dialogue as it happens, and provides background information to fill in the blanks for English-speaking visitors. www.ntj.jac.go.jp/english
Park Hyatt Tokyo Summer All-Inclusive PlanGuests can retrace the steps of Bill Murray in the Sophia Coppola film “Lost in Translation” while enjoying a single pricing plan that includes daily breakfast, daily lunch with a glass of sparkling champagne and complimentary access to the property’s famed “pool in the sky” fitness and spa facilities. Guests staying in the Park Suites at the Park Hyatt Tokyo also enjoy free parking and a $185 credit per room, per night. Nightly rates, for two people, start at $709 per night for a Park Deluxe Room, $870 for a Park View Room and $1,900 for a Park Suite. www.tokyo.park.hyatt.com
Hotel Nikko Group PackageEnjoy stunning views of the Tokyo port set against a lively Tokyo cityscape backdrop. Groups utilizing 15 or more rooms will enjoy rates starting at $243. Group bookings include complimentary, in-room, wired Internet access and the group organizer will also receive an upgrade to a premium oceanview room, as well as complimentary entrance to the spa area. Rates are commissionable and available through Sept. 30. www.hnt.co.jp/en
Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa Discover With You PackageSituated within the premises of the Kise Country Club and surrounded on three sides by its 18-hole, championship course overlooking the ocean, guests can experience the picturesque setting and location from one of the resort’s guestrooms, which feature spectacular views over the golf course and the East China Sea. Through Dec. 31, the Discover with You Package, which starts at $905 per night, features daily breakfast for two, a $100 hotel credit per night and two passes to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. www.ritzcarlton.com
New & Noteworthy
Palace Hotel Debuts in TokyoThe 290-room Palace Hotel Tokyo, located near the Japan’s Imperial Palace, opened to the public on May 17. The new property succeeds two previous hotels, the Hotel Teito and Palace Hotel that occupied the site from 1947 and 1961 respectively. The hotel’s main entrance is located across the street from Otemon Gate, once the main gate of Edo Castle. As a complement to the hotel’s 23 above-ground floors, four basement levels will feature 17 retail outlets. The underground will eventually connect to the Otemachi subway station, which is scheduled to be completed in spring 2013. www.palacehoteltokyo.com
Odaiba Welcomes New AttractionsOdaiba, Tokyo’s trendy shopping district near the Port of Tokyo is welcoming several new attractions. In spring 2013, Madame Tussauds Tokyo will open in the Decks Tokyo Beach Mall. The attraction will feature more than 60 popular Japanese and international celebrities from the world of sport, film and television — all in interactive themed areas. Decks Tokyo Beach Mall is also the site of the new Legoland Discovery Centre, which opened in June of this year. Sonic the Hedgehog fans will welcome the reopening of the Sega-owned Tokyo Joypolis, an indoor theme park, earlier this summer. The all-new DiverCity Tokyo Plaza shopping and entertainment center opened this April on Tokyo’s waterfront and features international fashion brands. The facility, which is fronted by a giant Gundam robot, a popular anime character in Japan, is home to the first-ever Gundam theme park.
Toy Story Mania Opens at Tokyo DisneySeaOn July 9, Tokyo DisneySea Park celebrated the grand opening of Toy Story Mania. Inspired by the Disney Pixar “Toy Story” films, this is the first attraction at Tokyo Disney Resort to incorporate 3-D visuals into a ride. Toy Story Mania is located in Toyville Trolley Park, an old-fashioned, New York-style amusement featuring a giant 26-foot-tall sculpture of Woody’s face, which serves as the attraction’s entrance. Inside guests board a tram, put on 3-D glasses and play carnival games with the “Toy Story” characters. www.tokyodisneyresort.co.jp
New Nonstop Service on Japan AirlinesJapan Airlines will launch new nonstop service between Tokyo (Narita) and San Diego, Calif., starting Dec. 2. The service will operate four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and will be a joint business service with American Airlines. Japan Airlines also recently started service between Boston Logan and Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the first route to directly link Boston with Asia. www.jal.com
Gotemba Kogen Resortwww.gotembakogenresort.jp
Japan National Tourism Organizationwww.japantravelinfo.com
Mishima Tourist Associationwww.mishima-kankou.com/english
Shizuoka Prefectural Tourism Associationwww.shizuoko-guide.com
Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages)Held annually in Kyoto, the Jidai Matsuri is one of the three largest festivals in Kyoto. Some 2,000 people dress in ancient costumes representing various eras of Kyoto’s 1,200-year history and parade through the city. (Oct. 22)
Shichi-Go-San (Children’s Shrine-Visiting Day)This is a ceremonial visit paid by parents and children to offer gratitude for the health of the children. Celebrations are held for boys who reach the age of 3 or 5, and for girls who turn 3 or 7 years old. Children dress in their best clothes and carry red and white chitose-ame (long, thin candy sticks), believed to bring good luck. (Nov. 15)
Dezome-shiki (New Year’s Parade of Firemen)Organized by the Tokyo Fire Department, this annual event is held to pray for a safe year. More than 100 fire engines and helicopters participate, along with large-scale fire-fighting and emergency drills. The main attraction is when men, dressed as firemen of the Edo Period (1615-1868), perform acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo which tower over the heads of the men supporting them. (Jan. 6)