There are so many onsen, or hot spring, towns in Japan that have had their rise and fall in popularity throughout the years. Atami is one of Japan’s resort towns that has seen its glory days, and unfortunately moved past them (but this is part of its charm). I’m not quite sure why this cute, seaside onsen town had its fall from grace, especially when it is so close to Tokyo, and easily accessible by train. But if you ask me, Atami is on its way back to popularity!
Atami’s streets were bustling with people; restaurants were packed and new, stylish, dessert places had long lines of fashionable teenagers. The sand on the beach was beautiful and the water was clear. And it’s relatively close to the heart of Japan’s mainland, Tokyo.
I recently went and was rather impressed, so let me give you the highlights (sushi! pudding! beach!), and then decide for yourself if its worth a visit or not!
How Far is Atami from Tokyo?
Atami is an easy day-trip destination from Tokyo. The Shinkansen runs that way often, and the trip is around 43 minutes. The cost for the Shinkansen will be around ¥5,000 yen, which is a bit steep for a day-trip. The local JR train (Tokaido line) also goes that way, and though it takes longer (closer to 2 hours) it is also much cheaper.
If renting a car is an option for you, that trip will also be around 2 hours. You will have more freedom to travel around the area, but you will also find yourself at the mercy of traffic going in and out of Tokyo (Oh God).
Atami Ryokan and Onsen
As Atami’s claim to fame is for the quality of its hot spring water, let’s start here. Actually, the name Atami literally means “hot ocean”. Historical Atami has been around for over 1,000 years and has had its share of famous visitors who came to experience its healing waters.
However, Atami experienced a large earthquake and tsunami back in the 20s so the modern town came about after that. It became a hugely popular tourist destination and even had its own Geisha to entertain the multitudes of visitors! This golden age came to end around the 1990s when the Japanese bubble burst and people had less money to spend.
I stayed at the Atami Tsuki-no-Sumika. The exterior has a charming dilapidated glamour, framed by the ocean which slopes down beneath the ryokan. The interior has been recently renovated and the interior lounge features nice views of the ocean and beach below.
Tsukino Sumika Atami Juraku: A Charming Onsen Ryokan
The Atami Tsukino Sumika Juraku has an indoor and outdoor onsen, as well as a sauna. The facilities looked really nice and clean and the water was a good temperature. I find some onsen to be unbearably hot but the hot springs here were easy to relax in for some time.
There is also a private bath that you can reserve at the front desk, which is great for families and couples. Additionally, if you are shy and don’t want to use a public bath this is a good choice.
Dinner was included with our stay and served in a private dining room. They have a few different dining plans, so guests can choose according to their likes and dislikes. I really enjoyed the Kaiseki Cuisine (a traditional, multi-course, Japanese meal). The ingredients were all really high quality. I especially enjoyed the sushi, sashimi, and thin-sliced meat.
There are many different types of room available to book. Some come with their own open-air baths, while others offer a wide tatami space with a few sliding doors. This is the kind of room I stayed in; you can close and open doors to create more privacy, and put down the futons wherever you want. A large convertible room like this is a great option if you are traveling with a big group, like I was!
As far as I know there are no Western-style (meaning with a bed) rooms available, but definitely check out Atami Tsukino Sumika Juraku website for more details: https://hpdsp.jp/atami-jurakuhotel/en/
Atami Pudding: Cute and Delicious
Just follow the crowds of people and you will find Atami Pudding (or Purin, as it’s known in Japan). Their pudding is known for coming in cute glass bottles stamped with a red hippo. The line was insanity. There was literally a space rented across from the shop so that people could stand on line without crowding the street! I think part of the excitement was the easing of Covid-19 restrictions (Atami Pudding closed its storefront during the initial state of emergency and only operated online).
To be fair, it was pretty good pudding and they had some interesting flavors (like matcha, strawberry, milk, and cheese) to choose from. Since I was with a group we opted for the variety box and the order of choosing was decided with a short game.
The verdict: (from a grouchy New Yorker who hates lines) 15 minutes isn’t that long to wait for some cute and yummy pudding.
Their official website: http://www.atami-purin.com/
Atami Sun Beach
I was really impressed by the beach, which is man-made. The water was extremely clear and clean, and the sand was so soft. There’s a convenience store nearby so you can have a picnic (or a few beers). There are toilets near the beach, and also in the store.
Moreover, there’s a public bus that will take you back to the station right across the street. Atami slopes down towards the water rather steeply at times, so while going down is easy enough..walking back might prove a challenge.
At night there are illuminations at Atami Sun Beach, but I didn’t see that because it rained the night we went. When they are being held, you can catch them from sunset to 10 PM. A few times a year there are fireworks. Next time, I would like to time my visit better. I went in September so the summer crowds were gone, but it was a bit cloudy and rainy at times.
The Verdict: Should I Go to Atami?
If you are visiting from abroad and have limited time for travel in Japan, I would opt to go to nearby Kamakura instead, as there is more to do there in terms of cultural and historical sights. You can find my take on Kamakura here and my review of a new hotel in Kamakura here.
However, if you are interesting in more of a local flavor definitely check out Atami. There is a castle and this Japanese resort town itself is very charming. Walking around and browsing the shops is interesting in this sloping city, the pudding is cute and delicious, the sushi and sashimi and other seafood is excellent this close to the ocean. And you can relax at the end of the day in the hot spring waters.
If you live around the Tokyo area, definitely!