Hanna Hussein just can’t get enough of everything the Shizuoka Prefecture has to offer

“OH, you can never get enough of Japan,” I always tell my friends. The country never fails to impress me every time!

I have been to some parts of the Kinki, Kanto and Hokkaido regions, and this time around I am planning to explore the Chubu region, specifically the Izu Peninsula of Shizuoka Prefecture.

Izu Peninsula, located 100km southwest of Tokyo, is a very popular weekend getaway among the Japanese due to its proximity to the city. However, not many foreign tourists know about this charming resort destination known for its beautiful coastlines, beaches and hot springs.

Beaches and hot springs sound enticing, so why not?, I think to myself.

Besides, Marriott International has recently opened up five spectacular resorts all over Japan, one of which is located in the Izu Peninsula.

So, here I am in a bus with 30 other travel writers from all over the world, heading to a road less travelled by foreign tourists, all excited to start my Izu journey.


MARRIOTT LIFE

I was expecting a gloomy autumn but the day turns out bright and cheerful. In fact, during the whole journey, I could get sightings of the white snowy peak of Japan’s highest mountain, the legendary Fuji.

It seems like she has been following me from Tokyo, and she definitely isn’t shy to show her beauty today. Standing at 3,776 metres high, the iconic summit is actually an active volcano. Her last eruption was in 1707 but no worries as there are no signs of her blasting hot lava any time soon. In fact, the mountain has become one of the favoured spots for hikers and is safe to climb from July to September.

After a long bus ride and a couple of pitstops (it takes around three hours non-stop drive from Tokyo by car), we finally arrive at the new luxurious Izu Marriott Hotel Shuzenji.

The hotel is located within the Laforet Resort Shuzenji, a 165-hectare highland resort so do be prepared for the hilly, winding road. But, once we are there, we are again dazzled by the sight of the beautiful Fuji with its bright pink and orange sunset hues that can be seen from the hotel. Oh, it’s breathtaking!

Each of us is appointed in the deluxe room with a private in-room onsen at the balcony overlooking the greenery. Ahh. a perfect Japanese retreat. What more I could ask for?

The onsen bath is sourced from the natural therapeutic alkaline waters. I can imagine coming back to the room after a tiring all-day excursion tomorrow and heading straight to the warm tub for a long soak to relieve muscle ache and tension. Or maybe I might do it tonight, and maybe tomorrow morning before heading out.

The room itself is super spacious. It has two twin beds (a common choice for Japanese) a working desk, a sizeable shower bathroom, and a high-tech lavatory with automatic toilet seat opening whenever one enters the cubicle. The room also comes with luxurious amenities that ensure a comfortable and productive stay. If you love to golf, get your gear ready. The resort boasts a 18-hole golf course with spectacular terrain. Our group even gets the chance to go on a golf cart tour. Boring, you say? Wait till you go for a joyride on a driver-less golf cart going up and down the hilly ground. Imagine riding a roller coaster, but for children! Still, it’s interesting to see the scenic course especially during sunset.

In the evening, we have dinner at the Grill and Dining G, an all-day dining restaurant at the hotel. It offers interesting fusion dining with the chef preparing a number of dishes cooked with fresh local ingredients from all over Izu Peninsula.

The dinner kicks off with bruchette of Amagi shiitake mushroom and turban shells from Numazu, followed by a cold appetiser of River Queen red-spotted masu trout carpaccio (a local salmon) with fresh wasabi root from Amagi which we get the chance to grate, and bone-in dry-cured Izu venison hand sliced upon being served by the chef.

Don’t like raw ingredients? Chef has also prepared a warm appetiser called Yuba made of soya milk. Actually, we get to prepare the dish ourselves. Each of us is given a bowl of soya milk which is boiled and which creates a soya milk skin which we dip into the Izu Kinzanji miso dip.

For mains, we have stone grilled red bream and abalone as well as Shimoda and wagyu beef from Shizuoka and grilled vege from Mishima. To end the savoury delight, the chef has made us a tempting dish of chocolate balls filled with vanilla ice cream and Benihoppe strawberries grown in Shizuoka. We also get to witness a traditional tea ceremony, and try it out!


CHARM OF SHUZENJI

The next day, we go on an excursion to see the town of Shuzenji which is less than 20 minutes from the resort. The town was named after the Shuzenji Temple, a well-known zen temple with a deep history.

Founded by Kobo Daishi, one of Japan’s most important religious personalities, the temple, which was built in 807 AD, has a picturesque private garden inside the compound, open for visitors to explore only during autumn season.

Fortunately for us, the day is as stunning as yesterday, perfect for a walk in the autumn garden. The temple garden is an Insta-worthy place to capture a few shots.

Besides that, visitors can also join in zazen meditation class (early bookings are required). The resident priest will ring a bell before and when it ends. The essential thing is not to become distracted while you meditate.

To do the zazen meditation, you must concentrate only on your thoughts and maintain your posture and breathing which I find quite hard!

Finished with zazen, we still have time to explore the charming Shuzenji town. While some opt to go for the onsen bath house available there, I decide to walk around.

My first impression is that the town feels like a mini Kyoto, but calmer. I love the fact that the place is not crowded. I stumble upon a mini bamboo forest, which is almost similar to Arashiyama but shorter, and calm streams and red bridges surrounded by autumn trees all over the town.

Also, there are several historical ryokan and a few tastefully designed shops and cafes. Most importantly, don’t forget to try out the local ice cream - vanilla with a zest of fresh wasabi!


HIGH WALK

Another attraction in the Izu Peninsula is Mishima SkyWalk where you can get the best view of Mount Fuji.

It is one of the longest pedestrian birdges in Japan with a total length of 400m, and a height of 70.6m along the slope of Mt Hakone.

Admission is 1,000 yen (RM36). For those who are afraid of heights, you can challenge yourself by walking across the bridge. It’s not as scary as doing a bungee, but the long bridge does sometimes wiggle. Don’t worry, it is totally safe to walk across it.

Once, you get over your fear of heights, you’ll be amazed by the beauty of the panoramic view. My advice is if you come during the cooler season, be prepared as it is a bit windy.

Once you have crossed the bridge, you can visit the observation deck where you can see more rich natural settings overlooking Saruga Bay. The landscape changes based on seasons.

There are small booths selling all sorts of local delicacies you can try including a sweet dessert called mitarashi dango, round dumplings skewered onto sticks made of rice flour covered with a sweet soya glaze. Yummy!


FISH MARKET

The Japanese fish market has always been in my bucket list. However, I didn’t get the chance to visit the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

But since I am already in the Izu Peninsula, I might as well visit the local fish market. There is actually one that is not too far from the resort, in Numazu, where tourists can witness the fish auction.

To witness the happening moment, one should be at the fish market before 5am. So here I am with the rest of the team, ready with our wet plastic boots, at the lobby of the hotel at 4am.

It is a 40-minute bus ride to Numazu market. When we arrive, the sky is still dark but the atmosphere inside the market is vibrant. Fresh local seafood has just been brought here from the inner port and ready to be auctioned to local retailers.

The market is huge with 160 to 200 species of seafood sold daily. Mackerel, sardine, squid, prawns of all sizes, giant crabs, you name it, they have it. The market is surprisingly clean, organised and with no fishy smell at all. It is said that it was designed so that mice and dust can’t come in. It is so organised that it even has a washing machine to wash the fish container and a store where recycled boxes are processed. Impressive!

At 5am, you’ll see the lively action of the auction. It goes one section to another, starting with the cheaper selections to the expensive precious seafood. Usually, there are no leftovers. Everything is sold out everyday.

In another room, we also get to see the tuna auction. It’s not the typical small tuna; I am looking at a line of huge giant frozen tuna, surrounded by men trying to get the best and freshest catch!

Of course, we’re not going back with empty tummies. While we are here, we will indulge ourselves in the fresh selection of seafood.

Just a short walk from the fish market is a row of fresh seafood restaurants, one of which is the Uogashi Maruten Restaurant where we will be having a bowl of kaisen-don, a sashimi rice bowl with all the freshest catch of the day.

In the bowl is rice topped with nine types of sashimi selections including raw sea urchin, house-brined salmon roe, baby tuna, fresh salmon, fresh tuna, and fresh prawn served with a bowl of hot miso soup.

Really, this is the best sashimi moment of my life! nhanna@nst.com.myplace


FAST FACTS

IZU MARRIOTT HOTEL SHUZENJI

1529 Odaira, Izu-shi Shizuoka 410-2415 Japan

TEL +81-558-72-1311

WEBSITE www.marriott.com/ hotels/travel/fsziz-izu-marriotthotel- shuzenji/

STAY 128 non-smoking residences, including 40 Japanese or semi-Japanesestyle rooms, 49 rooms with private hot-spring baths, two suites and one dog-friendly room.

DO Room with private hot-spring is available but you can also go for the spa which offers bigger onsen and with bathing suit zone which is complimentary for registered guests, Lava rocks by reservation only (costs ?540 per person (RM19.60) for 45 min and also sauna.

GO Explore Shuzenji town, Numazu Fish Market, Mishima Sky Walk or Kawazu during Sakura season.

EAT Experience Japanese fusion and international cuisine at Grill and Dining G located at level two.

HIGHS Very secluded luxury resort.

LOWS Not many attractions within walking distance.

FIVE NEW MARRIOTTS IN JAPAN

Marriott International has recently launched and rebranded five new hotels in Japan’s most scenic destinations - Lake Biwa Marriott Hotel, Nanki- Shirahama Marriott Hotel, Fuji Marriott Hotel, Izu Marriott Hotel Shuzenji, and Karuizawa Marriott Hotel. All the new locations are situated in Japan’s hidden destinations which offer charming unexplored places from lakesides and a view of Mount Fuji to hot springs and white sandy beaches.

With nearly 550 hotels and resorts in over 55 countries and territories around the world, Marriott Hotels is evolving travel through every aspect of the guest’s stay, enabling the next generation to travel brilliantly. For more info, visit www. MarriottHotels.com.


nhanna@nst.com.my

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