When an old school friend who studied architecture at University recommended to visit Egawa House near Nirayama Station of the Izu Hakone Line, in order to see the earth-floor, I took it as a challenge I was willing to accept. I usually visit the Izu area in Shizuoka for hot springs and fishing by car, so it sounded so far to visit Izu by train. A few years later, I decided to go to the Egawa House, combining a visit to Shuzenji Temple in a one day trip. Shuzenji Temple area has a long history related with the Kamakura era and it’s also popular for hot springs.
The Egawa House
The origin of the Egawa House dates back to the 17th century and it has survived both natural disasters and World War Ⅱ. Large-scale repairs have been done several times and it is now a museum. The house’s tatami rooms and garden, planted with azaleas and maples, offer respite from the bustle outside. The house presents one of the most inspiring displays of architecture you will find in the countryside of Japan. Be sure to check out the earth-floor to see the primitive way of construction from an early age. The earth-floor at Egawa House was used for the kitchen and indoor workplace with double height. The height is about 12m and roofing is thatched grass in a multi-layered structure. If you look up at the double ceiling, you can contemplate the amazing construction that used thick-beams and wooden framing. The roof frame is irregular due to constructing without a blueprint. The earth-floor is rough and natural sunlight comes in through a gap in the roof frame. It must be fun to see the changing colors of the light on the earth-floor. As the family of a local magistrate, the Egawa clan admired the spirit of simplicity and frugality. In the center of the garden, there is a huge well that was used for brewing Japanese Sake until the beginning of 18th century. Next to the well, a huge tree has prospered like the Egawa family.
Ruins of Nirayama Castle
The site itself is small but if you want to have a nice walk while viewing Mount Fuji, I suggest walking through the ruins of Nirayama castle next to the Egawa house. At the end of the 15th century, the Egawa family became a retainer of Houjo and constructed Nirayama castle. It used to be a mountain castle, and only land elevation has been left, but you can see beautiful Mount Fuji from the top of the small hill.
Nirayama Reverberatory Furnace
The Egawa Family’s greatest achievement was to build a Reverberatory Furnace at Nirayama. The 36th head of the Egawa family, Hidetatsu Egawa learned modern military technology and systems through the study of Dutch. After the arrival of Commodore Perry and his black ships in 1853, Hidetatsu Egawa gathered information on the social situation as related to the overseas and international circumstances. He was concerned with the Japanese position and contributed to the national administration. He led the Western fortification of Japan’s coastal defenses, constructed 12 man-made islands and put cannons at Odaiba in Tokyo. People sank piles of wood onto the ocean floor and filled them in with sand and stones to create defensive forts. To put cannons on the forts, Egawa built a Reverberatory Furnace for casting of metal. The way of casting had been developed in Europe from the 17th to 18th century in order to melt the metal and cast cannons. In 1857, the Reverberatory Furnace was constructed and it has been maintained until now. I could approach the furnace bodies and 16-meter chimneys which are protected by steel frames.
If you take a tour boat from Toyosu or the Asakusa area to the Odaiba area, you can still see the third and sixth forts, which remain as historical sites, under the Rainbow Bridge.
Coffee Square Galleon
The Nirayama circulation bus, which visits both the Egawa House and Nirayama Reverberatory Furnace, runs on weekends and national holidays. There was no direct bus on the day, so we walked for over 30 mins and found Square Galleon Cafe to take a rest.
Shuzenji Hot Spring
After walking 20 mins from Nirayama Reverberatory Furnace to Izu Nagaoka Station, I took Izu Hakone Line to Shuzenji Station for 15 mins. Once off the train, take the bus for 10 mins (it will be there to meet the train) to Shuzenji Hot Springs bus stop. A local map is available at the Information Center at Shuzenji Station.
Shuzenji hot spring is said to be one of the oldest hot spring resort towns in Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture. The size of the town is very small but it is popular to visit for taking a bath. You can take baths at some ryokan inns for non-staying guests during the daytime. It costs around 1,000 yen.
Shuzenji Hot Springs area is an old-fashioned town, but still you can see the atmosphere of the 80’s in Japan. There are various kinds of Ryokan Inn and guest house, so a one–night stay would be fun. The best part of Shuzenji area is the Katsura River. The town was developed along the river, so you can enjoy the river views from everywhere. If you drink coffee at the riverside cafe, you can enjoy the cool wind from the river.
Shuzenji Temple is one of the historical sites related with the Kamakura era. Yoritomo Minamoto was a founder of the Kamakura shogunate. His brother and his son were imprisoned here. I had expected a huge site but it was tiny and as lonesome as its tragic history.You can join a medication lesson on every Tuesday from 9:30 am. A reservation is needed via website and it takes from one to two hours.
Short hiking near Shigetsuden Temple
Shigetsuden Temple was built by the wife of Yoritomo Minamoto for her assassinated son. The face of the Buddha statue is so merciful and peaceful. Next to this temple, the tomb of the son stands calmly under green trees. I climbed a small hill though the mountain path behind the temple to see Oshaburi-ba-san stoneworks dedicated to a god of parenthood. Some part of the path is narrow and steep, so flat shoes are recommended.
Tokko’s hot spring
Tokko’s hot spring is located on the riverside of Katsura and it is thought to be one of the oldest hot springs in the Izu area. We could not take a bath, but could enjoy a foot bath next to Tokko hot springs.There is a bamboo forest near the springs. It is very short and narrow but the 2-3 min walk is very picturesque. A small gallery near the bamboo forest showed a small exhibition of local painter arts and the arranged flowers were so beautiful.
If you have visited Kamakura, a one-hour ride from Tokyo Station, you should love Mishima Taisha, a 20–min walk from Mishima Station. Yoritomo Minamoto prayed here to retrieve the Minamoto Family before raising his army.Yoritomo Minamoto was born at the end of Heian era of emperors and nobles, when samurai-warriors started to gain power. His father lost the battle with the Taira clan and he became exiled as a 13-year-old to Izu. He grew up and decided to fight against the Taira clan and prayed for victory here.
When I visit historical sites which I know through a novel or videos, sometimes I’m disappointed at the gap between the reality and what I had imagined. However, Mishima Taisha looked exactly the same as I had thought. The founding year is unknown but historically it appeared in the 8th century. The main building is mid-sized and the design is strong with authentic samurai-warrior like taste.
How to get there
Izu Peninsula is located to the west of Tokyo with mountainous regions and sea. It is also filled to the brim with historical architectural sites. There’s plenty to see and eat and places to relax and is a year round destination for sunny and warm weather. If you take just one day for an Izu trip, there is more than enough time to experience the Izu countryside.
If traveling from Tokyo, take the Nozomi Shinkansen Express for 56 mins from Tokyo Station and get off at Mishima Station. Then, switch to the Izu-Hakone Line bound for Shuzenji. The Nirayama Station is five stops before Shuzenji and is approximately a 20-min ride. Walking for a further 20 mins will bring you to the Egawa House.
The landscapes of Izu Peninsula are extremely diverse: from fishing villages to a mountainous plateau through rice fields on the Izu Kogen Plateau. A great way to see the region is by road tripping, although train travel is also a great cultural experience. The transition from Shinkansen Bullet Train to Izu-Hakone Line at Mishima Station was so smooth. The Izu-Hakone Lines comes often – every 15 minutes. The train runs through the countryside, so we enjoyed the view from the seats.