A great side trip to a visit to Tokyo is to Izu Peninsula, just a couple of hours by car, bus or rail from the mega-bustle of Japan's capital. There are open-air onsen (hot springs) under the gaze of mighty Mt Fuji. There's mountain hiking, golf and surf breaks.
Izu is peppered with quaint, tiny seaside fishing villages, many of which have very reasonable, good accommodation.
The main freeway to Izu cuts through the Fuji-Hakone National Park. It's an impressive feat of engineering, with myriad tunnels and switchbacks cut through the mountainside until you finally emerge high above the ocean.
Once on the peninsula proper, the narrow, winding coast road would easily rank with Victoria's Great Ocean Road or California's Pacific Highway as one of the world's most spectacular drives.
On the eastern side, the views across the Suruga Strait to distant snow-topped mountains and the sparkling lights of mainland cities are stunning.
On the western side, surfers flock to some excellent sheltered beaches and it almost has a California-like feel.
In between are countless onsen, golf resorts and bushwalking trails.
Here, too, is the bustling town of Shimoda, the port where, in 1854, the US flexed its military muscle to force the end of Japan's self-imposed international isolation.
Japan had refused to open its ports to Commodore Matthew C. Perry a year earlier; he returned with nine warships, which the Japanese dubbed kurofune ("black ships").
Although a slap in the face to Japan at the time, the black ships saga today generates big tourist dollars in Shimoda.
There's an annual Black Ships Festival in mid-May and you can take a coastal joy-ride in a full-scale replica of one of Perry's ships.
The town's Ryosenji Temple, where the Shimoda Treaty was signed, houses historic documents and Perry-related memorabilia.
And it's at Shimoda where I board what has to be one of the world's great "unknown" train journeys - the Black Ships train, which travels back up to Tokyo, hugging the breathtaking coastline all the way.
The 250km journey takes about four hours and costs just under $100 for a premium-class seat. Super-sized windows (hint: book a seat on the right-hand side) give great views of the coast and across to a chain of volcanic islands.
At Tokyo the train dovetails with the airport-bound Narita Express for a seamless, super-relaxing way to head for your flight home.
>> See www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/rtg/pdf/pg-410.pdf.
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