One of the most fabled hot-springs resorts in Japan, Shuzenji is located in the hilly center of the Izu Peninsula and can easily be incorporated into a trip to Mt. Fuji or Hakone.
Long favored by famous novelists, including Natsume Soseki (author of “Botchan” and “I am a Cat,”), Shuzenji’s international name recognition soared when it was selected to host the cycling events in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. This peaceful mountain retreat is just two hours by train from Tokyo but feels like a world apart.
Most overnight guests to Shuzenji stay in one of its excellent onsen ryokan, the traditional style of inn where bathing in natural hot-spring mineral baths is included in the tariff, as is a sumptuous multi-course Japanese dinner and traditional breakfast the next morning. If this is your lodging choice, you’re set as far as fine dining goes: the kitchen will draw on the best of local and seasonal foods, curating two amazing makase repasts for you. You won’t go wrong leaving the decisions to the chef.
When you’re on your own, whether for lunch and snacks, or if you’re in town just for the day, this guide will help you make your own discoveries of the tastiest fare Shuzenji has on offer.
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Shuzenji Eats: What to Try and What to Buy
We focus here on the old part of town which is centered around Shuzenji Temple and lines both banks of the Katsura River, connected by charming walking paths and little bridges. (The train- and bus-station is about three kilometers away, in a tidy open-air station complex with a convenience store, a gift shop with simple eats, and a very good tourist information center with friendly, English-speaking staff.)
While there are plenty of options for lunch, keep in mind that Shuzenji is quiet in the evening because most overnight visitors have their dinner in their inn. If you’re planning to stay in town for an evening meal, it’s a good idea to line up something in advance.
A good choice is Meshiya Mizu, reviewed below for their excellent bento lunch, which will re-open to serve an evening course (from 3,150 yen) if you make a reservation two days in advance. They can provide fully vegetarian meals for lunch or dinner, including using only plant-based ingredients for the dashi cooking broth, if given at least two-days’ notice.
Shuzenji is located smack dab in the middle of one of Japan’s premiere wasabi growing areas. The pungent plant requires very specific growing conditions, including ample pure water running at consistently cool temperatures. You simply won’t get wasabi any better or any fresher anywhere else in the world.
If the only wasabi you’ve tasted came from a tube, you’re in for a real treat — in Shuzenji, wasabi comes freshly grated, often right before your eyes. The flavors and aroma of just-prepared wasabi are amazing, and the combinations on offer in local shops are surprising, to say the least. Don’t miss the opportunity to try freshly grated wasabi on ice cream!
Try it here: There’s a lot of pride about the local wasabi in Shuzenji, so just about every eating establishment in Shuzenji takes the trouble to prepare their wasabi fresh, whether for sashimi, soba noodles or other dishes. So have no fear, you’re likely to get the real deal wherever you go. But here are a few of our favorites.
Café Hirono (カフェ弘乃), a tiny shop in the center of town on the river near the historic Tokko-no-Yu outdoor bath, offers soft ice cream garnished with wasabi grated on the spot to order, with both take-out and eat-in options. There are free foot baths nearby where you can sit and warm your heels while you eat your treat — if someone can hold your cone while you get your shoes and socks off! Pack a hanky or small towel to dry off afterwards.
Meshi-ya Mizu: This charming little restaurant near Shuzenji Temple offers Japanese-style atmosphere and excellent lunch value in their “Hanaguruma bento” (花車弁当), a pretty presentation of many tidbits of local foods including fish and seasonal vegetables, accompanied by your choice of three different rices: regular hakumai white rice, kuromai (black rice), which is a cultivated variety of wild rice that is both delicious and high in nutritional value, or gokokumai, a blend of white rice, barley, beans and two kinds of millet. If you can’t decide, they’ll give you some of all three.
Amago-jaya (also listed below for their river fish) uses only fresh wasabi. It’s served with just about everything on the menu, right down to drinks and dessert! We had fun grating our own wasabi at the table, and finished up our meal with vanilla ice cream topped with a big dollop of freshly grated wasabi. The restaurant also retails wasabi so you can buy some of the ungrated product to take home for later.
Buy it here: In the old part of town near Shuzenji temple, you can pick up fresh, whole wasabi at Kame-ya (亀屋), one of three gift shops in a small single-floor complex across from the historic Arai Ryokan, or from Daikoku-ya (大黒屋), a tofu shop located on the same street heading away from the temple. The Amago-jaya restaurant also sells whole wasabi to-go. If you’re heading out by train, stop at the gift shop inside the station, or stroll a minute out the south side of the station to the Iida Wasabi (飯田ワサビ) shop, which has all sorts of wasabi products.
Amago (Oncorhynchus masou macrostomus) is one of Japan’s most prized fresh water fish, the red-spotted masu salmon. “Masu” means “trout” and, as the name suggests, the taste is something between salmon and trout.
Try it here: Amago-jaya (あまご茶屋) specializes in this tasty river fish, serving it up in all sorts of tempting ways, including shio-yaki (grilled with salt) and kabayaki, a method of preparation featuring a sweet-and-salty sauce that is more commonly made with unagi (eel). If you like sashimi, try the “Amago Zuke-don” with marinated slices of the raw fish served along with its roe atop rice.
Buy it here: Hana-no-Michi (花の道)
China is a major exporter of honey to Japan, but discerning consumers go out of their way to find the much rarer domestically-produced product. The Hana-no-Michi store carries all sorts of bee products, including honeycomb, propolis and royal jelly, as well as gift items made with honey. There’s a window offering ice cream topped with honeycomb, take-out only.
If you haven’t sated your sweet tooth with all those ice cream offerings, check out the charmingly traditional teahouse Isseki-an (一石庵) for traditional Japanese confections. It’s located right on the river that runs through the center of town.
Craft workshop Uchicchi (遊房 うちっち) doubles as a café and offers good coffee, simple lunches and a freshly baked sweet of the day.
Local Craft Beer
Try it here: Baird Taproom & Brewery Gardens Shuzenji
American Bryan Baird runs a craft brewery in Shuzenji. There’s no restaurant on premises but light snacks are available, including deer jerky. Visitors are welcome to carry in their own food to enjoy with the fresh beers on tap.
The Izu-Bandai sake brewery is located just outside of Shuzenji, and most inns and restaurants in the area carry a selection of their sakes. Try the relatively straightforward futsu-shu arabashiri (first-run sake) 普通酒 あらばしり or pay a bit more for their daiginjo “Wakitaya” 大吟醸 脇田屋.
Buy it here: To buy Izu-Bandai and other sakes by the bottle, check out the Yagawa (矢川酒店) or Matsuya (松屋商店) liquor shops in the old part of town. There are also some Izu-Bandai selections at the gift shop in the train station.
Find more information on Shuzenji on their Tourism Promotion website (machine translation into English, Korean and Chinese).
Which dish or drink would you like to try the most?
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Alice Gordenker is a Tokyo-based writer. She started her career in journalism reporting from Washington, DC for food industry trade publications on regulation and legislation. Since relocating to Tokyo more than 20 years ago, Alice has made it her “life work” to provide insight on Japan through various media including newspapers, magazines, television and film.
She is delighted to be an early contributor to Japanese Food Guide, where she can once again focus on great things to eat, and how they are grown or made.