Every now and then you just want to get away and relax for a while. It’s easy to see ‘getting away’ in Japan as more of a chore if you’ve been through the over-priced ryoukan grinder with drill instructor hours and mediocre foods, or have opted for the very generic Prince Hotel route. However, as many have found, there are some great independent places out there, though finding them seems to be more work than it should be, so I thought I’d pass one on.
For us, even with the kids, we want to go somewhere not too far to get to, or at least, not too far and not too uninteresting to travel to, and somewhere where it’s all relaxing. One of the places we like to go to then is a guesthouse in Shimoda called Ernest House. [location]
I heard about this place a couple of years ago on the motorbike forum GaijinRiders, and people raved about it – great location near good beaches, lots of local places to eat and drink, and a calm feeling around the place, and it’s own great restaurant.
We first went down as a family last April, and just got back from a couple of end-of-week days – we tend to go out of season. The area really is beautiful to look it, even for those familiar with some of Japan’s stunning coastline – white sand beach, plenty of waves, some rocks, all in a fairly isolated bay. It’s a surfer place to be sure, the car park housing some of the day boarders, a smattering of seemingly dilapidated shacks pock the tree-lines, perhaps at one time, or in season, places to eat and drink, but out of season, they’re either shut down or weekend only.
Ernest House is a wooden guesthouse, named after the enigmatic writer Ernest Hemingway – though more after his calm writing locales, rather than the rest of his storied life I suspect! The interior has an open lounge, sofas, wooden floors, posters of Hemingway himself, and seems sure of itself – there are bookshelves of real books guests can borrow, in both English and Japanese, and not just Hemingway’s, there’s a selection from a cross section of writers.
In the lounge is a large TV (seldom used as far as we could tell) and guests are invited to borrow DVDs to watch in the lounge, or in their rooms (each now now has a large TV – when we first went it was a small CRT). There are also several acoustic guitars about the place people can strum on. The lounge and each of the rooms also have (old) Mac G4s for guest’s use, and free wifi for those who brought their own machines.
The rooms are again wooden floored and very cleanly designed – simple beds, decent toilets and bathrooms, a TV, the Mac, a fridge and some other basics. The feel of the place is one of simplicity, but they’ve got the touches right there, like the wifi, for what people want. There’s only one vending machine, and it’s tucked away.
The ambiance is excellent; no announcements, people wander in and out, and the whole place just feels as relaxed as an open house. I went down to the lounge at night to reply to some e-mail, do some writing of my own, and do some reading, and it was nice to just sit on the sofa, type away on the laptop and sip a beer, listening to the wind coming in off the sea in the trees.
The guesthouse has an adjoined restaurant for guests, which is open to the public during the day. We booked for both the dinner and the breakfast, and found both to be excellent. For dinner there were salad, fish and steak courses, before dessert and a cup of coffee. Every course was well worth the price, and they even did a smaller, slightly cheaper version of the dinner for our four year old, but it was a very adult oriented meal and she picked a little at it, but still ate enough.
The restaurant also has a pool table, and more books, so after our meal I tried to teach our eldest the basics of pool (and failed), whilst the rest read books. Despite the sound of it, it is fairly child friendly, with some childrens books and games to go at, if you didn’t bring your own. Apparently they also allow some pets.
Breakfast is something a little different at Ernest House – it’s a picnic hamper with fruit juice, cereals, a flask of coffee, some sandwiches and cake slices, with milk and yoghurt. You can choose to eat it in your room, outside at the hotel’s picnic tables, or even down by the beach. We went for the picnic tables, and it’s a very relaxed start to the day, just having a cup of coffee and an excellent sandwich outside watching the surfers go past.
For lunch, we opted for Cafe Marley near the beach, which wasn’t quite what we thought – for some reason I was expecting a ‘Bob Marley’ type feel to the place, and actually it isn’t at all, but the food was very good, if a little expensive. Previously we’d gone to Paradise Cafe, next door to Ernest House, and actually I’d probably recommend that, though there are several guest houses and restaurants down the beach road to choose from, or further inland, there are some good places to eat and drink within walking distance.
Some other things at Ernest House we didn’t do whilst there included the outdoor hot tub, which looked like fun, so maybe next time.
The beach itself is beautiful and clean, split into two by a small bridged river, with a few rocks and outcrops on both sides, which the surfers obviously avoid, but are great places for kids to explore, but take care, the tide and the waves are powerful, which is exactly why the surfers are there. Unlike Shonan and many places in Japan with the darker volcanic sand, Shimoda’s beaches are much whiter.
Each time I’ve gone, it’s been by car or by motorbike, either down the coast road (#134/#135) or the mountain route (#414), both of which offer fantastic scenery as you drive or ride. A note though, they take time, and they’re very twisty, so whilst I like them, I can appreciate some people may not, and may wish to go via some public transport which Ernest House list on their site. There is parking for cars and bikes exclusively for Ernest House guests, so parking shouldn’t be an issue, but in peak season, it’s probably better to check in advance.
The bottom line then is that even if you’ve been in Japan for a while, and even if you’re near the beach, going down Izu to Shimoda is worth the trip, even from Tokyo, so if you are looking for somewhere to get away for a few days, give Ernest house a call.