Where else can you soak with capybaras, visit an archery range in the heart of a volcano and find yourself surrounded by 18th-century automata dolls?
Nestled at the base of Mt. Ōmuro, a dormant volcano on the eastern coast of the Izu Hanto (Peninsula) just a couple of hours south of Tokyo, the Izu Kogen (Highlands) area is home to many fascinating and peculiar cultural experiences. With an incongruous mix of creepy museums, cute animals, charming countryside and mechanized dolls, Izu Kogen is the embodiment of the sentiment,“Only in Japan.”
Grass-covered and innocuous, Mt. Ōmuro rises from the surrounding flatlands like a giant fez hat. Visitors can attempt to climb the steep 580-metre-tall cone, but the chairlift is the easier option, and it takesthem to the perimeter of the crater wherethey can hike a well-worn trail and gaze out at the magnificent views of Mt. Fuji to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east. Here, guests often experience one of many “Only in Japan” moments—practicing archery in a range at the heart of a once-mighty volcano.
Mt. Ōmuro overlooks the picturesque IzuShaboten Zoo, best known for its cactus, capybara and fennec fox displays. More than 1,000 varieties of cactus and hundreds of animals call this zoo home. Come earlyto watch the capybaras soaking in steaming hot springs among floating yuzu citrus fruits as they always draw a big crowd, but don’t forget to visit the monkey pavilion and chimpanzee island, where visitors can interact with the chimps and spider monkeys. Located a little east of the zoo, the Izu Granpal Amusement Park features a waterpark, mini golf course, go-cart course, a giant zipline, roller coasters and even an off-leash park for dogs.
Parks not your thing? How about amuseum? How about seven truly unique and bizarre museums? Starting with the cute and wholesome, the Izu Teddy Bear Museum is tucked away in an old English-style home south of the zoo. This little museum has several large exhibits of antique stuffed toys, from its special My Neighbor Totoro exhibit to the hundred-year-old Teddy Girl, and even a lovely, airy tea room where you can enjoy decadent desserts with your childhood fuzzy friends. Cat lovers will pounce on the Izu Cat Museum, where displays of stuffed tigers, lions and feline skeletal replicas are interspersed with cute cat toys and lucky maneki neko cat sculptures. If real cats are more your thing, the museum also invites guests to play with 40 cats from more than 20 household breeds, including Russian Blue, Siamese, Bengal and Scottish Fold, to name just a few. Does the idea of a cat museum give you hives? How about the Music Box Museum with over 130 examples of automatic musical instruments, from music boxes to phonographs to organs? Perhaps discordant museums are more your thing; if so, the Wax Doll Museum, with its colourful Tex-Mex décor, 600 wax dolls from around the world and in-house Mexican-themed restaurant, will be your cup of tea.
Do you prefer your museums to haunt your nightmares? Then the Nosaka AutomataMuseum is right up your alley, with exhibits full of self-propelled smiling marionettes and puppets with vacant eyes. Invented by watchmakers in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of these automata are still functional,their jerky motions a reminder of how far we’ve come in robotics. Not far is theAyashii Shonen Shojo, or Mysterious Boysand Girls Museum, where the curator has collected pop culture ephemera from around the world and displayed them in a way that encourages sensory overload. Mannequins, arcade games, Godzilla toys, Star Warsgures and more await. In a similar fashion, the Maboroshi Retro Strange Museum houses dozens of dioramas of Japan’s history, explicit sculptures and Japanese pop cultural icons all thrown together in dissonant displays of decades-old delights.
Regardless whether you like your dolls fuzzy, waxy or automated, or if you prefer to just relax with some giant rodents and tiny foxes, the Izu Kogen area is sure to leave you in awe and saying “Only in Japan”—that is, before you join a queue to play with cats in a museum.