A view of Sagami Bay from atop Shonan-daira Photo: VICKI L BEYER

Shonan-daira: Hiking to a hilltop for lunch

By Vicki L Beyer

Oiso, on the scenic Shonan coast between Yokohama and Odawara, is frequently overlooked by tourists and day trippers. But it shouldn’t be.

A post town on the famed Tokaido road between Kyoto and Edo (modern-day Tokyo) immortalized by Hiroshige’s famed set of 18th century woodblock prints, and more recently a holiday home site for the rich and famous of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this is a spot with lots to see and do -- historic houses, museums, beaches and a fishing port, and heading inland, some excellent hiking.

It takes only about an hour to reach Oiso on the JR Tokaido line from Tokyo, making it an easy day trip destination. Just after the train leaves Hiratsuka -- the station before Oiso -- a peek out the windows on the inland side of the train provides a clue to the hiking delights that await. It’s a lumpy protuberance of a hill, Shonan-daira, featured in another Hiroshige print, this one of the Hiratsuka post town on the Tokaido.

A verdant hillside hike Photo: VICKI L BEYER

There are a number of scenic trails leading to the summit of this 181-meter hill. Many of them transit the two neighboring lesser hills, Komayama and Awatarayama. From the plateau atop Shonan-daira, known as Komayama Park, one gets spectacular 360-degree views, including Mt Fuji on a clear day. For an additional treat, the summit is home to an excellent lunch restaurant. 

Mt Fuji view from atop Shonan-daira Photo: VICKI L BEYER

The easiest way to find the trails is to drop by the friendly Tourist Information Office next door to the police box to the left across the plaza from Oiso Station. The staff there will happily provide you with maps and suggestions. If you can’t do that, then turn right when leaving Oiso Station, walk under the train tracks at the first opportunity (after about 200 meters) and continue up the road for about 100 meters until you reach a signpost indicating a right-hand turn to the trailhead of one of the most scenic trails to the top. Similar signposts will guide you along the way. The entire ascent takes only about an hour, an easy and pleasant hike.

A signpost for the hiking trail points the way. Photo: VICKI L BEYER

Initially the walk continues through a residential neighborhood, albeit steadily (and sometimes steeply) climbing along the way. Beautiful coastal views begin to appear as soon as you gain a bit of elevation. Once you pass through Takada Park, a local park named for Takada Tamotsu, a journalist/writer of the first half of the 20th century who made his home here, you are soon on a hiking trail through verdant woodland.

The trail leads up and down, with occasional forest fire warning signs and tiny local shrines. There are even a few weekender houses. Notwithstanding the well-groomed trail and the beauty of the area, there are relatively few other hikers. This solitude is rare, especially so near to Tokyo.

"Circle of Love" at Komayama Park Photo: VICKI L BEYER

Being a park, the summit of Shonan-daira is a broad open plaza, rimmed by cherry trees. At the north end is a communications tower offering two levels of viewing platforms for visitors. At the south end is a ferro-concrete “rest house” with several levels of viewing platforms in all directions. There is free wi-fi and, on one of the viewing platforms, a “circle of love” sculpture on which lovers leave padlocks, “locking in” their love. On the bottom level of the guest house are toilet facilities and a small shop selling souvenirs, ice cream, and all manner of items picnickers and day trippers may be after. One level above is a restaurant called Flat, which specializes in lunches with a view. But the views are not the best thing about the place.

The food philosophy at Flat is to use healthy, locally-sourced foods as much as possible. Local organic rice, local vegetables, locally-raised chicken and locally-caught fish are all featured on the menu, in tasty combinations. Maguro (tuna) in a breaded cutlet and served as “katsu curry”, a “burger set” with a choice of fish, pork or chicken, and a lunch set with similar animal protein choices as well as salad, roast vegetables, soup and rice are all featured. Fruit and vegetable smoothies, whole-grain waffles and coffee are also available. This is a great lunch spot, well worth the hike.

If you weren’t after lunch in the first place, another food option is Little Tree, a “hot cake parlor” near the parking area at Komayama Park. They serve fluffy, plump hot cakes for eat in, perhaps with a nice tea or coffee, or to take away.

Flat has both a local hiking map and a bus schedule on its walls. The bus service from the top of Shonan-daira is quite limited — only a handful of buses daily—  but there is a roadway leading down the hill and another bus service from the bottom, if you have your heart set on a bus ride. If you’re ready to walk off your delicious lunch, go back the way you came, or choose one of the other trails to descend. There are both short and long choices, but none will take more than an hour and a half.

Back at Oiso Station, if you’re not quite ready to head back to Tokyo yet, it’s just a 10 minute walk down to Oiso’s broad black sand beach, giving you a chance to turn your day of hillside hiking into a turf to surf kinda day.

Vicki L Beyer, a regular Japan Today contributor, is a freelance travel writer who also blogs about experiencing Japan. Follow her blog at jigsaw-japan.com.

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