Hana-no-mai1The Japan Times

The story of a little town near Tokyo with hot springs, geisha shows and saucy museums.

Naughty Atami is the Shizuoka resort with the beachfront soaplands and other salacious establishments. It’s got the fraying Hihokan (literally: House of Secret Treasures), likely the world’s least scholarly sex museum, with its holographic strippers and a Marilyn Monroe mannequin that exposes itself on demand. Enjoy “Carry On” movies or pens with pictures of girls whose bikinis fall off when you tilt them? You’ll love Naughty Atami.

But then there’s Serene Atami, the Izu Peninsula idyll that sits in what was once a volcano’s crater, and still enjoys enough bubbling sulfuric water to warrant a place on the nation’s Three Great Hot Springs list.

Serene Atami offers dreamy outdoor baths with views across Sagami Bay. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) used to frequent this one with his children, and legend has it that the old shogun ordered his poor underlings to haul barrels of water back to Edo Castle.

And finally there’s Time Warp Atami, where everything would benefit from a lick of paint. Time Warp Atami is a town of boxy, white architecture freckled with olde-worlde coffee shops and “smart ball,” the low-tech precursor of pachinko that’s fiendishly difficult, but with perseverance and plenty of ¥500 coins might reward you with a 3-inch plastic baby or a pen.

Time Warp Atami has gotten the most attention of late, shouldering the blame for the decline in tourism that’s been hurting the town since the end of the Bubble years.

The Japan Times