Located within a coastal property once owned by Baron Okura Kishichiro, the Kawana Hotel resort sits to the south of the hot spring town of Ito, on the east shore of the Izu Peninsula, where it overlooks the sparkling waters of Sagami Bay. Surrounded by the Fuji-Hakone-Izu national park, the resort lies around a two-hour drive away from Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, with the train journey from the capital taking approximately the same time.
The Kawana Hotel warmly welcomes golfers and non-golfers alike, offering visitors a wide choice of accommodation within a 100-bedroomed establishment that first welcomed paying customers back in 1928.
Half the rooms are appointed as spacious twin or double rooms, overlooking either the sea or the mountains and, for those requiring a little more elbow room, there are forty-two larger 40.5 square metre twin rooms available.
If these more commodious rooms are still too small, guests can choose between a top of the range ocean-facing twin (59.5m²) or triple (57.0m²) room, an 85.9m² Japanese room or one of two very large suite options.All rooms include a seating area, writing desk, flat-screen TV with satellite channels, refrigerator and minibar. The bathroom includes a bathtub and bathroom amenities.
The Grill restaurant on the 1st basement floor seats up to 100 people, specialising in casual-style dining for breakfast (06.45 – 10.00) and lunch (11.00 – 16.00). The Main Dining restaurant on the 1st floor caters for up to 52 people in the evening (between 18.00 and 21.00) with French cuisine being served.
The Sun Parlor Lounge which is also on the 1st floor is a light, airy space where floor to ceiling windows offer fabulous views of the ocean and up to 40 guests can have tea, coffee and home baking served here from 09.30 until 18.00.
Positioned within a 300-year-old house, the Japanese restaurant is very popular with foreign guests, serving fresh tempura as a speciality. In the tatami rooms, diners can choose Sukiyaki and Shabu-Shabu from the menu.
Nearby Ito is well worth exploring to see historic buildings like the Tokaikan. This three-story structure is one of the few remaining hot spring ryokan buildings that were constructed many years ago by master craftsmen using high quality wood and it houses rooms exhibiting historical artefacts which help to explain the building’s history.
Mount Omuro, only a 15-minute drive away, is an extinct volcano, shaped like an inverted rice bowl, that measures around 600 metres in height, with a crater approximately 300 metres in diameter. Visitors take a chair lift up the mountain to walk around the crater then, for the more adventurous, there’s the opportunity to paraglide back down to where they’ve come from.Close to Mount Omuro, the Izu Shaboten Zoo has over a hundred free-range animals – ranging from squirrel monkeys to peacocks – which are allowed to get up close and personal with visitors and there’s also a large cactus greenhouse within the zoo containing more than a thousand varieties of cacti from around the world.
The Kawana Hotel opened its doors for business in 1928 and it features two of the finest seaside courses to be found anywhere in the world. The Oshima debuted when the resort first opened, with the Fuji following eight years later, and down the years the resort has hosted numerous well known international celebrities and politicians.
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio visited the hotel during their honeymoon in February 1954. Joe had scheduled a weekend of golf and Marilyn arrived by train tired and ill from Tokyo with a sore thumb, rumoured to have been caused by Joe knocking a glass out of her hand.
Four years later, actor John Wayne is said to have spent time at the hotel during the filming of The Barbarian and the Geisha, a John Huston-directed movie which was set in 1850s Japan, with Eiko Ando co-starring alongside The Duke in this production.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto shared a 24-hour “no necktie” summit at Kawana in April 1998, when they agreed to pursue more economic co-operation and discussed the thorny territorial dispute over northern islands seized by the Soviets after the Second World War.
Within the property, there are more than nine thousand cherry blossoms – in full bloom for a short spell during February and March – and these highly symbolic trees (commonly known as “sakura”) within Japanese culture are said to encapsulate the concept of “mono no aware,” the transience of life.
Having purchased the clifftop stretch of land high above Sagami Bay in 1928, Baron Okura Kishichiro commissioned Komyo Otani from Tokyo Golf Club to carve out the fairways of the Oshima course, named after the island that lies just off the coast.
Charles Hugh Alison arrived in Japan two years later at Otani’s request to work on Tokyo Golf Club, residing at the city’s Imperial Hotel which the Baron’s family had built in 1923. When Alison and Otaki paid a visit to Kawana, they hatched a plan to transform the coastal retreat into one of the world’s finest golf destinations.
The Fuji course – which didn’t open until 1936, six years after Alison left Japan – makes the most of a dramatic landscape, where sunken fairways are routed through dense woodland as they play to sand-protected, raised plateau greens, with fabulous Pacific Ocean views thrown into the mix for good measure.
The third edition of the Eisenhower Trophy, the 4-man biennial world amateur team championship, was held at Kawana in 1962, when the United States retained the trophy it had won at Merion Golf Club two years earlier and this is just one of the many prestigious events hosted by the resort since then.
Here are a few review comments from golfers who’ve played the World 100-ranked Fuji course:
“The resort itself is world class, and a very old traditional hotel with incredible elevated views over the ocean.”
“As always, the food, hospitality and the ability to speak English was highly commendable.”
“The Japanese culture is very welcoming and they really go out of their way to make you feel at home.”
“My greatest compliment to the Fuji course is that, regardless of the ocean views, the course by itself is among the top 50 in the world.”
“Fuji is the real deal, worthy of global celebration and this hotel is on the short list for the #1 resort in all of Asia.”
“Much of the front nine is tree lined with conifers and driving to position is essential in order to avoid many well placed fairway bunkers.”
“Each hole is quite different and there are some quaint touches such as the bonsai pine in the middle of the 9th fairway.”
“Kawana is a beautiful C.H. Alison course with brilliant use of terrain, a lot of shot variety, beautiful bunkering and memorable par threes.”
“Kawana is one of the game’s gems and a stunning place to enjoy the game and Japanese culture.”
“There are many highlights on this course and the architecture is really fitting of one of the world’s best courses.”Read all Kawana (Fuji) course reviews