Ride the ordinary Tokaido line from Tokyo to its southernmost end, or miss your stop on the shinkansen, and you'll find yourself in the sleepy resort town of Atami. In Japan's boom days, Atami was the weekend vacation of choice, and on holidays you might still see busy streets and happy shopkeepers. But its luster has faded, and much of what is standing today was built before 1991. You'll find, though, that rather than feeling like a step down from an exotic resort, Atami's easy-going pace of life can make it a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and it has a nostalgic charm that up-and-coming hot springs villages can hardly imitate.
It's great to just wander around in Atami, taking in the relaxed atmosphere, but there are a few places you shouldn't miss. Young travelers can't do better than to stumble into CAFE RoCA, easy to spot with its distinctive blue storefront. While you enjoy delicious Finnish cuisine, grab some event pamphlets and talk up the waiters and cooks, who seem to have a good knowledge of places to go and things to see in the area. Don't use food rating websites in this town; all the good recommendations will come from the locals.
Get a history lesson at Yushima Yuugijo which serves up manual, antique "smart ball" pachinko, the way it was played before it became Japan's national addiction. Observant tourists will notice that not only this gaming house but many of the storefronts and buildings in Atami look straight out of Japan's boom days, the 1960s to 1980s. Modern buildings are meanwhile hard to spot-- it's as if the whole town has been stuck in time.
Before you leave, don't forget to visit the MOA Museum of Art, a quick bus ride from the station. When you go through the ticket gate and begin your seemingly endless ascent of 14 100-foot-long escalators (1/4 of a mile in total), it's easy to get an eerie inkling that this museum is connected to a religious organization. But at the top of those escalators is a jaw-dropping collection of classic Western and Eastern art that deepens one's aesthetic taste and makes for a fine beginning or ending to a pleasant weekend trip.