Known as the gateway to the scenic Izu Peninsula, Atami was hugely popular as a resort getaway at the time of the bubble economy, attracting hordes of visitors with its hot springs and seaside atmosphere. The lustre has worn off a bit since the bubble burst, but the town is definitely still worth a visit, as there's a certain raffish charm and a number of interesting sights.
What to see
The main attraction is the hilltop MOA Museum of Art, with a fine collection of historical Japanese and other Asian artworks in a striking building. For more art, there's the delightful Sawada Seiko Memorial Museum (my favourite spot in the town), set in pleasant Bai-en Park.
If it's cultural history and tradition you're interested in, there are a handful of places to visit, among them the small but charming Buddhist temple Io-ji - actually of modern construction - and the venerable shinto shrine Kinomiya-jinja. The town is also home to a couple of attractive, beautifully preserved old residences: Kiun-kaku once served as a hotel for literary types, and Hyuga Villa has plenty of interesting unusual architectural features.
Stroll on along the waterfront past the handsome marina and you come to the Atami Ropeway, a cable-car that takes you to the top of the hill overlooking the town. At the top you'll find Atami Castle - not ancient, but purpose-built as a tourist attraction - which contains a small museum and has a fine panoramic view of the region.
Last, and certainly least in a traditional sense, next to the Castle is the Hihokan - I'll call it here the 'Adults Museum' - which I understand has a comprehensive range of sometimes slightly dated but entertaining displays on X-rated themes.
Where to eat
There's plenty of fresh seafood to be had in Atami: I once had a very nice fried oyster set lunch - sadly, I don't remember exactly where - and there are a number of sushi restaurants on the covered arcades by the station and around the town. If you're in the mood for a relaxed and very leisurely-paced meal, I can recommend Rose Mary Cafe, where I once had a delicious and inexpensive lunch.
How to get there
Atami is a stop on the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train, with regular departures from Tokyo and Shinagawa stations, the journey taking 40-50 minutes. If you're not in a hurry, the regular train takes about two hours from Tokyo, though you might have to change trains along the way. Or if you have a car, an internet check tells me that it takes two to three hours to drive, depending on the traffic.