Did you know that you could go island hopping in Tokyo?
Tokyo, indeed, is full of surprises and a few of these can be found somewhere off the coast. Lying around the open sea are its island territories popular for its amazing sights, fun outdoor activities, and rich wildlife. The great outdoors await those who just want to take a break from the city’s concrete jungle.
Izu islands refer to the group of volcanic islands closest to Tokyo, nine of which are currently inhabited.
Izu-Oshima is the largest among the Izu island group currently inhabited by a population of 2,451 people as of June 1, 2016. Its most prominent feature is Mt. Mihara whose claim to fame in Japanese pop culture is it being the fiery grave of that famous Japanese monster Godzilla. For visitors, hiking it is the island’s main attraction. It is a steady climb with a beginner-level difficulty that goes all the way to the lip of the volcano’s caldera.
The impact of Mt. Mihara is apparent everywhere you go on the island. The topography is shaped by its presence – from the abundance of onsen hot springs to its black sand beaches. To explore the island, it is recommended to rent a car, which should be pre-arranged with travel agents in the mainland or with a rental car company within the island. The island circumference is a distance of 42 kilometers, which is just right for a day’s excursion.
Travel to Izu-Oshima requires an hour and 45 minutes ride on board a hydrofoil jetboat operated by Tokai Kisen departing from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier. There are 2-3 trips daily, and reservations are accepted 2 months before the date of departure.
Toshima is the smallest inhabited island of the group. It is also dubbed as the Camellia Island because 80% of the island is decorated with these flowers. In fact, there are more camellia blooms here than there are people with its population not even reaching 400.
The entire island is a national park with a circumferential distance of just 7.7 kilometers. To get around, walking is the only option, and as a tourist destination, it caters to a very particular set of people who are drawn to its remoteness and back to basics character. Besides hiking and nature, a pod of dolphins lives around the island. You can visit the island’s only diving shop to avail of their dolphin watching and scuba diving tours.
Travel to Toshima requires 2 hours and 20 minutes ride on board a hydrofoil jetboat operated by Tokai Kisen departing from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier. There are 2-3 trips daily, and reservations are accepted 2 months before the date of departure. Do take note that waters off Toshima can be too turbulent for small boats to dock, so there is always a possibility for these trips to skip this stop.
As an alternative, bigger ferries that also depart from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier are more stable and have better chances to dock successfully. The drawback is a much longer travel time of 9 hours. This trip, however, is an overnight sailing schedule.
Website: http://www.toshimamura.org/tourism (Japanese only)
There are plenty of sights to see and things to do in Niijima. For one, its long stretches of unspoiled white sand beaches and equally white sandy cliffs are the stuff that makes beach lovers gape in awe. Nicely formed waves on the eastern side of the island deliver some serious stoke for surfers, while the other side is more suitable for windsurfing.
When it comes to its elevated patches, there’s Moyai Hill – a site with more than 100 large stone carvings plus breathtaking views of Maehama and Yunohama beaches. The highest peak, on the other hand, belongs to Mt. Miyatsuka standing at 432 meters tall. It is a relatively easy climb with paved paths most of the way up.
Crafty people will also find something interesting to do at the Niijima Glass Center. Aside from displays, visitors can learn the art of glass blowing and create their own masterpiece to take home.
Finally, when all these activities take a toll on your body, soaking in a nice open-air Onsen atop a hill that overlooks the Pacific is the perfect ending to an activity-filled day. And by the way, the admission is free!
Travel to Niijima requires 2 hours and 20 minutes ride on board a hydrofoil jetboat operated by Tokai Kisen departing from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier. There are 2-3 trips daily, and reservations are accepted 2 months before the date of departure.
Website: http://niijima-info.jp/ (Japanese only)
Mikurajima is the top destination for swimming with dolphins. Wild bottlenose dolphins have lived around the island for a long time, and because of the locals’ commitment to protecting them and their habitat, there are at least a hundred of them swimming freely in the sea. Dolphin tours in the area are strictly regulated to ensure that tourism practices are done sustainably. There’s a cap of only 13 tourists per day with each tour lasting for about 3-4 hours including land and boat transfers. Tours run from April to November, and interested parties need to book a reservation at least two weeks in advance.
Travel to Mikurajima requires an overnight passenger ferry ride, also operated by Tokai Kisen. Total travel time is approximately 7 hours and 25 minutes long. From Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier, it will make a stop first at Miyakejima before arriving at Mikurajima.
Website: http://www.betanagi.jp/dhb/dolphin.html (Japanese only)
The smallest among the populated islands, Shikinejima offers an intimate encounter with nature and of course, the locals. The small scale is just the right balance of escape into nature and civilization. It seems to be the popular choice to go camping and likewise a good location for a variety of water activities, trekking, and a relaxing time soaking in one of its natural hot springs.
Travel to Shikinejima requires 2 hours and 40 minutes ride on board a hydrofoil jetboat operated by Tokai Kisen departing from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier. There are 2-3 trips daily, and reservations are accepted 2 months before the date of departure.
Website: http://shikinejima.tokyo (Japanese only)
This small archipelago is made up of over 30 tropical and subtropical islands south of Tokyo. To give you an idea of its distance from Tokyo, Ogasawara Islands share similar geographical latitude with Okinawa Islands. This world is far removed from the capital’s cityscapes and modern lifestyle. As a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, what it offers instead are rare and unadulterated natural gems from landscape formations to species of flora and fauna.
Ogasawara Islands only has 2 inhabited islands, of which Chichijima is considered to be its gateway to the outside world. It is the archipelago’s largest island with a population of approximately 2,000 people and is the site of the area’s main port where the Ogasawara Maru passenger ship from Tokyo docks.
Chichijima is blessed with amazing beaches, unique rock formations, nature trails, rich vegetation, and diverse wildlife. It is a paradise for people who love the outdoors, as there are many areas to explore and activities to do such as trekking, bird and whale watching, scuba diving, and a long list of other water sports.
Sunsets are also said to be more special in this part of the world. Because of the island’s endless horizon and location, a natural phenomenon called “Green Flash” can be observed from here.
Travel to Chichijima is a long sea journey onboard the Ogasawara Maru passenger ship that departs from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier every 3 days. It is a point-to-point journey with an average travel time of 25 hours on good sea conditions and will take longer if the conditions are otherwise.
Generally, Hahajima shares the same attractions and characteristics of Chichijima. It is all about nature here and appreciating the great outdoors. The main differentiator would have to be is Hahajima’s remoteness. It certainly does have that castaway feel. Though inhabited, the population here is significantly less with just less than 500 people living on the island.
Hahajima can only be accessed via Chichijima. From there, it is a 2 hour and 10 minutes sea travel serviced by the regular liner Hahajima Maru.
Kanagawa’s Sarushima Island is a mysterious one. It is now completely uninhabited, but it was once a military fortress dating as far back as the mid-1800’s. The installations are still there though nature has sure been reclaiming the island since its abandonment. The brick-lined tunnels are both enchanting and creepy, and if you’re a Ghibli fan, you’ll most likely agree that Sarushima is the perfect location for a live-action adaptation of Laputa.
The island is open for day visits only. Aside from sightseeing, fishing and barbecue parties on the beach are popular activities among the locals.
Travel to Sarushima Island requires train travel from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station to Kanagawa’s Yokosuka Chuo Station on the Keikyu Line. From there, ferries to Sarushima Island are docked beside Mikasa Park. There are hourly schedules from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM every day from March to November, and only on weekends from December to February. Total travel time from Tokyo is approximately 1.5 hours to 2 hours long.
Thumbnail image is from WikiMedia Commons.