Sitting on a Gold Mine: Discover the Islands of Tokyo
Tokyo Gastronomy Tourism introduces the islands of Tokyo through gastronomy. Many people aren’t aware that Tokyo is home to a number of islands that are 100 to 1,000 kilometers south-east off Japan’s Pacific coast. Some of the islands are only 25 to 50 minutes away by plane from Chofu City in west Tokyo. Chofu Airport serves as a gateway to four islands of the Izu archipelago: Oshima, Niijima, Kozushima, and Miyakejima. Yet, not many Tokyoites have taken advantage of their astounding beauty.
The Izu Islands consist of hundreds of islets, nine of which are populated by 25,000 residents in total. The closest populated island of about 8,000 people, Oshima, offers hiking on Mt. Mihara. Visitors can often view a brilliant night sky, giving the island its other name, Planetarium Island. Niijima is a mecca for marine sports and popular for its long stretch of white sand beach. Kozushima is a sacred sanctuary known as a prime place to experience nature’s power and as a spiritual site. Miyakejima is famous for shrines, which total more than 100, as well as its wilderness and volcanoes, which are inhabited by wild birds. You can dance with dolphins around Mikurashima and swim with turtles off the coast of Hachijojima. And, if you go further south to the Ogasawara Islands, about 1,000 kilometers from Tokyo, you'll feel as if you are on a resort island far away from Japan. Their clear water, balmy climate and tropical breeze have resulted in their other name, the Asian Galapagos. The islands have been listed as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
USP Japan Inc. (www.usp.co.jp) is a leader in tourism consulting to support inbound visitors. It is coordinating with General Incorporated Association Chofu Island, which handles the distribution of food by air to the cities of Chofu and Fuchu in the Tama region of Tokyo. The partnership is designed to let mainland Tokyo residents experience island gastronomy, thereby driving tourism to the islands. The project is a part of Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Nature Tokyo Experience.
A team of island-lovers and Izu island inhabitants got together to create the Tokyo Gastronomy Tourism project, which aims to connect people on the Izu Islands and in Tokyo through the best way to attract people: delicious island cuisine.
Tokyo Gastronomy Tourism kicked off in July 2017 with a talk show hosted by Makoto Shiina, a writer, film director, and acclaimed island hopper, who has been to all of the populated islands of Izu and Ogasawara.
The project also set up a food market introducing Izu island gastronomy, which was held during Chofu City’s Tourism Festival in August. A “Fish Fillet Lesson” was held in October by local fishermen and chefs of Fuchu City.
Tokyo Gastronomy Tourism’s fifth project was an island tour named “Harvesting America Potatoes, Mini-Tomato Tasting, Cooking Island Cuisine and Grand Party,” which was held in November in Niijima. Visitors traveled around the island and enjoyed making shochu (a distilled spirit made from sweet potato) by harvesting local sweet potatoes. Guests also tried various culinary dishes prepared with fresh local vegetables and fish from the island’s clear blue sea. Niijima is famous for kusaya, a salted, dried, and fermented fish with a distinct odor. Visitors enjoyed trying this delicacy, which has been eaten in the area for more than 300 years. Participants also harvested organic, sweet grape tomatoes at a local farm called Niijima Farmers (www.aokoh.com/niijimafarmers/). Staff here use no pesticides so any insects on the vegetables are removed one-by-one by hand. Writer Shiina was a special supporter of this trip, thanks to the great bonds that he built with island inhabitants through gastronomy.
According to Tomoko Kamiya, director of media promotions at USP Japan, there has been a recent boom in vacations to remote islands. Kamiya says the islands also received an increase in visitors in the 1980s when young Tokyo residents spent their summers swimming in Niijima. “Back then, many people gathered on the islands looking for romance. But, these days, many couples and families visit to spend a relaxing time on the island,” she said.
Typical accommodation on the islands are small inns that provide meals. But the return of the island-hopping trend has resulted in renovated facilities and more stylish restaurants. There are contemporary bed-and-breakfast facilities that have been fashionably renovated and uniquely designed. Camping facilities are also becoming more easily available. There is no fee to set up tents in parks and many facilities stock kitchen supplies and even provide condiments for free. There’s also a hot spring on Niijima for no charge.
Tokyo Gastronomy Tourism is currently scheduled to produce seven events. Its sixth event is another fish fillet lesson on 9th December in Fuchu City, and the seventh is “Island Cuisine Grand Party,” which will be held in February 2018. “We hope gastronomy serves as the entrance to island culture and that it will lead people to go back again,” says Kamiya.
While working all day, don’t you daydream of azure oceans, crashing white waves, and local cocktails on a white sandy beach? Why not take a short trip to the islands and forget that you’re still in Tokyo? Gastronomy Tourism will be an easy way to step into the island culture.