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Forging Friendships at Ogasawara Youth Hostel

Date:01.15.2019

Japan’s Ogasawara Islands are located approximately 1,000 km south of Tokyo’s Takeshiba Pier. These subtropical islands were registered as a World Natural Heritage Site in 2011, and 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of their return to Japan by the United States.

The Ogasawara Islands were never connected to a continent and are known as the “Galápagos of the East” because they are home to so many endemic species. Not only is it possible to swim with dolphins throughout the year, February to April is the season to enjoy watching humpback whales. The remote location and clear skies are perfect for stargazing and spotting the many constellations visible in the night sky.

Ogasawara Youth Hostel offers accommodation on Chichijima, one of the two inhabited islands that comprise the Ogasawara Islands.

 The hostel has a very comfortable atmosphere and the staff place a high priority on friendly interaction with guests. Manager Hitoshi Sasaki said, “On a trip to Ogasawara, you’ll experience the wonderful synergy of encounters with nature and encounters with people more than anywhere else.”

Guests generally stay under the same roof for at least three nights and four days. This is because the Ogasawara Maru ferry is the only means of transportation to and from Chichijima. With just one ship sailing every six days, visitors will spend at least four days on the island from the time they arrive to the time they depart. This affords guests plenty of time to get to know each other. In many cases, the relationships created here continue even after returning from Ogasawara.

On the first floor of the hostel is a common space about 20 tatami mats in size (about 33.6 square meters) called the Meeting Room, which is where many of the guests eat breakfast and dinner. The dinner that day (see photo) included locally caught fish such as Spanish mackerel and black jack as well as island vegetables such as winter melon and young papaya. The menu changes from Japanese to Western to Chinese so that guests do not tire of the same food.

 After having enjoyed meals with other guests at the same table, we lingered in the meeting room while drinking together, then went outside to see the starry sky. Gradually, everyone started to relax and become more comfortable around each other.

On this particular day, six people, including guests and hotel staff, went to take wedding photos for a pair of newlyweds that Ogasawara had helped bring together. The calm beach of Miyanohama served as the backdrop for the photos. After the photo session, we all went snorkeling in the clear ocean waters. We then enjoyed bento lunch boxes on the beach and later went around to visit the island’s viewpoints. It was a calm and peaceful day, marked by plenty of laughter.

 On the day before the Tokyo-bound Ogasawara Maru was due to leave, the staff threw us a dinner-cum-farewell party and served up local cuisine such as island sushi as well as alcoholic beverages. Midway through the party, it was time for live entertainment. First, the staff demonstrated the Ogasawara local performing art of Nanyo-odori, accompanied by Manager Hitoshi singing and playing guitar. The staff also allot a bit of time for the guests to entertain each other, and singing a song from your country or sharing some other special talent is bound to be a hit.

As the party entered its final phase, Hitoshi’s wife, Minako, sang as she played Ao-Umigame-no-Tabi (Journey of the Blue Sea Turtle) on her ukulele, the music touching the hearts of the listeners. We could really sense Minako’s wish for us to come back for another visit. Indeed, there were many repeat visitors and they remarked how this trip had felt like a homecoming, all the more understandable given that Minako had called out “welcome home” to them. Minako’s heartfelt rendition of “Journey of the Blue Sea Turtle” is available on CD, and can be purchased at the hostel for ¥1,000.

The departure of the Tokyo-bound Ogasawara Maru was an emotional experience. Guests who were just strangers to each other mere days ago when they arrived had now become fast friends that were taking photos together. There were even people shedding tears over the parting.

As the Ogasawara Maru left the harbor, numerous local boats briefly sailed alongside to see us off. We heard the locals aboard these vessels shouting out their farewells with cries of “Thank you!” and “Come again!”

Ogasawara Youth Hostel was founded in 1980 by Hitoshi’s parents—the late Unosuke Sasaki and his wife Tetsuko. Unosuke greatly valued his interactions with the guests from the very beginning. Reflecting back on those days, Tetsuko told me that “Hitoshi really believes in continuing what his father had accomplished.” Clearly Ogasawara Youth Hostel’s spirit of hospitality has been passed down from father to son.

Ogasawara Youth Hostel can accommodate up to 27 guests and offers separate dormitory-style bedrooms for men and women.

 While the staff speak only limited English, they do have English information on hand.

 The hostel offers free Wi-Fi, a washing machine, laundry detergent, a dryer, hangers, hair dryer, body soap, shampoo, a refrigerator, a freezer, a toaster, a microwave, a kettle, filtered water, coffee, tea, ice, and tableware, and all of these can be used whenever needed (though some require an extra charge).

 This article was translated by Noam Katz.

 

Ogasawara Youth Hostel

Address: Nishi-machi, Chichijima, Ogasawara-mura, Tokyo, 100-2101

Price: ¥3,750 per night for youth hostel members *Meal expenses are charged separately

Phone: 04998-2-2692

E-mail:  jinnybeach@oyh.jp

URL: https://oyh.jp *Japanese only

            http://www.jyh.or.jp/e/i.php?jyhno=2611

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