Where Will Your Tokyo Remote Island Adventure Take You?
No matter which of Tokyo’s subtropical volcanic islands you visit, you’ll step off your jetfoil, ferry, or aircraft into another world that is far removed from the metropolis. But what to do next?
With incredible natural scenery to explore, exciting activities to try, and fascinating culture unique from the mainland, the options are endless. Join us as we take a look at some of the larger islands and start planning your remote island getaway!
Being the closest to Tokyo, and with easy access, Oshima has long been a favorite for Tokyoites looking for a quick change of scenery. The island has well-developed infrastructure for tourist, so, even if you are a Tokyo resident, taking a tour can be an excellent way to cover a lot of ground in a short time.
Thanks to its volcanic roots, Oshima’s landscape features distinctive geological formations. The one-day tour enables you to see what are called Baumkuchen strata, areas where layers of soil 24 meters high and 630 meters long, created from the eruptions of Mount Mihara, appear so distinct that they resemble the layers of a Baumkuchen cake. Another tour takes you on a hike around the mountain’s caldera, then over to a hot spring to relax while admiring fine views of the island.
Flower-related tours of Oshima vary by season. In the winter months, you’ll find camellias blooming at the Izu Oshima Tsubaki Matsuri Festival. May is generally the time for tours that highlight the brilliant Oshima azaleas, while the first half of June is brought to life by spectacular hydrangeas.
This island is among the group’s smallest, and its compact, manageable size makes it perfect for exploring by foot or bicycle. Making your way to your favorite patch of water—whether warm hot springs or cool ocean currents—is easy.
Tomari Beach is one of the island’s best-known landmarks, with its curved, white sandy shore and shallow, turquoise waters. The gentle waves around this area are not only ideal for families with children, but also those interested in sea kayaking. Shikinejima Island has a sea kayaking school for those just starting out.
Another option is to slip beneath the ocean surface by snorkeling or diving. Not a licensed scuba diver? No problem! Here, you can try a new type of scuba diving which does not require a license, since air is supplied through a hose from a tank on a float staying on the water surface. Even children as young as eight can participate and take in the colorful underwater world.
One of the bigger islands—with a larger population and more industry—Hachijojima is known as a culinary paradise!
Right on the slopes of the prominent volcanic mountain Hachijo Fuji is the grassy pastureland of Fureai Bokujo. During limited times of the year—chiefly the warmer months—this cattle farm opens its Milk Gelato House, where visitors can sample sweet Hachijojima Jersey Ice Cream and Hachijojima Jersey Pudding made with milk from local cattle, all while enjoying the incredible view of the town below.
Think you can eat anything? Hachijojima locals will be happy to put your courage to the test with kusaya, their specialty dish of salted, dried, and fermented fish. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste, but most people agree that the flavor is milder than the smell. In Hachijojima, you can even try it paired with cheese—a combination that goes well with sake, shochu, or white wine!
Attractive and accommodating as they are, Tokyo’s islands are not merely getaway vacation destinations; they’re also home to locals who have been living on the land for generations, and each island possesses its own history and culture.
Niijima may be best known for its white sandy beaches and great surf, but the islands are believed to have once been inhabited during the Jomon Period (14,000–300 BCE). During the relatively more modern Edo Period (1603–1867), the island was a penal colony, home to those exiled for religious or political reasons.
Near the center of the town, you’ll find a cemetery where some of those who died while in exile are buried. The lower ground level of Runin Cemetery at the Nichiren sect Choei-ji Temple has 118 gravestones, some with rather unusual shapes such as sake barrels or dice made in commemoration of what the deceased reputedly liked. Stop by the Niijimamura Museum to learn more about the history of the island and the daily lives of the current inhabitants.
Also on Niijima is a series of stone carvings known as Moyai (not to be confused with the Moai of Rapa Nui!). Some may resemble their South Pacific counterparts, but these statues were created in more recent times by members of the community (the term moyai means “to come together” in the local dialect).
The Ogasawara Islands
With a 24-hour ferry ride being the only transportation option, the Ogasawara Islands of Hahajima and Chichijima—located 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo—are certainly the most remote. However, this distance is also what makes them well-preserved places of incredible natural beauty, as well as habitats for rare plants and animals.
The waters off Chichijima (literally, “father island”) are ideal for whale watching, with humpback whales frequenting the area from the end of December to April and sperm whales from May to October. The island’s Ogasawara Marine Center breeds green sea turtles, and from July to September you might even have a chance to touch and hold baby turtles before they are released for their night crawl to the sea.
Meanwhile, neighboring Hahajima (literally, “mother island”) is a habitat for many birds that are designated endangered species, such as the meguro (Bonin white-eye), a small songbird that is not found on other islands. Indigenous plants, such as procris boninensis and sekimon trees, are also exclusive to this island.
We have only scratched the surface of all there is to see and do on these beautiful islands. If you’re thinking of a visit, have a look around at www.tokyo-islands.com/en and discover the varied adventures that await!
This article was written by Noam Katz.