The plan was simple: 5 days, 5 islands. I had booked the boats and accommodation in advance, and had a good idea of the main sights on each Izu Island. It all looked good to go. And it was, except for one uncontrollable factor: the weather.
This year, I was late planning my Golden Week travels as per usual. As such, it was no longer viable to go overseas or catch any flights, as I didn’t want to pay triple the price. However, a 10-day break was too golden an opportunity to waste. So I decided it would be the perfect time to check out some of those Tokyo islands I’d heard about.
There are actually 11 islands under Tokyo Prefecture‘s jurisdiction. Nine of these are volcanic islands that form the Izu Islands cluster, the other two are the Ogasawara Islands of Chichijima and Hahajima (literally, “Father Island” and “Mother Island”).
For my first venture to the Tokyo islands, I picked the 5 closest Izu Islands: Izu Oshima, Toshima, Niijima, Shikinejima and Kozushima. By the high-speed jetfoil, Kozushima, the furthest of my exploits this round, can be reached in just under 3 hours from Tokyo. Izu Oshima, the closest and largest of the Izu Islands, can be reached in 1 hr 45 mins, and can even be done as a day trip.
My itinerary went something like this:
Day 1: Tokyo->Kozushima / KOZUSHIMA / Stay in Kozushima
Day 2: Kozushima->Shikinejima / SHIKINEJIMA / Shikinejima->Niijima / Stay in Niijima
Day 3: NIIJIMA / Niijima->Toshima / TOSHIMA / Toshima->Oshima / Stay in Oshima
Day 4: OSHIMA / Stay in Oshima
Day 5: OSHIMA / Oshima->Tokyo
Get away from the bustle of the city, and just chill under some warm, island sunshine, right? Not quite. Here’s how my trip actually turned out.
Day 1: Kozushima
I caught the early 7:35am high-speed jetfoil from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Port to Kozushima, arriving 10:25am. From the moment I stepped off the boat, the clouds looked ominous, and it was cold. Not exactly how I pictured my island escape, but I was still optimistic. Maybe the weather would clear; islands are notorious for having temperamental weather, after all.
I nibbled on some cookies as I waited for the bus to take me to Akazaki Yuhodo, the first sight on my list. A 500m wooden walking-trail built over the rocky northwestern coast of the island, it’s also a popular swimming and snorkelling spot in summer. The bus from the port costs 200 yen one way, and only comes 4 times a day, so I was careful not to miss it. Everything went according to plan up to this point; the bus faithfully came and deposited us at Akazaki Yuhodo, making a few stops along the way.
Since I was not swimming, I entertained myself taking photos for a whole 20 minutes and was done. The problem was the returning bus was not due for another 2 hours. I had known this in advance, but I had not expected to be done so quickly. The wind was also fairly chilly, so I was eager to move on. But there was little I could do about it, so I contented to huddle behind a rock and read Wandering Earth while I waited for the next bus.
I had read for no more than 10 minutes before I started to see droplets falling on the pages. Yes, it was starting to rain. And there was not a single shelter in this area, except for a tunnel and a public toilet, neither which I wanted to be inside. So my options were: 1) stay there for another hour plus and potentially get drenched, or 2) walk.
I chose the latter, because at least this way I would stay warm, and maybe see some interesting things along the way. I ended up walking the entire 5km back to port, and the rain thankfully let up for most of the hour. By the time I reached the port, it was around 1:30pm and I was pretty hungry. Second problem: there was not much food anywhere. A lot of places were closed, and the one burger joint I found told me that they had finished serving lunch already. So I ended up getting some leftover bread rolls at the local bakery and heading to my accommodation for the night, a minshuku (guesthouse).
Cue one of the worst stays in my life.
The room itself was fine – a modest, undecorated Japanese-style room. But there was no Wi-Fi and only cold water in the sinks. The owner said the shower was free to use (it had hot water, of course), but the door had no lock. Instead, we would just have to flip a sign on the door to indicate it was in use. I elected to not shower that night. Worst of all, I had two inconsiderate dicks staying in the room next to me, who were rowdy, drinking and smoking till late in the night. And as anyone knows, old wooden Japanese houses have zero sound insulation. So that night I was unshowered, hungry, bored and angry. Needless to say, not much sleep was had.
Day 2: Shikinejima + Niijima
I awoke bleary-eyed to the sound of relentless rain and gale-like winds. Concerned that my ferry would be cancelled, I checked the status on the ferry company’s website and was relieved to see it would depart as planned. The minshuku owner kindly dropped me and some other guests off at the port, and we waited to board. The ferry was 20 minutes late, but departed without issues. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I was so hungry from last night that I did something I thought I would never do: buy hot food from a vending machine.
Shikinejima, I’m sorry.
An hour later, I disembarked at Shikinejima. I had originally planned to hire a bicycle and spend a few hours exploring the island before heading to Niijima, but the weather made it impossible. I wasn’t going to be able to chill at the beach, and the food options looked equally as bleak. So I made the executive decision to move onto Niijima ASAP. The next Nishiki jetboat, which connects these two neighbouring islands in 10 minutes was due to leave at 11am. I quickly purchased a ticket at the tourist information centre, and hopped on. The ride was choppy and exhilarating; who needs rollercoasters when you can ride a high-speed boat in bad weather?
All in all, I spent a whopping 10 minutes on Shikinejima.
Niijima, welcome to paradise
Niijima was one of the islands I was most looking forward to visiting. The photos of white sand beaches and clear blue skies made me feel peaceful. When I arrived, it was raining as always and the wind was merciless. I almost lost my umbrella a number of times. Still, as I made my way to my hostel, I felt amused at all the moai statues scattered around the island.
Now comes a highlight of the trip: Hostel NABLA. This place is hands-down one of nicest hostels I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. Clean, warm, and with great facilities, this is how hostels should be. The bunk beds offer a lot of privacy and the open layout makes it especially spacious. The hostel design is also very cute and slightly reminiscent of something you might find in Santorini. And the staff are really friendly and totally chill.
There are a number of restaurants and a supermarket close by, but the hostel also has a cafe which serves curry and pasta. I had my first proper meal all trip, a kakiage-don with the local ashitaba leaf as one of its ingredients.
My night at Hostel NABLA left me feeling restored. After a warm shower, proper meals, and free hot tea, I felt better about everything.
Day 3: Niijima + Toshima
As if reflecting my mood, the next morning was full of sunshine glittering on the wet earth. Blue skies! I ate breakfast and drank more hot tea before checking out and making my way on foot to Habushiura Beach. A major surfing spot, it is also highly Instagrammable.
Time slipped away and my ferry was leaving in less than an hour. So I need to make it back to port. I discovered it would take me 50 minutes to walk back. I missed my chance to hitchhike when I saw a couple flagging a car down, so I speed-walked the 5km to port. By some miracle made it with 10 minutes to spare, and the ferry was late again, so it was all good.
I collapsed in my seat and was out cold for the hour until the announcement came that we were arriving at Toshima. As the ferry moored and I got ready to get off, one of the staff shouted out that the jetfoil in the afternoon may be cancelled. Wait a minute, what? I went up to her to clarify, and she said the afternoon jetfoil departing Toshima was “大変厳しい状況になっています”, which is Japanese for “it doesn’t look good”.
Like with Shikinejima, I had originally planned to spend a few hours on Toshima before heading to Oshima for the night. But the last thing I wanted was to be stranded on Toshima if the jetfoil was cancelled. So I made another execute decision to stay onboard and take the ferry all the way to Oshima.
Toshima visit: fail.
When I arrived at Oshima, and went to the counter to get a refund for my jetfoil ticket, I was told that the jetfoil would actually run after all. Facepalm. But my legs were so sore from walking across Niijima, that it was probably a blessing that I went straight to Oshima.
Depending on weather and sea conditions, boats arriving at Oshima dock at either Okata Port, the north tip of the island, or Motomachi Port, the west side of the island. I was fortunate that the boat moored at Okata Port that day, as my hostel was walking distance away.
Caravan Flake was…an experience. It’s a Meiji-era ryokan building turned into a hostel, so it’s old. While the shower boxes and toilets are new, the rest of the building is not. I stayed in a mixed dorm and it’s not for the faint-hearted. Unless you’re okay with creaky structures, dirt and spiders then I would say stay somewhere else. Definitely one of my least pleasant stays ever. Only good thing was that the Wi-Fi worked.
Day 4: Oshima
Best day of all. The weather was glorious and everything went according to plan. The boats moored at Okata Port again today, so that meant the buses would also depart from there. I checked out and walked to the port and purchased a 1 Day Bus Pass for 2000 yen. 2 Day Bus Passes are also available for 3000 yen. They allow you to ride all the Oshima bus lines for the day (or two). Since the one way bus fare from the port to Mt. Mihara is 890 yen (x 2 = 1780 yen round-trip), it’s only worth it if you plan to go anywhere else. I did, so this pass was more value-for-money for me.
The bus departed at 10am and arrived around half hour later at the summit of Mt. Mihara.
Mt. Mihara, the prison of Godzilla.
Arguably Izu Oshima’s most famous sight, Mt. Mihara is an active volcano that sits in the centre of the island. It shot to fame when it was featured in a couple of Godzilla films in the 1980s. As the story goes, Godzilla was lured away from Tokyo to Mt. Mihara, where he was trapped in the crater after a controlled eruption was triggered. In a more sombre note, the volcano also used to serve as a popular suicide spot. In the 1920s, there was apparently a vantage point that made it convenient to leap into the crater.
Fictitious monsters and death by volcano aside, Mt. Mihara is now an absolutely stunning hiking spot suitable for all levels. From the summit where the bus drops you off, it takes 45 minutes to walk up to the crater. From there, making a loop around the rim of the crater takes another 35 minutes or so. And then walking back down takes another 45 minutes. So in total, it’s a nice hike that takes just over 2 hours.
The landscape and views up there are not to be missed. They say it’s like being on the surface of the moon, or maybe even another planet. Huge volcanic rocks, unbroken stretches of black soil and a grand crater which spouts sulphur – it’s just beautiful nature all around.
There are two buses that take you back to the port – one at 1:50pm and another at 3:20pm. I caught the 1:50pm one and was back at port by 2:30pm. I then made my way to Motomachi Port to catch the bus to see another famous Oshima sight.
The Baumkuchen Wall
It’s not hard to see where it gets its name from. It really did look like the German layer cake. Known officially as the Senba Stratum Section, the wall was formed by thousands of years of ash deposits from Mt. Mihara.
After heading back to Motomachi Port, I checked in to my stay for the night – the lovely Hale Kai Guesthouse. This place was awesome. Quaint private room in what reminded me of a real summer holiday house. The owner was a super genki lady who was a pleasure to talk with. A lot of care and thought has been put into giving guest a comfortable stay and it shows. Everything was sparkling clean, good Wi-Fi, free coffee and herbal teas.
For dinner, I tried the local specialty bekkou-zushi (raw white fish marinated in island-style spicy soy sauce), at a nearby izakaya recommended to me by the guesthouse owner.
Day 5: Oshima
I had no real plans for my final day in the Izu Islands. But I felt blessed that the boats would be leaving from Motomachi today as it saved me a bus ride.
I had a slow and easy breakfast at BedTeaBook, then wandered around to Kobo Beach, a volcanic sand beach. Took a look around the souvenir stores, and then finally, it was back to Tokyo. Although my Izu Islands-hopping trip wasn’t all smooth sailing, I’m glad I got to do the two main things I wanted – see Habushiura Beach and hike Mt. Mihara – and that all the islanders were so friendly. Still, I have to admit I was relieved to be going home.