Okinawa seems to be the pinnacle of the dream “island vacation” for Japanese and non-Japanese tourists alike. However, there are a series of small, relatively unknown islands off the coast of Shizuoka that could be your dream realized (and they aren’t the tourist trap like Okinawa is). Dynamic topography and unique in character, the Izu islands are a great spot for an island vacation!
There are more than 12 islands forming the Izu island archipelago, but only 9 of these islands are currently inhabited. Each island has something special for visitors; Miyake-jima has beautiful sandy shores, while Oshima is famous for its fishing and scuba diving. Mikura-jima has a virgin forest of box trees and chinquapins.
I recently visited Oshima, the biggest of the Izu islands. To get to the islands from Tokyo, you can either fly 50 minutes from Haneda airport or take the ferry from Takeshiba port. The ferry takes a little more than two hours but offers a relatively unseen view of the Japanese coast (check out the how to get to Oshima here). I took the ferry and was happy I did. However, the ferry changes where it will dock depending on the condition of the waves. Oshima has two ports, one on either side of the island. Be sure to check where the ferry will dock the day you buy your tickets. The Oshima bus system is relatively easy to figure out and can get you to the other side of the island in case the ferry docks far from your hotel.
When you arrive, I suggest visiting the Oshima Tourism Association. If you come by ferry, their building is next to the pier where you disembark. The workers there were very helpful. Island life seems to flow at a slower pace than life on the mainland. I did not see one convenience store and a handful of vending machines. Tourist attractions, restaurants, and supermarkets close around 7 pm. The whole island shuts down when it gets dark so it’s best not to arrive any later than 4 or 4:30 or risk wandering into a ghost town. I, unfortunately, arrived at 4:30. The ladies at the Tourist Association suggested trying a nearby public bathhouse called Hananoyu because it is open until 7 pm. Unlike typical Japanese bathhouses, a bathing suit is required here. Hananoyu features a huge, co-ed outdoor bath overlooking the ocean.
If you arrive early enough (and are brave enough) please sample Oshima’s famous dish “Kusaya”. Kusaya is a type of fermented fish that when grilled smells similar to the inside of a 1,000 cow dairy barn. Kusaya is sold by street vendors and eaten outside. Restaurants that carry kusaya keep their doors and windows shut even on nice days out of courtesy to people passing by. Kusaya is made using a process that is hundreds of years old, one ancient restaurant owner told me, kusaya isn’t a dish that can be made quickly or easily. Kusaya can also be bought and brought home as a gift for friends and family, but be sure to wrap it up well as the smell can permeate through several layers of paper and plastic bags.
Oshima is home to Mt. Mihara which is an active volcano situated in the middle of the island. Mt. Mihara hasn’t erupted in more than 25 years and has shown no sign of changing that either. Tourists can enjoy the island’s volcano museum and even go right up to the edge of the volcanic crater. There is a hiking trail to the volcano’s summit which promises a fantastic view from the top and a rare gift for hikers. On this trail, hikers are able to see Japan’s only desert. Not just any desert, a black desert. The trail crosses the path of an old lava flow which has yet to be reclaimed by nature. The trail is only an hour and a half long round trip but the desert is also accessible by car. Hikers should remember that there are very few vending machines and stores around so pack enough drinks to at least last you to the top and follow all trail rules.
For a less intense volcanic experience, bike rental shops loan bikes out at 800 yen per 2 hours. There is a bike trail that runs around the whole coast of the island. It takes 2 hours and a little leg power to do a lap of the whole island and take in Mt. Mihara from a distance. While the bike shops are not open early enough to rent a bike to see the sunrise, the bike path offers one of the best unobstructed views of the sunset on the ocean if you can get the timing right. I missed the sunset but honestly don’t feel disappointed.
The ocean around Oshima is clear and full of all manner of sea life. Oshima has several diving companies to choose from, but all offer a beginner scuba diving experience which includes a lesson on how to scuba dive, practice and a mini guided trip around the coast. The lesson, practice, and dive take a total of 3 hours and cost around 12,000 yen (this also includes wetsuit rental, goggles, fins etc). Along the coast, there were many brightly colored fish and plenty of red sea grass. On this particular day, a squid and an eel were kind enough to grace us divers with their presence. Diving off the coast of Oshima island changed my perspective of what the ocean around Japan is like. Even though Oshima is not a tropical island, the waters around it were rich, colorful and full of life.
Their proximity to Tokyo and relative ease of accessibility make the Izu islands a good choice for a quick trip out of the concrete jungle. Even with these great points, the Izu islands still remain a relatively unknown tourist destination. However, doesn’t the secrecy of the area itself promise crowd-free travel and unspoiled scenery? A trip to Oshima or any of the Izu islands is sure to be a fun and exciting experience for anyone pining for a dream island vacation.
For more information, check out this helpful link!