6 Things I learned on my Visit to Tokyo’s Oshima Island

Izu-Oshima is Tokyo prefecture’s largest island and is situated about 100 kilometers directly South of the capital. I had wanted to visit there for some time, and over the years, I had often imagined what it would be like to stay on the island. Last year, I finally undertook my first trip to Izu-Oshima with my mother, who was visiting Japan, and found out that what had imagined was different from how things really were.

2019-12-06   Visit: Parks & Nature, Deep Japan,

Booking the Ferry is Easy

A few years ago, when I first considered a trip to Oshima Island, I found the Japanese website of the ferry service difficult to use. I made another attempt last year, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Tokai-Kisen had created an excellent English version of their site. It’s also possible to reserve over the phone in English. Our ferry ride to Oshima was booked within a few minutes!

Since all seats are reserved, and there are only two or three ferries a day (more in the summer), I booked our seats more than a month in advance, leaving Sunday after lunch, and returning Tuesday afternoon. I was a little worried about a cancellation due to bad weather, but on the day of our departure at the end of October, it was sunny with little wind.

Perfect weather for a boat ride

There are two types of ferry to Oshima Island: the high-speed jet ferry , and the large passenger ship. We went for the faster option, less than two hours either way, since we wanted to maximize our time on the island. The larger boat only travels to the island at night, taking 8 hours, while the trip back is in the daytime, taking four hours and a half. I guess the slower pace of the outbound trip allows people to have a full night’s sleep!

The large passenger ship can carry more people but travels slower (photo source: Tokai Kisen)

There is More than One Ferry Terminal

After getting our tickets at Takeshiba Pier, a 10-minute walk from Hamamatsucho station, we boarded the small jetfoil, found our assigned seats, and fastened our seatbelts. Two hours later, we were on firm ground again. Oddly enough, Google Maps put us on the other side of the island. It turned out that we were at Okata Port, a 20-minute bus ride from Motomachi, Oshima Island’s largest town and location of the Ferry Terminal…and our hotel!

Apparently when the wind is strong and the sea is choppy, it’s easier for the ferry to dock at Okata port than the Motomachi one. Although announcements were made in English during the ferry ride, including information about Oshima island, we must have missed the one announcing our arrival port. To make up for the lost time, we hopped into a taxi, and reached our hotel fifteen minutes later.

Ground map showing the relative locations of Okata (North) and Motomachi (West)

On the last night of our stay, since we knew that there were two ferry terminals, we asked our hotel which one would be used for the return. We were told that it would be announced over loudspeakers the day of the departure. The announcement, in Japanese, was impossible for us to decipher, but the hotel staff looked up the departure port on the internet – It was Okata port again. Luckily, they kindly arranged a taxi for us, and we made it on time!

Oshima Island’s colourful bus service for traveling between ports

The Museum of Volcanoes is Worth a Visit

After checking in, we decided to make the most of what was left of the day by visiting the nearby Izu-Oshima Museum of Volcanoes. It took fifteen minutes to walk there, along the main road circling the island. Fortunately, we arrived before 4h30, the time of the last entry. There were only a handful of other visitors on a Sunday afternoon. First, we watched a short but beautiful movie about Oshima Island. Although it was in Japanese, it gave us a good idea of what to expect during our stay.

The grand exterior of the Museum of Volcanoes

Since closing time was 5pm, we had to explore the museum at a fast pace. The lady at the booth kindly directed us to to most interesting sections. I was impressed with the well-made exhibits on volcanoes in Japan and around the world, although most of the information was in Japanese. I did learn that Mt Miura, Oshima’s active volcano, had a major eruption as recently as 1986. It was so big that 10000 people had to be evacuated, and was covered by the international press. Hopefully I will be able to return one day and visit the museum more thoroughly!

The sunset from the entrance to the Museum

Accomodation isn’t Limited to Pensions

We walked back along the beach so that we see the views of Mt Fuji and Izu peninsula. Although it’s recommended to stay at a pension that includes dinner and breakfast, we wanted more freedom with our meals. Searching on Google Maps, I discovered a newly opened hotel with the catchy name of Book Tea Bed. It’s described as a guest house, but it’s more of a budget hotel with twin and double rooms, as well as a dormitory. We slept very well both nights.

Book Tea Bed opened in May 2018 and is 5 minutes on foot from the ferry terminal

Our room, with two beds and a bathroom, was modern and comfortable, exactly what we needed for a two-night stay. They can make a simple Western-style breakfast for an extra fee, but you need to ask for it the day before. On our last day on the island we enjoyed it on the terrace. They can also provide ingredients and equipment for a BBQ in the evening – it requires at least 4 people so unfortunately, we had to pass on that.

Can you make out the Book Tea and Bed logo in this original bookcase?

The most interesting thing about this hotel is that there are bookshelves filled with books everywhere, in Japanese and in English. Even the reception counter (which becomes a bar at night) is propped up by books. There are comfortable seats inside and outside so one can borrow a book, order some tea and enjoy reading. However, it may be wise to refrain from grabbing the books supporting the counter!

No, you haven’t had too much of the local shochu “Gojinka” – this bookcase is really tilted

It was time to figure out where to have dinner. Many places were closed on a Sunday night, and for a brief moment we regretted not opting for a pension. In the end we found Sushiko, a sushi restaurant only a few minutes away. The raw fish was very fresh, as it often is when eaten near a port. We also tried some local dishes like tempura using the leaves of “ashitaba”, a small plant that grows on the island, and said to be the reason of the long lives of the local inhabitants. The literal meaning is “tomorrow’s leaf” – perhaps by eating it, you get to see another day?

Godzilla was trapped inside Oshima island’s volcano in the movie “The Return of Godzilla” (he escapes in the sequel)

Cycling around the Island is Tough

Our plan for the next day was to cycle around the island, something we had heard was a must-do. We had called the day before to confirm our reservation, and the owner had kindly offered to drive us and bicycles all the way to the parking lot near the top of Mt Mihara, from where we could walk up to the crater before cycling down and around the island. Cycling down a volcano was definitely an added bonus to the trip!

Mt Miura at 758m is higher than Mt Takao

We left early in the morning and reached the parking at 9am. It was another clear day and we could see snow-capped Fuji in the distance. We locked the bikes and made our way to the crater along a road. I was glad we had been to the museum the day before, since it helped me appreciate the destructive power of the volcano. It was really windy at the top and we had to be careful not to get blown off the trail, but the 360° view of the island and the surrounding ocean was fantastic. We got back to our mountain bikes before noon.

It takes 45 minutes to reach the crater, and one hour to walk around – good shoes are needed for the crater loop

The first part of the bike ride was easy and fun. We simply followed the steep road down the mountain. Although there was almost no traffic, we had to be careful not to go too quickly since there were some tight bends. After a couple of right turns we got on the main road circling the island which we then followed in a clockwise direction, so that we could cycle around the Southern tip of the island. There aren’t too many signs on the way, so make sure to check a map beforehand!

Ready to ride?

From this point, there was a succession of rising sections spread over 7 kilometers. I had imagined the road around the island to be mostly flat so this part was surprisingly tough. Eventually we reached a long and pleasant winding downhill slope. It took us all the way down to the coast, where we saw some impressive cliffs and a thin solitary rock, the Fudeshima view point. “Fude” means a brush or a pen – looking carefully, the island does look like a writing implement!

A good spot to take a break for lunch

We resumed our bike ride, through Habu port, and up the Western side of the island. The road here was busier, and we went along side roads whenever possible. There were some more slopes here and it was again tough getting to the top of each one. Fortunately, the last stretch was downhill again, and we made it back to the bike store around sunset. We were totally exhausted – it was time for a hot bath!

We saw some volcano ash layers on the bike ride

Since Oshima has an active volcano there is of course a hot spring, called Hama no Yu located 5 minutes from the port along the coast. Contrary to most hot springs in Japan, this one requires you to wear a swimsuit. This is one thing we had known about, and we had both brought ours – it was wonderful to relax in the hot water while enjoying the nighttime view!

We bicycled a total of 36 kilometers, one third of which was uphill

Consider Returning with the Slow Ferry

One thing we hadn’t realised when booking the high-speed ferry was that we would have to remain seated during the entire trip. We could only enjoy the view from one side and the glare of the window made it tricky to get good photos. With hindsight it would have been better to return with the slower passenger ferry, so that we could have stood outside, felt the wind, and seen the view in all directions – something to look forward to next time!

A glimpse of the Rainbow Bridge

There are many sights on the return trip. Looking back one can see Oshima island, as well as some of the other Tokyo islands in the distance. During the trip, the Izu and Boso peninsulas, as well as Mt Fuji are visible in good weather. After entering Tokyo Bay, one can observe planes taking off and landing at Haneda airport. Finally, the ferry passes under the Rainbow Bridge close to Odaiba, before docking at Takeshiba Pier, signaling the end of a great trip.

Island cat peeking over the wall – see you next time!
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Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.