From beaches made from volcanic lava to relaxing hot springs, Rob Goss visits the most un-Tokyo part of Tokyo
Sunbathing on a quiet beach, trekking around an active volcano and scuba diving coral reefs might not be the first thing anyone thinks of when it comes to Tokyo. But look at a map of eastern Japan and you’ll see an island chain stretching south of the capital into the Pacific. Called the Izu Islands, they are technically part of Tokyo, and between them they offer up all sorts of very un-Tokyo experiences.
Only an hour and 45 minutes by jetfoil from Takeshiba Pier in Minato-ku, Oshima Island is the closest – and, at 91 square kilometres, the biggest – of the nine inhabited Izu Islands to the mainland and it’s easy to visit on a day trip. There’s a lot to do here, including hiking the volcanic rim of 758m Mount Mihara, lazing on beaches and soaking in the natural hot-spring baths that dot parts of the coastline. While the island’s camellias are in bloom from January to March, the Oshima Camellia Garden is worth a look year-round to learn about the island’s most famous product – camellia oil – which is said to detoxify and moisturise the skin.
About 100km south of Oshima Island – reached by an overnight ferry from Takeshiba – Miyakejima also has an active volcano at its centre, and even as recently as the early 2000s was temporarily uninhabited because of eruptions. That activity has created some striking scenery, from the large crater of Mount Oyama to the black beach of the Imasaki Coast, which was created by a lava flow in the 1600s. Beyond that, Miyakejima is the natural habitat for a great range of wildlife, including rare birds such as the Japanese pygmy woodpecker, Japanese white-eye and Izu thrush, while the waters around the island are home to hundreds of varieties of sea fish, coral and crustaceans, making it a popular scuba diving destination.
Almost at the far southern end of the Izu Island chain – 280km from mainland Tokyo – Hachijojima was once considered so remote that it previously housed a secret submarine base and hundreds of years ago was used as a place of exile. Nowadays, it’s accessible by ferry and light aircraft and has thriving farming and fishing communities, but a trip here still has that feeling of going far off the beaten path. You can visit Uramigataki Waterfall, located within the mossy forests to the south of the island, where a path leads behind the cascading waterfall and the nearby Uramigataki Hot Spring is a great place to unwind. Miharashi-no-yu is another hot spring on the coast and the uninterrupted view of the cliffs from the open-air bathtub is stunning. It’s about as un-Tokyo as you can get.