Despite being in a creative and personal slump, this week has been quite the adventure for me. Right after being profiled by the Twitter account @womenofjapan, I took over the rotation curation account @beingtokyo. The timing was wonderful, as I the monster and I were headed to Izu Oshima, one of Tokyo’s islands.
Tokyo Has Islands?!
Even if you’re in the giant megalopolis of Tokyo, a tropical island vacation is closer than you think. In all, there are 9 inhabited islands that make up the Tokyo islands. I’ve seen the islands grouped as 7, 9, and even 11.
In the Edo times (17th century to mid 19th century), the 7 Izu Islands were known as Oshima, Toshima, Niijima, Kozushima, Miyakeshima, Mikurashima, and Hachijijoma.
But, after the Meiji period (late 19th century to early 20th century), people moved to Shikinejima and Aogashima, bringing it to 9.
Add the Ogasawara Islands of Chichijima and Hahajima and you’ll get 11 Tokyo islands in all.
READ: Izu Islands
Most of the islands can be reached within 2 hours from Tokyo by jet ferry or by airplane, making them a very convenient island escape. For other islands, a large passenger ship is the only way to travel, or even by helicopter, if you’re loaded like that.
Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal
6 years ago, I visited Hachijojima, the southernmost of the Tokyo islands by airplane. This time around, I made my second trip to the Tokyo islands with the monster in tow.
We headed Hamamatsucho, near Tokyo Tower, to reach the Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal.
Then, we boarded a colorful jet ferry bound for Oshima (大島).
Oshima is the largest of the Izu Islands and sister island to Hawaii’s Big Island.
Oshima is just 120 kilometres away from Tokyo, and we made it to Okada Port in just a little over 2 hours.
From there, we boarded our tour bus and set off for our hydrangea hike!
Tsubaki Hana Garden
Our first stop was Tsubaki Hana Garden, a 17.5 hectares park known for its camellia (椿/tsubaki) gardens. In fact, Oshima is known throughout Japan for it camellia, but the island boasts Tokyo’s largest concentration of hydrangeas.
This was the focal point of our hydrangea hike, and the morning rain accented their beauty.
Lunch at Izu Oshima Onsen Hotel
Following Tsubaki Hana Garden, our next stop was lunch which was included in our package tour. I was never a fan of package tours, but after a few years of traveling, they’ve grown on me.
There’s no need to worry about making seperate bookings for flights/trains and accommodations, saving me time that I already don’t have!
Our tour came with a course lunch at Izu Oshima Onsen Hotel, located on the 7th stage of Mt. Mihara.
Being a sister island to Hawaii, I expected pancakes like the ones at Hawaiian Town in Yokohama World Porters.
But, while there were no pancakes, I certainly was not disappointed.
No shima zushi* on the menu, but I enjoyed sashimi, kinmetai, vegetable and fish tempura, and locally made tofu. There was also a side dish of ashitaba, a bitter leafy green vegetable high in nutrients and native to the islands.
*Sushi made from fish caught near the islands and soaked in soy sauce, with sugar and karashi (mustard paste) for extra flavor.
After lunch, we headed to Mt. Mihara, where we should have seen breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, Honshu, and Mt. Fuji… but it was a very foggy day (not raining, thankfully).
Mt. Mihara, Home to Godzilla
Mt. Mihara, a 758 meter high volcano that last erupted in 1990. It’s the backdrop of two Godzilla movies, The Return of Godzilla, and Godzilla Versus Biollante. So, if you’re in a gift shop and see boxes of manju or curry with Godzilla on it, that’s why.
The little hut on Mt. Mihara, right in front of the police koban also has excellent wi-fi. It’s the fastest I’ve ever experienced, no exaggeration! There is also an ATM there, according to people on the tour bus.
You can also ride to the top of Mt. Mihara on horseback.
Ajisai (Hydrangea) Rainbow Line
There wasn’t much to see at the top of Mt. Mihara, save for the monster running around enjoying the open air. We got back on our bus to enjoy the sights of the Ajisai Rainbow Line, a 4 kilometer stretch of road lined with more than 30,000 hydrangeas.
I should explain a bit about hydrangeas.
“Hydrangeas (ajisai) are the flower of Japan’s rainy season (early June to July), a flower associated with the impermanence and fickle nature of love.” Viewing them during the rainy season has been in vogue for literally centuries.
In eastern Japan, Kamakura gets all the fame for being the place to see hydrangeas during the rainy season, bu there’s no place in eastern Japan that has hydrangeas like Ajisai Rainbow Line.
This was to be the grande finale of our tour, but the hydrangea were not yet in full bloom. Perhaps a visit at the end of the month would be better to see Ajisai Rainbow Line in all its glory.
The bus snaked its way down winding mountain roads and we reached our final tour, Oshima Park (“Funded by you lovely taxpayers of Tokyo,” joked our tour guide).
It’s a public park that is 10 times bigger than Ueno Park and 30 times bigger than Hibiya Park.
Along with its famous camelia grove, Oshima Park also has an amazing 5 kilometer hiking and cycling course that runs along the coast of Oshima.
Because of the weather, we skipped the walking course and headed straight to the zoo, which turned out to be the highlight of this trip.
The monster has long loved black shibas (obviously), pandas, and koalas, but she now shows interest in other animals.
Seeing her reaction to all the zoo animals made my day (that and the free entry and the lack of crowds).
Okada Port Gift Shop
Before heading to Oshima, it’s best to bring cash. I didn’t, despite arriving at Takebashi early with the intention to hit up the ATM.
Practically every shop we visited on our tour was “cash only,” save for the souvenir shop in front of Okada Port.
Not only does the gift shop take credit cards, you can also use Suica/Pasmo cards. I liked the novelty of using my train commuter pass to pay for things on an island.
Next time, (there will be a next time!) I will bring cash or try out the Izu Island cash app.
How To Get There
Takeshiba Pier (Passenger Ship Terminal) is a 10 minute walk from Daimon (大門) or Hamamatsucho (浜松町) Station.
From Takeshiba to Okada Port, it’s a 2 hour ferry ride. I booked a package tour via the official website of Tokai Kisen, the company that owns and operates the ferries providing access to the island.