I must confess that my (very limited) planning of this trip went something along the lines of this:
“Aogashima looks cool, let’s book a flight and see what happens! …and someone said something about dolphins?!”
Hachijo-jima (八丈島) sadly was completely overlooked.
I admit it. In my excitement, I viewed Hachijo-jima as nothing more than a stepping stone to my beloved Aogashima (青ヶ島). I did Hachijo-jima an immense injustice with this oversight. One which we were at least partly able to rectify.
Although we spent four nights at Seadive Guest House, this only translated to two full days exploring Hachijo-jima. As a result, we saw just a fraction of the island’s offerings. I could have happily spent a week here. Even so, in the time that we had, we were able to explore several beaches and an abandoned hotel, visit two onsen (hot springs) and climb a volcano, all surrounded by panoramic views of the ocean. Overall, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a birthday.
How to get there
Hachijo-jima can be reached from Tokyo by plane in less than an hour. A one way ticket costs around ¥11 500.
Alternatively, you can take the overnight ferry from Takeshiba Terminal in Tokyo. A ticket costs around ¥9000 and the journey takes ten and a half hours. If you are on a budget, this comes with the added bonus of doubling up as accommodation for the night. You will be provided with a pillow and space to lie down. If you can fall asleep, that’s probably your best antidote against sea sickness.
If you feel like your stomach can handle it, there is a restaurant.
Where to stay
Hachijo-jima is significantly bigger than Aogashima. You will find plenty of places to stay, to suit every budget. We chose a dormitory room at Seadive Guest House. It was perfectly positioned for accessing the harbour but quite far, it turns out, from everything else. Restaurants were few and far between and admittedly a few of our meals did look like this:
There was a small town about a thirty minute walk from the hostel.
We came across a charming little restaurant and managed to order vegetable ramen. This was very welcome after our previous ‘meals’ since arriving on the island.
Now in most respects I am pretty adventurous. However, when navigating an unfamiliar land with at best, a very rudimentary knowledge of the language basics, if I manage to order a meal and it arrives without containing anything that obviously used to have legs, fins or tentacles, I will happily eat that same meal every day for the foreseeable future.
We ended up eating here twice. Frankly, we tried to go a third time, but it was closed.
This forced us to gather a little courage on the final night and we did manage to find alternative nourishment without disaster.
How not to climb a volcano
I am not one for birthday celebrations, but I seem to have unintentionally started a new birthday tradition of climbing a mountain. And as birthday traditions go, it’s a rather good one.
On this occasion it was Hachijo-fuji (八丈富士山), also known as Nishi-yama (西山), an active volcano rising 854m above sea level and dominating the skyline of Hachijo-jima.
Growing up the daughter of a man who loves the mountains as much as I love the ocean, I have climbed many a peak in my time. This makes my lack of planning on this occasion particularly embarrassing.
My first mistake was in keeping with my general under-estimation of Hachijo-jima.
Being from the UK, I am used to hearing altitudes in feet, not metres, so I had little comprehension of what 854m meant in actuality other than ‘fairly big’.
When climbing a mountain on the mainland, you usually start already several hundred metres up. This knocks a significant amount of ascent off the hike. The significance of this fact failed to register as I stood on the beautiful black sands of Sokodo Beach looking up at the distant majestic silhouette of Hachijo-fuji.
And here lay the foundations of my second mistake:
Do not lose focus
If your intention is to climb a mountain, climb the mountain. Do not allow distractions to get in your way.
But I’d never seen black sand before, and it was pretty amazing, so we spent a bit of time exploring the beach.
And the trouble was, this pattern kept on repeating itself. As we approached the next cove, we discovered these volcanic rock formations which were also deserving of our attention:
An intriguing building looming in the distance turned out to be an abandoned luxury hotel.
It went out of business as more Japanese tourists started going abroad for beach holidays.
It had a distinctly eerie atmosphere. I don’t think you’re strictly supposed to go in there so erm… don’t go in there.
With these distractions neatly out of the way, we headed towards the base of the mountain. Which was, as it turns out, absolutely nowhere near where we were.
Which brings me to my third mistake;
Do not attempt to climb a mountain without any provisions. We gratefully stumbled upon a vending machine dispensing coffee and corn soup. By this time it was about 2pm and we were, I would say, at best, about 20m above sea level.
Undeterred, we marched on until the road began to climb skywards. And it kept on climbing, for absolutely ages, along a concrete road hemmed in on all sides by dense tree growth.
If some kind soul offers you a lift at this point, take it. You will not be missing out on anything. And you may have something resembling fully functional legs by the time you reach the seemingly endless (but very pretty) staircase leading to the summit.
The good news is that hitch-hiking seems to be alive and well on the Izu Islands. The bad news, for us, was that we were already 95% of the way up the hill by the time we got into a stranger’s car. But it’s the thought that counts.
Once we finally reached the rim of the volcano, I discovered my final mistake
No matter how blissfully sunny it is down at beach level, at 850m you will require some kind of clothing other than a t shirt. I shamelessly accepted my friend’s jacket and frankly was still cold. But you can’t really complain when your selfless companion is braving the elements in a tank top, and it’s all your fault.
Luckily, it was incredible up there. So morale was mostly maintained as we did a circuit of the crater, taking in the view on all sides.
As night rolled in, there was a rather manic retracing of our steps. Eventually we found our now familiar restaurant and collapsed into our respective bowls of ramen.
I felt a year older.
It wasn’t a bad feeling.
Getting around Hachijo-jima
The next day we decided to brave the bus system as we’d exhausted the attractions within walking distance of our hostel.
You can pick up bus timetables from Sokodo Port or the airport. The paper timetables didn’t seem to bear much resemblance to the ones displayed at the actual bus stops. (There is a chance we may have been reading them incorrectly.)
My advice would be to show up well before the advertised time and ask any bus passing by whether it’s going to your destination. If you don’t trust your pronunciation of local place names, pointing at a map will get the job done. (You can get one at the airport or Sokodo Port.) And have emergency taxi money on hand just in case the bus you’re waiting for doesn’t show up.
In hindsight, I would have spent longer on the island and hiked my way around, changing location every couple of nights.
Onsen (hot springs) on Hachijo-jima
We did manage to navigate our way to Aigae Port by bus. Here you can visit Kirameki foot onsen and enjoy sweeping views of the ocean. There is no entrance fee. There are taps for you to wash your feet before entering the onsen. Please use them!
A few minutes up the road is another outdoor onsen positioned at the top of a waterfall. Urami-ga-taki onsen is also free and unsupervised. It’s ideal if you are travelling as a mixed group or haven’t fully embraced the nudity aspect of Japanese onsen yet. You also don’t need to worry if you have tattoos. I was keen to seek out this particular onsen for that reason.
There are changing rooms and lockers just across the road from the entrance. You enter the onsen by walking down a flight of steps. There is a shower that you should make use of before entering the water. Then enjoy views over the edge of the waterfall.
That brought our time on Hachijo-jima to an end.
With waterfalls, lighthouses, museums, botanical gardens, shrines, a farm that makes its own ice cream, dozens of kilometres of coastline, another mountain and several smaller peaks still to explore, I have plenty of reasons to hope I find myself here again. And next time, I will give Hachijo-jima the attention it deserves.
Next stop; Miyake-jima (三宅島).