Remote relaxation: Ogasawara Islands worth long journey
Remote relaxation: Ogasawara Islands worth long journey
Japan is an archipelago and as such, is home to countless beautiful islands worthy of spending a vacation exploring. Some islands are just off the coast from the mainland, and others can take up to 24 hours by ferry to reach.
The Ogasawara Islands are a remote set of volcanic islands about 1,000 kilometers away from Tokyo. Despite the distance and difficulty to reach them, these islands are still a part of Tokyo Prefecture.
Since they are designated as UNESCO world heritage site, I really wanted to see the islands once in my life. While the Ogasawara islands are comprised of many islands, only Chichijima and Hahajima islands are accessible to visitors.
In April, my wife and I set out to explore these remote islands via ferry from the Tokyo Takeshiba Terminal. Our first stop was Chichijima Island, which would take a 24-hour journey on the 11,000-ton boat with a capacity of up to 892 passengers.
Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the ferry is only accepting half of its usual passengers to ensure proper social distancing. In addition, passengers are required to submit a negative COVID test up to 24 hours prior to departure.
From Takeshiba, our ferry departed at 11 a.m. on a clear sunny day. In the evening, we enjoyed the gorgeous view of the sunset out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
As expected, and without any issue, we arrived the Chichijima Futami Port at 11 a.m. the following day. We had a quick lunch, purchased tickets at the port, and transferred to another ferry that would take us on a 2-hour journey to Hahajima.
To shake off our sea legs, we decided to walk to our hotel when we reached Hahajima. For this part of the trip we stayed at Island Resort Nanpu in Okumura Village, a small town with three stores, three restaurants and about 460 residents.
We spent our first afternoon on Hahajima strolling the village and were able to catch white-tip sharks resting on the beach. Our visit coincided with the sharks’ breeding season. We also spotted horse mackerel and loggerhead turtles near the pier and, of course, another beautiful sunset.
The following morning, my wife and I set out to climb Mount Kofuji, also known as Small Fuji, on the south end of the island. We had originally planned to climb the 463-meter-high Mount Chibusa peak but decided against it because it was covered in thick clouds. Instead, Mt. Kofuji, though only 83 meters high, its location on a cape offers amazing views of the deep blue ocean and even humpback whales swimming below.
When visiting environmentally protected areas like those on Hahajima, visitors are required to disinfect the soles of their shoes. When we entered preserved areas, we were given vinegar spray for the bottoms of our shoes, a small but important act to protect nature!
Return to Chichijima island
After three nights of relaxing in the quiet beauty of Hahajima, we hopped back on a ferry to return to Chichijima.
Unfortunately, a typhoon was heading towards Ogasawara, so we had to grab emergency food like instant noodles and bottled water to prepare when we docked at Chichijima. Heavy rains and strong winds picked up, so we spent two days sheltering in place at our hotel. We also had 10 hours of electricity outages— it was definitely a rare experience for us!
Exploring by bike
After the typhoon passed, we continued our vacation by heading to the south beaches on rented bicycles. Due to the typhoon, the normally-crystal clear waters were murky at the beach, so we decided to wait to scuba dive.
The next day, I set out to scuba dive, but since it was still a bit early in the season, I wore a 5-millimeter-thick wetsuit to keep me warm in the 20-degree Celsius seawater. It was a little cold, but I enjoyed exploring underwater wreckage and getting a close look at the creatures lurking in the coral.
Whale watching in Minamijima
Though our timing to the islands wasn’t the best in terms of the typhoon, it was, however, perfect for whale watching near Minamijima island. On Chichijima, there are many tour companies which offer a visit to the island and some whale watching by boat. So, we reserved a tour and the day after I went scuba diving, our guide started cruising toward Minamijima under light, early morning rain.
Soon, we spotted mother and child whales coming up in front of our small boat. The boat captain tried to get closer while keeping a safe distance from the whales. After surfacing several times, they raised their tails high to dive into the deep sea.
Next, we made our way toward the island of Minamijima, which only allows 100 tourists per day allowing for the preservation of its superb scenery. A nature guide is also required to visit this island, but it is worth it. On a walk, we spotted a limestone arch and fossilized snail shells on the sandy beaches. We also saw a school of dolphins jumping in and out of the waters off the coast on our way back to Chichijima.
On our last day of this amazing trip, we went for a hike to John Beach. First, we took a local bus from our hotel to Kominato-kaigan, then started our hike across a small river and up to the 228-meter-high peak of Mount Takayama. We then hiked back down and enjoyed a bento lunch on the beach overlooking the perfect turquoise waters.
Back to Tokyo
Though there were a few days where the weather forced us to stay in our hotel, the trip to Ogasawara was worth the time it took to get there.
There are many activities on the island for everyone in your family, including history tours, tours of a sea turtle preserve, an aquarium, cafes and more. The islands also have an interesting history and some of the residents are sixth and seventh-generation Hawaiian.
My wife and I enjoyed our time and made many memories. Though we did not have enough time to do all that we had planned, I hope we can come back there again someday!
Hopping on a ferry ticket to Ogasawara maru
Cost: Varies by reservation class. For a tatami floor spot with futon - 33,390 yen/ per person for roundtrip. When I made reservations, higher and standard classes were fully booked.
There are package tours which is little cheaper
Ferry + hotel
Hahajima maru – you can buy tickets at the pier. 5,310 yen/one way. No reservation required.
Name: Island Resort Nanpu
Not many choices, but this is the best place in the island.
Name: West Annex
Name: Pat Inn
We used Take Nature Academy, but there are plenty of tour companies to choose from on the island.
Name: Take Nature Academy
Cost: 1 day 13,000 yen / half day 8,000 yen
Rental snorkel: 1,000 yen
Rental wet suit: 1,000 yen
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