Tokyo’s Kozushima: The lives between stars and sea
Tokyo’s Kozushima: The lives between stars and sea
It’s a beautiful morning, and I’ve just arrived at a quaint oceanside airport. I departed Tokyo on a two-engine prop plane only 45 minutes ago – a quick trip filled with breathtaking scenery.
As I step off the plane, I’m greeted with beautiful skies and the smell of ocean air. It is impressively quiet; only the sounds of chirping birds and crashing waves fill my ears. It’s hard to believe I’ve not even left Tokyo!
I find myself on the island of Kozushima, one of Tokyo’s famous Izu Islands. Like several other Tokyo Islands, Kozushima is easily accessible by plane, regular ferry, or high speed ferry, but the unique people and scenery of Kozushima make it one of the must-visit spots of the Izu Islands.
Kozushima’s claim to fame is its status as an International Dark Sky Places. Located over one hundred kilometers from the Tokyo metropolis, the island is shielded from light pollution thanks to the population of Kozushima going above and beyond to protect these scenic skies. One major renovation was to install street lights that are designed specifically to minimize upward light leakage. These lights are also dimmer than your average street light, reducing light pollution still further. The result is some of the most stunning starry skies you will find in all of Japan, even in the middle of town!
Additionally, observation decks and official viewing locations dot the island, offering numerous stargazing opportunities. Some locations, such as the popular Akasaki Promenade, include lights which automatically turn off if no motion is detected, which reduces light pollution significantly while maintaining a sense of safety. Other locations, such as the helipad, are wide open with no lights around to disturb the view of the cosmos above.
However, because of the island-wide commitment to protecting the night sky views, even at locations like the Kozushima lighthouse (where you certainly can’t avoid light!), the skies are still stunningly clear.
Kozushima’s scenic offerings don’t stop with starry skies! The island is also home to majestic Mt. Tenjo, which means “heaven,” and it’s easy to see why the name was chosen. Although it is a modest 572 meters tall (1,876ft), the views from Tenjo-san easily exceed its height. Hiking around the top of the mountain feels like entering a different world.
This is especially true at Fudoike – a mountaintop pond that looks like something straight from an anime! In addition to the mountain, Kozushima is known for its beautiful beaches and craggy cliffs – an impressive range of scenery for such a small island!
Helping visitors enjoy all this scenery is the specialty of resident tour guide Wataru Furuya. CEO and guide for the Kozushima tour company Full Earth, Mr. Furuya is an expert in the nature and scenery of the island. He offers professional daytime trekking tours of Mt. Tenjo, but also specializes in night sky viewing around the island. Having guided on other islands both in Japan and abroad, Mr. Furuya knows how to help his guests both enjoy the views and learn a few things along the journey.
Kozushima’s cuisine is as worthy as its scenery, and the Hyuga Brewery is among the best spots to enjoy it. Running a brewery on an island can prove challenging, but owner and Kozushima native Fumiko Miyagawa is up to the task.
Ms. Miyagawa has mixed her native experience and her passion for brewing for a successfully delicious combination. The Hyuga Brewery draws on several unique flavors to create craft beers you won’t find anywhere else.
This includes island spring water used for the brewing process, and a local delicacy called “ashitaba” (a type of leaf), used in Hyuga Brewery’s maiden beer, “Angie.”
Delicious local foods are also available, including ashitaba pizza, and a kusaya spring roll – kusaya being a type of fermented fish which locals say you will either love or hate.
While on the island, the Kozukan hotel is a great option for your stay. Friendly staff and comfortable rooms will make you feel at home, and a traditional Japanese breakfast will give you all the energy you need for a full day of exploring. The Kozukan hotel also boasts a traditional Japanese bathhouse, making it a perfect spot to unwind after hiking or stargazing.
One of the best things about Kozushima is how the islanders have embraced visitors. It would be easy to be reclusive on an island like this, but Mr. Kakusho, head of the tourism association, tells me that’s not the case. Kozushima residents have embraced the changes that allowed the island to become an International Dark Sky Places. In fact, it was a student intern who led the way! The student loved the island and was so embraced that the residents even used her own words “Marugoto Planetarium” (“the island itself is a planetarium”) as their slogan.
Kozushima is rich in history, scenery, and things to do. Stargazing, hiking and dining are just the beginning! And although my time on the island was short, a few days was enough to fall in love. As I watched the island go out of view from the airplane window on the flight home, I knew there was much more to see and do, and found myself wondering when I might be able to return.
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