I have long been reading about the Isuzu Seven Islands which are actually part of Tokyo. They are actually very close – the closest, and the largest of the seven islands is Oshima. You can get there by a 25 minute flight from the Chofu airport in the suburbs west of the city, or by a ferry or hydrofoil from Tokyo Takeshiba terminal. 

Since I live very close the airport, I chose to start my adventure from there. The New Central Airservice flies to the larger four of the islands. The service to Oshima is twice daily. I used their website to book a morning from departing Chofu at 09:00 and arriving at 09:25. The ticket was ¥11,800 including all of the taxes. It was a fairly easy process, and there is an option to pay at any convenience store. I chose this option because it allowed me the flexibility of one day to pay in case the I change my mind or cancel because of weather. Note that this time of the year (late September) the weather is quite fickle so this is a good option. Other than a slight discount for a round trip, there really is no way to get any discount, including advanced bookings, unless you can prove that you qualify as a local resident of the islands. 

It was really a simple process to check-in. Surprisingly they did not ask for ID, but the pre-boarding security scan was a pretty thorough. They say on the website to arrive 30 minutes before the flight. I would say this is just fine as the process is very simple.

The 25 minute flight was a real treat. I got to see parts of Tokyo from the air, but shortly into the flight we entered some low clouds so I did not see much until we were over the ocean.

Oshima island is actually pretty big, about 90 square kilometers. Most of the guides recommend that you get a scooter or a car rental, but since I made my decision to go at the last minute, I did not have a car rental reservation. Most of the affordable car rental companies are small private shops without internet booking so you have to make reservations by phone or fax. Yes, you are going to have to know Japanese to do this. Since I like to walk, I decided to check it out by foot first and get the lay of the land. Since it was not yet raining, these was actually a good option to start the day.

Oshima as two major areas that are covered by the ferry terminal ports. Okata and Motomachi which are on the east and west sides of the northern tip of the island. They are relatively of equal distance from the airport. A very important note is that the ferry service choose the ports based on the weather conditions at the time. For outbound sailings, you need to check the morning of your departure to know which port your ship will be leaving from.

While there is bus service from the airport, I decided to make my way to Okata by foot.

The road to Okata

It was a pleasant walk to the port, passing local farms and quiet residential areas. I had done some research on car rentals, and found the cheapest to be a place called モービルレンタカー大島 (Mobile Rent a car). It was along the road about 1.3 km from the airport. I stopped by to have a look, but there was a sign saying that they had gone to pick up customers. The rates were the cheapest on the island ¥3,000 for 24 hours plus ¥1,000 for insurance. The cars were quite old looking, but really sufficient to get around. Based on my research, this was by far the cheapest option of you have several people in your party. Since nobody was there, I continued on to Okata. It was another 2.7 kilometers, putting the walk at 5.0 kilometers. Not a bad walk since it was not raining.

I made my way down to the port area. I walked around and explored a bit. The ferry terminal had a lot of good tourism information, but the building definitely had seen better days. Just across from it, there was a modern terminal under construction. It looked pretty much near completion and should have a lot of room for restaurants and shops.

There is a nice black-sand beach by the terminal. The sea was quite rough, and it was really a rustic scene. 

All day bus ticket

I spent some time there and I realized the best deal for a solo traveller is this day ticket good for  unlimited rides on the local buses. There is a rather confusing brochure that they provide that shows all the possible courses. I was trying to decide which course was best, but I ended up on hoping on the next bus that left at 10:50am. The network is quite extensive in that it covers all of the main tourist spots, and the frequency is actually pretty good with most buses serving the destinations on an hourly basis, enough time to see the sights and move on to the next one.

Inside the bus

This service is certainly designed for tourists. Most of the people onboard were middle-age demographic Japanese solo travelers. I did not see many foreigners at all during my two days there.

The bus drivers were actually very kind, and offered guidance as a couple was going to alight at a stop where there was not much to see – the driver asked if this was where they really wanted to go and suggested they stay on to the next stop. I found overall the locals were very friendly and helpful, unlike some places where locals tire of dealing with tourists, the Oshima locals seemed to go out of their way to help.

The local bus circuit covers all the major tourist spots

My first stop was to go see the summit of Mt. Mihara, right in the center of the island. The mountain is an extinct volcano.

Vista overlooking Motomachi port

There are actually some good views up on top, but due to the weather I could not see much. There was a very faint outline of Mt. Fuji but I could not capture it in a picture. I think on a nice day the views would be impressive.

On the other side of the bus stop there is a way down to the vista of the plateau and the volcano, and the start of a hiking trail that goes up to the top of the volcano. Due to the low visibility, I was not able to see much, but I did walk down to the plateau at the trailhead. It was really a quiet and serene location with the soil composed of black volcanic sand. The vegetation was very unusual as well, it looked more like an African plain than Tokyo. I’d really like to come back again one day when it is clearer to take the hike up to the ridge of the volcano.

Like many places in Japan, tourism has seen better days in the past. I wonder what sort of shops were in these abandoned stalls.

The next stop on the bus circuit was viewing site of Habu port. This was originally the main transportation port for the island, but now serves mainly as a fishing port. At first, I was a bit disappointed at what I saw, until the next stop.

The next bus departed and made its way down to the port. It was actually raining pretty heavily, and I was the only one who got off. I am sure glad that I did, as what I saw was like taking a journey back in time.

This old Ryokan was really the highlight of the trip. It was built in 1820, and is now a museum. It has been lovingly preserved and it is just like you were stepping in there 100 years ago. The rooms are filled with scenes recreated of what each room was for. The exhibit was free. 

It was raining and I was the only visitor. I spent some time there to feel the happy spirits of the past.

On the top of the hill, this house was once owned by a local dignitary, is now an exhibit, but was closed for visiting.

After this, I got on the next bus and made my way back to Okata where my hotel is. The bus ride was a long circle around the western side of the island and it was a fantastic view

Lava Flow “Oshima Desert”
View of Okata port at night

I went back to and checked into my hotel. It was a little guest house not far from the port called “Caravan Flake”. It was fairly nice, but certainly not as nice as the photos in the booking site would lead you to believe. There was nothing to eat there, so I took a walk around the port area. It was 6pm, windy and raining. I walked around for about 90 minutes and could not find a single store, pub or restaurant that was open. It really quiet and serene.

The next morning, it was raining again, while I really wanted to go for a hike back up on Mt. Mihara, it just would not be practical in this weather unless I had some really good rain gear. So, I decided to check out the Motomachi port area which is the largest commercial area on the island.

While there are some interesting places to eat as listed on some of the guide books, I found out that Wednesday and Thursdays are the days off for the locals, and most dining establishments are closed. The tourism here is really built around weekend trips from Tokyo, and fishing is one of the big draws. I did have an interesting walkabout, but could not find any restaurant that was open.

Local seaweed ramen

I did manage to find a small shop at the Motomachi port complex. I really wanted some local taste, so I had this bowl of ramen covered with a generous portion of the famous local dried seaweed. It was really a unique taste – very light and refreshing and does not have that “low tide” taste that seaweed sometimes has. It really hit the spot.

I had originally planned for staying one more night, but since the weather was not letting up, and there was a threat of a major typhoon making its way over, I decided to make my way back home.Since the ferries were leaving from Okata that day (you can check on their website to find out where), I took the bus back to Okata. 

Although I came over by air, I wanted to experience the ferry ride back. It was a much longer trip, and not really that much cheaper on the hydrofoil – the 1 hour 45 minutes ride back to Takeshiba in Tokyo was ¥7,400. There is a cheaper option to take a large car ferry that is ¥4,800 and takes 5 hours – that was my original choice by unfortunately it did not run on the last three days of  this week in September so Jetfoil it was.

The ride back was pretty interesting. It was a pretty rough day. Once the Hydrofoil was up on its on its foils, it was pretty smooth. Then, we hit a rough patch and the craft landed with a crash. It was pretty dramatic. It took some time to get back up, but we were back on our way.

Although the weather was pretty inclement, we arrived in Takeshiba only 15 minutes late. It was really worth it to try this mode, but from where I live going by air is by far more convenient and not that much more expensive.

Overall, it was a good trip. For the two days, one night I did manage to see quite a bit even though the weather was not so agreeable for the second half.

I would really like to come back for a longer visit and do some hiking up to the top of Mt. Mihara and see the beautiful beaches on the coastline. From there, it also very easy to take ferries to the other seven islands which are even more remote. I considered this trip more of a first “probe”, and from what I have seen, it really has a lot to offer.

It is really amazing to have such a convenient getaway from the city. It seems to me to be a really unappreciated area of natural beauty. 

Another final observation, and one that I frequently have, is that Japan can be a challenging place to travel for a foreigner. I do speak and read Japanese at a basic level, so I do know enough to get around, read maps and even make travel bookings online. For the non-Japanese speaker, I think it would be a real challenge. For example, at the ferry terminals there are signs that point out that which port the ferries depart on that day – if you arrive at the wrong one, there is a sign that points out that you need to go to the other terminal on the other side of the island, but these signs are only in Japanese. I can only imagine what it would be like to show up at the terminal and wondering why everything is closed when your ship leaves in 30 minutes.

For travel bookings, most of the economical options are not distributed on the international hotel booking sites such as Agoda, Booking.com, or hotels.com. Yes, they do have some, but they tend to be the expensive luxury hotels, so finding a good deal on a local pension or ryokan can be very difficult.

Also, on the island, the travel materials – the really important ones like bus schedules are all in Japanese. As Japan looks to open its tourism market to foreign visitors, there is a lot that needs to be done to make areas like Oshima more accessible.