Tokyo: Nearby island of Niijima a lovely getaway
October 8, 2010
If my travels have taught me anything, it’s that paradise is never as far away as you think.
In fact, if you’re living in Tokyo and dreaming of pristine beaches, azure waters and even a free onsen that looks like it belongs in ancient Greece, then Niijima might just be the place for your next weekend getaway.
Niijima is a part of a group of volcanic islands that stretches across the Izu peninsula and is considered a part of Tokyo even though you have to fly or boat to get there.
On my recent trip, I decided to take a high-speed ferry out of the port in Atami, which is along the eastern coast of Izu. To get to Atami, I hopped on a train in Fussa outside Yokota Air Base and made my way to Atami station. From there, I took a short bus ride to the port. The ferry ride — let’s call it a “jet ferry” ride because you really fly — to Niijima takes a mere hour.
Although not big in size, the 15-square-mile island has a lot to offer. I decided to spend three days so I could explore the island and also relax on its shores.
The highlight of my trip was the time I spent at Habushiura Beach on the east side of the island, a four-mile stretch of breathtaking coastline that’s a photographer’s and surfer’s dream come true. Habushiura Beach offers some of the best surfing in Japan and is said to rival the legendary waves of the North Shore in Hawaii. However, during my stay there weren’t any killer waves to be had.
On the western side is Maehama Beach, a far more suitable place to swim as the water is not as rough. But what really stands out at the beaches on Niijima is that they aren’t packed like many other popular beaches in Japan. It was a welcome surprise.
Some of the pleasures of getting away from city life can be as simple as watching the sunrise from Habushiura beach and watching it set from the opposite side of the island, which is what I did. In my case, I visited the Yunohama Onsen — a free outdoor hot spring with some ancient Greek-decor. The onsen is co-ed and bathing suits are required, so this is the perfect opportunity for friends or families to enjoy a relaxing sunset together.
It’s pretty simple to get around the island. Although it is possible to walk the entire island, I recommend renting a bicycle. It had been many years since I last rode, but I couldn’t turn down the price — 1,000 yen a day. I soon found that it is indeed possible to forget how to ride a bike, and it was a painful experience. There are also taxis and rental cars, but both are very expensive.
While Niijima did have overnight accommodations, I found that many looked somewhat rundown and overpriced. So I found a camp site at Habushiura, just a short walk from the beach. And the price was right. It was free. Although I didn’t find myself in the lap of luxury, sleeping under the stars more than made up for it.
A trip to Niijima is a must, but I highly recommend going with some basic Japanese language skills or at least make the trip with a native speaker, as most on the island don’t speak English.
For more information on ferry routes, rates and fare tables visit www.tokaikisen.co.jp/english