Looking to try something unique for Golden Week, otherwise known as Japan’s version of Spring Break, I boarded a ferry boat with a couple of hundred other people for an 8-hour ride that would take us to Niijima Island.
Yes, I sat on a boat for 8 hours overnight to get to this island! Yes, the boat was very much like the underbelly of the Titanic. There were so many strange people on it and the ones with the deck tickets had to sit out in the cold all night. I mean it! It looked like a freakin’ tent city on that boat. I was lucky to get a seat ticket 2 floors below deck even if there were no windows. I slept like a baby, a warm one at that.
However, I digress,….
One of the striking things about Niijima Island and other islands around it, is that although it is 101 miles away it is still technically inside of Tokyo proper. But, really, it feels like both are worlds apart.
Where Tokyo has skyscrapers, Niijima has jungle-esque covered mountains and cliffs. Where Tokyo has a sea of people both local and foreign, Niijima has sandy beaches and clear waters as far as the eye can see. Where Tokyo is go, go, go, Niijima takes it easy. Here you can truly enjoy island life.
Niijima is part of the seven Izu Islands, a stretch of volcanic formations that dot an area to the southwest of Tokyo.
For Niijima, I spent a few days camping, biking, soaking in the (free!) hot springs and generally enjoying being disconnected. I only had cell service in some of the restaurants or the travel center so it really was a complete disconnection of the screen-attached lifestyle we lead in Tokyo.
Niijima also has a glass museum where I was able to make my own blown glass whiskey cup. The glass is made from the sands of the island and is a distinct green color only found naturally in some other place in Italy. So, i have a nice souvenir to remind me of the island at home. 🙂
Since, Golden Week falls in late April/early May, the beaches were still pretty cold. But, the freezing water didn’t stop us from enjoying everything else the island had to offer, including some nice sunbathing.
I must confess that this was my first time camping, and I really didn’t enjoy it very much. I could hear my neighbors snoring, there were bugs everywhere and the bathrooms got worse, the more time we spent there. There were a lot of people staying at the campground because it is free to stay.
Also, there are a few places where you can rent a bike for cheap there, as well as scooter rentals. I don’t have a scooter license in Japan (nor have i ever driven/ridden one) so i got a bike. Since this is a pretty humid place, I will say that most of the rental bikes on the island are crazy rusted and squeaky which made me a little uncomfortable when riding in the residential areas at night. Still fun though. haha
I should also add that the people of Niijima was pretty friendly and happy to share their home with the visitors. Many spoke decent English and the liquor store kept vending machines well stocked for after-hours customers.
All in all, though, with a few minor changes (like staying at an inn, getting a motorbike license ahead or bringing my own bike), I would definitely escape to Niijima again and also take advantage and visit a couple of the other Izu Islands. It was simply beautiful there.
Pro tip: There is also a speedboat that services the island. If you can take a speedboat there and/or back, do it. It’s about 30USD more and may require a reservation months in advance, but at 2 and a half hours travel time each way, it is soooo worth it.
Bonus points: if you can make it out to Aogashima Island. Another one of the Izu islands, Aogashima, it is famously secluded and hard to get to as it only takes in about 3 boats and one helicopter per day. What makes this island special is that it is home to a village in the center of a volcanic crater . Read more about it here. Aogashima is about 329 kilometers from Tokyo.