Tokyo is a metropolis, but did you know it has 9 islands to its name as well? For beaches, dolphins and jungles, you don’t even technically need to leave the city boundaries… (you might need a boat though).
Stretching out from the city’s coast are a series of unique islands that encompass everything Tokyo is not: relaxing, green and, most of all, quiet. The islands are a popular getaway for city dwellers and can offer a sense of escape without the price of a flight to Okinawa. Officially called the Izu Islands, they are a collection of volcanic islands under the jurisdiction of Tokyo, although they are closer to the Izu Peninsula.
Out of the dozen or so islands, nine are inhabited and can be visited by tourists looking for a break from the city. They are served by a ferry service that can get you there overnight, allowing you to wake up to beaches and emerald seas with Tokyo feeling a million miles away. Be aware that aside from the two main islands (Oshima and Hachijojima) English levels decrease as you go further out, and you’ll need Japanese for islands like Aogashima.
The nine Tokyo islands, listed by distance from the shore, are Oshima, Toshima, Niijima, Shikinejima, Kozushima, Miyakejima, Mikurajima, Hachijojima and Aogashima. Now, you may have heard of the last one—it’s pretty famous for being a stunning volcanic island that’s tricky to reach, but not impossible and is 380km from central Tokyo. Each island has something different to offer, ranging from whales to rare birds to hiking trails and diving spots, so you can island-hop or stay a little longer on one and explore it thoroughly.
Transportation to the Tokyo islands
All islands are accessible by passenger ferry and some by jet ferry from Tokyo’s Takeshiba Passenger Ship Terminal—which is a 7-minute walk from JR Hamamatsucho Station.
A jet ferry is available between Tokyo and Oshima as well as between Oshima and some of the other islands, although the prices are quite a bit higher.
The cheapest ticket type on a regular ferry is second class, with seasonal changes to prices—the ones listed below are from Jan-April. For your second class ticket you will be given a sleeping spot on tatami (or on one boat, the choice between tatami and a Western-style reclining chair). Upgrades go all the way to private cabins with beds, but these will set you back quite a bit—have a look at your options here. Seats are reserved and you need to book in advance.
The passenger ferry runs overnight, leaving Tokyo at 10pm and arriving in Oshima at 6am the following day, so you will have to nap to pass the time! The timetables have two schedules: Day A and Day B, where times differ slightly due to additional stops in Yokohama on B days, so be sure to check which service runs on the day you are traveling.
The ferry travels to Oshima, Toshima, Niikima, Shikinejima and Kozushima. To reach Miyakejima, Mikurajima and Hashijojima you will need to take a different ferry that departs at 10:30pm from Tokyo.
Be aware that to travel back to Tokyo, you will be sailing during the day—so you will have to lose a day of island life to get home, rather than taking another overnight trip.
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards
Most of the islands have airport, but these tickets are often far, far more expensive. Helicopters are also an option, but unsurprisingly cost an arm and a leg, plus another arm for good measure.
Izu Oshima Island: For hikers and volcano enthusiasts
8 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥4,450 each way | 120km from Tokyo | 伊豆大島
The largest and closest to Tokyo, Oshima is one of the most popular islands to escape to. The island surrounds Mount Mihara, a 758m tall active volcano which heats the islands onsen and is home to plenty of great day hikes with sea views.
The island received its claim to fame in the 1984 classic Return of Godzilla when the beast was entombed in the island, only to be released by a volcanic eruption in the 1989 sequel, so watch out… The island has a Museum of Volcanoes, as well as stunning volcanic cliffs and viewpoints to explore. There are some fantastic dive sites and opportunities to try water sports in season as well as beaches to relax on. Keep in mind that it is still an active volcano, and the most recent eruption occurred in 1990, but today hikers can hike to the top for views of the large crater and the lake within.
The island is also famed for its vast array of camellia flowers which are celebrated during a festival from late January to late March.
The island only takes 1-1.5 hours to drive around by car, but cycling is the best way to explore and enjoy the ocean breeze as you go! Be sure to look out for natural sea salt and camellia-dyed local products as well as fresh seafood during your stay.
Getting there: By regular passenger ferry, the journey takes approximately 8 hours from Tokyo, departing at 10pm and arriving at 6am. A second class ticket starts at ¥4,450 and prices go up to ¥12,460 for a VIP package. . If you prefer to cut your travel time to just under 2 hours, you can catch the jet ferry which costs just over ¥7,000 each way.
Accommodation: There is one hostel and a selection of hotels and ryokan (traditional inns) available on the island with hostel prices starting at ¥3,500 for a dorm bed (Caravan Flake). Due to a limited selection in a cheapo-friendly price range, we suggest you book well in advance to ensure you have somewhere to spend the night!
Toshima: Swim with dolphins at Camellia Island
9.5 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥4,950 each way | 147km from Tokyo | 利島
One of the smallest islands in the chain with only around 300 residents, Toshima is a camellia paradise with over 80% of the island blanketed from November to March.
Due to the low-inhabitant rate and lack of light pollution, the skies above the island provide incredible star-scapes at night, with a views a million miles from the orange glow of Tokyo.
With glassy blue seas and specialties such as spiny lobster and impressive horned-turban sea snails, there has been a new and very popular addition to the seas of Toshima. A few years ago, a school of dolphins moved into the area and are now a popular attraction with chances to view and swim with them.
There is also a small Native History and Crafts Museum and small shrine to explore.
Getting there: The regular passenger ferry takes 9 hours and 40 minutes from Tokyo, departing at 10pm and arriving at 7:40am. A second-class ticket costs just under ¥5,000. The Jet Ferry takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach Toshima and costs ¥7,920. From Oshima, you can catch the ferry for only ¥840 if you’re planning on a day trip or are traveling from island to island.
Accommodation: There are 9 guesthouses (minshuku) on the island which you can see on the island website, but as most do not have their own websites, you may have to call to make reservations in Japanese. Some also offer dolphin-swimming and specialty food, so be sure to have a look at the services listed!
Niijima: A surfer’s haven with sandy white beaches
10.5 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥5,980 each way | 163km from Tokyo | 新島
This island is pretty small, but the waves are not. Having hosted the World Surf Championships in the past, the seas here have a reputation for being some of the best in the world. Popular with surfers but also people looking to relax on white sandy beaches, the island is 11.5km long and only 3km across, meaning there is plenty of ground to be explored.
The island is one for the more popular spots for vacations and feels more like Okinawa than Honshu. The two main beaches for swimming and relaxing are Mamashitaura and Honson Maehama which are both less than a 10 minute’s walk from Niijima port, so you can jump off the boat and onto the beach. The surfing beach of Habushiura is 6.5km long and a 10-minute drive from the port.
Right next to Mamashitaura you’ll find the Yunohama Hot Springs which are free to use and consist of 6 open-air pools. They are mixed and require bathing suits, but can be used 24 hours a day. Mamashita Hot Springs is nearby and has sand baths as well as regular public baths, with a small fee charged.
The island is famous for glass-making and has a museum as well as workshops to try your hand at glass-blowing and plenty of souvenir shops to find a special piece to take home.
If you’re feeling brave, try the specialty of slated, dried and fermented fish (it isn’t for everyone!).
Getting there: From Tokyo, the regular ferry takes 10.5 hours, leaving at 10pm and arriving at 8:35am. A second-class ticket costs just under ¥6,000 each way. The jet ferry takes around 3 hours and costs ¥8,930 each way. If you want to visit Niijima from Oshima, you can catch the connecting ferry service for ¥1,200 or take the jet ferry which takes 1 hour and costs ¥2,610. Niijima does have an airport but boats are definitely the cheapest way to travel.
Accommodation: The island has a variety of hotels, campsites and hostels as well as minshuku (small guesthouses) and ryokan (traditional inns) to choose from. For surfers, the Surf Station at Habushi is a good choice as they offer transport from the port, meal plans and bike rental for when you want to visit the town and most importantly, are only 1 minute from the beach. Alternatively, Hostel Nabla has prices from ¥5,500 for a dorm bed and is right by the two other beaches and onsen.
Shikinejima: Emerald seas and golden onsen
11 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥5,980 | 160km from Tokyo | 式根島
With only 600 residents, the island of Shikinejima is a laid-back and quiet place, with secret onsen and some of the most incredible diving opportunities in Japan. The island is so small, cars are not required, and you can explore easily on foot or by bike.
Some of the island’s highlights include a secret hot spring, only available for a few hours a day. Jinata Onsen, is in fact a gensen, which means it is the source of water, rather than drawing water from elsewhere. Generally, though, the water is too hot to enjoy—but when it mixes with sea water at high tide, it reaches the perfect temperature for a relaxing soak, to be enjoyed within touching distance of the cool waves of the sea. All the onsen on the island are free, just be sure to check the temperature before you get in!
For keen divers, the island has plenty of great spots and diving schools available for all levels, including courses for those without a license. There are plenty of beaches to relax on, with Tomari Beach being the most well known.
Getting there: From Tokyo, the regular ferry takes 11 hours, departing at 10pm and arriving just after 9am the following day. A second-class ticket costs ¥5,980 each way. Alternatively, the jet ferry takes around 3 hours and costs ¥8,930 each way. If you’re visiting from Oshima, you can catch the regular ferry for ¥1,320 each way, or take the jet ferry for ¥2,910 which takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Accommodation: You can camp on the island or stay at one of the guesthouses, hotels or ryokan dotted around the island. Many of these are family-run businesses and offer a really personal, traditional experience.
Kozushima: Water-side walkways and Alpine Mountains
12 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥6,340 | 188km from Tokyo | 神津島
Bathed in the Phillipine Sea, Kozushima is the westernmost of the Izu Islands and is home to mountain hikes, incredibly clear seas and unusual natural wonders.
In the center of the island stand Mt. Tenjo which is 574m tall, but due to the environment, is home to alpine plants that normally grow at around 2000m above sea level. For an unusual souvenir, you can apply in advance to receive a certificate upon reaching the mountain summit with your name and the date of your hike.
The island also has a small museum which showcases excavated items, including gem stones and pottery.
The Akasaki Promenade is a long wooden walkway that stretches above the clear bay, attached to the rockface with incredible views and relaxing swimming spots. Similarly to its neighbors, the island has amazing beaches, diving spots and surfing beaches, so you can take your pick from the water sports and explore to your heart’s content.
Getting there: From Tokyo, the regular ferry takes exactly 12 hours, leaving at 10pm and arriving at 10am. A second-class ticket costs ¥6,340 each way. If you take the jet ferry, it will take just under 4 hours and cost ¥9,510. To visit the island from Oshima, you can catch the regular ferry for ¥1,380 or the jet ferry for ¥3,050 which takes 2 hours.
Accommodation: The island has over 40 places to stay, ranging from campsites to pensions, ryokan and hotels, so you’ll certainly be able to find a price to suit you. There is a list of the different places here along with a helpful list of features.
Miyakejima: A bird island with gas masks
6.5 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥6,690 | 180km from Tokyo | 三宅島
Known for its sulfuric gasses that once stopped flights for 8 years in the surrounding area, Miyakejima’s reputation precedes it. Although it may not be your first choice for a long stay, the island has been deemed safe since 2005, although gas masks must be carried at all times, in case the warning sirens sound (google for nightmare material).
The sulfuric gasses came from a series of eruptions at Mt. Oyama, but surprisingly the flora and fauna of the island are alive and well. You can spot the rare Izu thrush and Japanese pygmy woodpeckers as well as Japanese white-eyes here, lending it the name Bird Island and it is very popular with bird-watchers from across Japan.
For divers, the coral reefs are incredibly well preserved, along with the chance to see dolphins visiting from nearby Mikurajima (March-Nov).
One of the silver linings of the reputation is that the island is one of the lesser-visited and is therefore a little quieter. The Miyakejima Tourism Association sells gas masks and rents bikes, as well as having plenty of information about the best spots on the island, so be sure to check in and say hello! There is an island bus which makes 5 journeys a day, and rental bikes are available if you want to explore, as well as cars.
Getting there: From Tokyo, the service departs at 10:30pm and arrives in Miyakejima at 5am, with a second-class ticket costing ¥6,690 one way. There is no jet ferry available on this route.
Accommodation: There are 31 different places to stay on the island, with a few camping grounds and mostly minshuku (family-run guesthouses) available. Prices are all around ¥7,000 and often include breakfast and sometimes a second meal too. Be sure to check which ones offer extras like wifi, transfers from the ferry port and bike rentals, as not all do. You can check the full list here.
Mikurajima: Dolphins and forest hikes
7.5 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥7,300 | 200km from Tokyo | 御蔵島
Once less popular due to the lack of beaches, the island has become a favorite thanks to the pod of 120 wild Indo-Pacific dolphins that have settled in the surrounding waters. The entire island is a national park which means there are some restrictions, for example no cycling or camping, and all hiking and dolphin swimming must be done with a Tokyo Nature Guide. The only way to get your dolphin fix is to go snorkeling, as scuba diving is prohibited, and it must be with one of the guides. One of the highly recommended companies is Sirius nature tours but there are plenty to choose from. One of the hiking highlights is the number of Sudaji trees, including the largest one in Japan.
Staying at the minshuku (guesthouses) means you can try some of the amazing local seafood in the meals provided as well as heading out to one of the three restaurants and the lone bar on the island.
Getting there: From Tokyo, the service departs at 10:30am and arrives in Mikurajima at 5:55am, with a second-class ticket costing ¥7,000–¥8,000 for a bed and two meals—but some cheaper options are available for between ¥2,000–¥4,000 without meals. Shops and restaurants are limited though, so unless you bring your own food, it may be more cost-effective/relaxing to eat with the owners. Check the accommodation list here and scroll to the bottom to see a list of English-speaking dolphin tour guides.
Hachijojima: Forest walks, whales and natural onsen
10.5 hours (overnight ferry) | ¥8,150 | 287km from Tokyo | 八丈島
Once a convict island in the Edo period, the island of Hachijojima is a natural wonder, with whales, dolphins, onsen and more. As the furtherst island served by the large ferry, and one of the larger islands, it has a great reputation and is often busy in peak seasons, so be sure to book things like accommodation and rental cars well in advance.
The island has beaches and great diving spots, with unusual underwater lava formations, plenty of turtles and even humpback whales have been spotted—so be sure to head to to the waters.
There is a large an well-equipped visitors center with English information about different attractions including the traditional dyeing techniques, botanical park, the history and folk museum and transport options too. Be sure to visit Furusato Mura which is a reconstruction of a traditional village from the island’s first settlement and free to enter.
On the slopes of Mt. Mihara, you’ll find the geo-thermal area which combines stunning forest hikes with natural onsen for pretty much the best day out ever. While the natural onsen are free to use, there are some paid ones, and you may want to invest in a hot spring pass—either for one time use at each spring, or a few hundred yen extra for entry to three hot springs and unlimited bus use.
For any haikyo (Japanese ruins) fans, there is a particularly magnificent abandoned hotel from the booming post-war tourism years that you definitely shouldn’t find and explore.
Getting there: From Tokyo, the service departs at 10:30pm and arrives in Hachijojima at 8:50am, with a second-class ticket costing ¥8,150. There is no jet ferry available on this route.
Accommodation: There are almost 50 places to choose from, including luxury hotels, youth hostels and family guesthouses. Prices start at ¥5,000 per night including breakfast, but some establishments will include extra meals for only a little more. There are far more options here compared to other islands, mostly around the ¥7,000 mark, so do take the time to explore what extras you get and what’s nearby if you aren’t planning on renting a car.
Aogashima: Stargazing at the volcano within a volcano
Only accessible from Hachijojima | 360km from Tokyo | 青ヶ島
The island with a cult following, Aogashima has developed a reputation as a dream destination for stargazing and escapes to nature. This reputation is helped by its inaccessibility—it can only be reached by a small local service from Hachijojima that is pretty unreliable, as well as helicopter access.
If you can get there, be prepared for small-island life. There are only 160 inhabitants, one post office and a small school, with no restaurants, but two bars (we like your style, Aogashima). Make sure you visit the distillery to try the island’s homemade alcohol made from sweet potato: Aochu. There is a small shop on the island and most inns offer meals so you can enjoy island-sourced vegetables and fish.
The main attraction of the island is the incredible night skies, so be prepared to stargaze for hours as you won’t be able to tear your eyes away. Enjoy hikes, hot springs and even steam potatoes in the natural island steamer—as well as exploring the volcano within a volcano: Maruyama. There are no beaches on the island, but you can catch plenty of fish at the port.
Getting there: To reach Aogashima you must catch a ferry from Hachijojima run by Izushoto Kaihatu, at a cost of ¥2,590. These ferries must be confirmed with the company themselves and are canceled during bad weather, so be sure to check the times here, and again with the company when you arrive. The decision on sailing is made at 7am each day, and the boat only runs about 4 days a week anyway. Alternatively, you can take a helicopter for ¥11,530 each (reservations required, only flies once a day, also weather-dependent).
Accommodation: There are about five inns on the island as well as a free campsite, with prices starting ¥7,000 dependent on the number of meals included. You must have a reservation before arriving on the island at either a guesthouse or the campsite. To camp, you can only stay for a week and you cannot drink the tap water at the camp, although a water supply is available at the office.
Information is subject to change.
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