Oshima: The Active Island
The seemingly limitless sprawl of Tokyo reaches an abrupt end where it meets the Pacific Ocean. From here, the closest large land mass is the island of New Guinea, some 4500km away. However, the waters south of Tokyo are home to some very unusual islands; ones that remain largely untouched by the tourist trail. From Takeshiba pier, regular ferries run to the seven Izu Islands; the largest and most accessible of which is Oshima.
Home to an active volcano, stunning black sand beaches and a mystical volcanic ash field, Oshima is an unforgettable destination. Compared to the urban maze of people that is Tokyo, this island is almost alien in its indifference. Briefly known as 'Suicide Island' in the 1940s because of the high number of couples who took their lives by jumping into the volcanic crater below, Oshima has a strange reputation in popular culture. It served as a setting for the original 'Ring' novel and where Godzilla was lured to and imprisoned within, in the 1984 kaiju film 'The Return of Godzilla'.
The main tourist attraction has always been that active volcano; Mt. Mihara. At 758m, it's not as big as many of the mountains that surround Tokyo, but is arguably more striking than all but Fuji herself. Many climbers take a bus from the town of Motomachi to Miharayama Sancho Iriguchi (the Summit Entrance), but in doing so miss out on the most memorable views. While it does take slightly longer, getting off at the Miharayama Onsen stop instead, allows for a more scenic approach. There's no real summit to Mt. Mihara but instead a giant crater with 360° views of the island.
Qualifying as an 'active volcano' requires only one eruption within the last 10,000 years. Mihara is, however, a much more active active volcano; erupting every 30-40 years. The last major eruption in 1986 forced all 12,000 of the islands inhabitants to evacuate as smoke billowed 16km high. Evidence of disaster prevention is everywhere on Oshima: signs informing you where to go in the event of a tsunami, alarm systems that are triggered in case of eruptions and even volcanic shelters around the mountain top. Hopefully you won't need to use these emergency hideouts as they were intended, but they do make a great spot for lunch.
The island is home to a number of other attractions, besides its enigmatic peak. Home to a volcano museum, a zoo and countless spots for scuba diving and fishing, Oshima is a haven for sport-fanatics and culture-lovers alike. It also has some tempting onsens scattered throughout its small towns, particularly 'Hama-no-yu'. Situated just outside Motomachi, this mixed-bathing onsen costs a mere ¥400 but offers sublime views of the Pacific and Mt. Fuji. Just don't expect much privacy; lots of tourists often stop by for a quick soak before catching the last ferry home.
Oshima is the tomb of Godzilla. It is an ancient volcanic island that could erupt at any moment. Most importantly, it is an amazing experience as a weekend or day trip and one that guarantees a relaxing getaway from Tokyo and her crowds, and provides a thrilling alternative to the usual day trips from the capital.
Operated by Tokai Kisen, tickets for the ferries can only be purchased online in Japanese but can be reserved in English over the phone. They offer two choices of boat: the High Speed Jet Ferry (1 hour 45 mins, ¥6,450 2nd class one way) or the overnight Large Passenger Ship (8 hours, ,980 2nd class one way). Details can be found online.