Just a ten-minute ferry ride from Yokosuka is Sarushima Island – billed as the only natural island in Tokyo Bay. The ferry leaves once an hour from Mikasa Pier near the US Yokosuka Navel Base, approximately a kilometre from the JR Yokosuka station.
Although it is called monkey island there are no monkeys on Sarushima. According to the island’s brochure the name comes from a legend of 1253 when a monk named Nichiren was sailing to Kamakura. A storm blew up and the ship was out of control when a white monkey appeared and guided the ship to the island. Nowadays it is a popular spot for fishing, barbecues and swimming and makes a pleasant day out away from shops and traffic.
We visited on an overcast day in October but the ferry was busy with visitors. It takes about an hour to stroll round the island, peering at the remnants of the island’s fortress, climbing down the steps to the rocky areas and admiring the thick woodlands that encroaches on to the pathways. There was a box of free-to-use walking sticks at the beginning of the path but really there is no uneven ground and most of the paths are paved.
The Tokugawa Shogunate built the fortress as protection after the arrival of Perry’s black ships. It has been damaged by earthquakes and rebuilt several times since then and the tunnels and brick buildings that are left date mainly from the Meiji time. There are information boards with text in Japanese at various points on the walk around the island. It seems that the fortress was built down into the island to make invisible from passing ships. Anti aircraft guns were installed here during the Second World War and the American took over the island in 1945.
Today all that remains is a deep cut passage with barracks and an ammunition depot built into the sides, tunnels – using Flemish red bricks, and gun emplacements. Tree roots, moss and ferns grow down the dark walls today and it must have been a damp and uncomfortable place to live and work.
At the Sarushima Pier is a visitor centre with a small café (the autumn menu included fish and chips, curry, and boxed meals) and a rental shop for all things BBQ. Many groups of people were barbequing on the beach by the pier, or fishing from the shoreline.
BBQ food can be taken onto the island, but because of Yokosuka City restrictions BBQ equipment cannot be brought across, instead it can all be rented (or purchased) from the rental shop, from tables and chairs, grills and charcoal to soy sauce and wet tissues. The island’s only toilets are also here at the visitor centre, and there are showers (open July and August), sinks for food preparation, and a garbage collection point.
Upstairs at the visitor centre is a display of the history of the island with diagrams, photographs and maps exclusively in Japanese.
The island apparently gets crowded during the summer especially on weekends. The boats run daily from 1st March to 30th November and on weekends and holiday from December 1st to the end of February.
You cannot stay on the island overnight so you have to be sure to get the last boat back. A notice near the pier gives instructions of what to do if you are marooned – you will be charged for the cost of your recovery.
As of October 2015 the cost of the ferry was 1,300 Yen plus 200 Yen for entrance to the island. Ferries ran on the half hour from 8.30 until 16.30, returning from Sarushima from 8.45 until 17.00 (summer schedule).