Tuesday 28 October 2014

Oshima Island - arrival

One of my brother's friends and a guy who regularly reads this blog asked me last year if I could visit a small Japanese fishing village and write about it.  I started searching online for one, but most of them seemed to have populations of 50 - 60,000 people.  Now, for an Australian, that's not small.  The second largest city in the state that I come from has the same number of people and the town that I was born in has a population that just tops 700!  My search continued, and finally, over a year later I found what I was looking for on Oshima Island which is located about 100 km south of Tokyo.  I decided to make a long weekend of it as there was another part of the island that I wanted to check out too.  This series is for you Scott, especially part three.

Oshima Island began life many millions of years ago as part of an underwater peninsula that was made up of a series of volcanoes.  Over time, due to countless eruptions (that historically happen every 1 - 3 years), the volcano finally pushed above the surface of the ocean and Oshima Island was created.  The volcano, whose crater lies at the top of Mount Mihara that towers above the island, is one of the most most active volcanoes but has remained dormant since an eruption in 1990.  In 1986 the eruption was so massive that the island had to be evacuated.  The island lies on the Philippine sea plate which is constantly moving and is actually moving the island closer to Mount Fuji each year at a rate of 5 cm per year.  The epicentre of the massive Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo and Yokohama and the surrounding areas in 1923.

Oshima Island also gets slammed by typhoons most years and there was a particularly nasty typhoon that hit the island last year and dumped 824 mm of rain on the island and it's inhabitants in what must have been 24 long hours.  Now I come from the driest state in the driest continent in the world, and the city I lived in receives an average of only 546 mm of rain per year!!  Anywhere where there are mountains and that much rain falls, landslides are a big danger and the landslide that resulted from all of that rain killed 35 people.

Oshima Island has a brutal history but I was hoping that it would lie peacefully for the few days that I was there.  Keeping my fingers crossed I made my way to Takeshiba Port in Tokyo to catch a ferry that would take me down to the island.

There are two kinds of ferries that travel from Tokyo to Oshima Island.  The larger of the two takes about 8 hours and is an overnight ferry.  The second (and much quicker) is a jet foil style ferry that has a lower capacity but takes much less time, making the trip in about 1 hour 45 minutes.  It is also a little more expensive, but I had chosen this as my means of getting to Oshima Island.

I arrived at Takeshiba Port and made my way, along with the other passengers to the ferry.  This was to be my ride!

The boat starts it's journey as a regular boat, but when clear of the port, a number of foils lower into the water, and as the boat gains speed, these foils act like the wings of an aeroplane and create lift which raises the main part of the boat clear of the water.  Obviously, being that I was on the boat, I was unable to get a picture of the ferry in full flight.  I did, however, take a picture of a picture of the ferry, raised out of the water.  It looks just like this.

As the engine starts, it sounds just like a jet aeroplane starting up, the jet engine whining into life.  As the boat moves away from the port slowly, waves rock the boat slightly which is followed by a rumbling noise (similar to that of when an aeroplane lowers it's landing gear) and the foils lower into the water.  The transition from regular boat to foiling above the water is so smooth that if, it wasn't for the ride becoming noticeably quieter, you would not have realise what had just taken place!

The trip past quite quickly, and before I knew it, we had arrived.  Glancing around, I could barely imagine that millions of years ago, these sheer cliffs lay under the Pacific Ocean.

The massive concrete breakwater that lined the coast was a reminder of the constant threat that Japan faces from tsunamis.

I suddenly realised that the ferry had arrived at a different port to the one I was expecting to arrive at which meant I was at the other end of the island to where my hotel was located.  Oshima island is not a large island , so that meant about 10 km.  I noticed there were a few taxis waiting for passengers but I thought a better (and cheaper) way might be a bus to the port that I thought I would be arriving at and then a taxi to the hotel from there.  That was to be my big mistake for the day........

Getting off the bus at Motomachi Port I looked around for a taxi but there were none around.

I swear, just before I took this next photo, a tumbleweed blew across the street!

"No problem", I thought, "I'll just wander around and I should see one pretty soon.......

Not a taxi to be found anywhere!  

There was a ramen shop though!

I had no time for ramen though for the sun was about to set and I needed to get to my hotel.

I walked back to the Tourist Office that was located near Motomachi Port and asked the lovely ladies inside if there was any chance of finding a taxi.  They asked me where I was going to and then proceeded to call a taxi for me.  As I went outside to wait, the same lady came outside and took the flag banners inside and closed for the day!  

If I had been a few minutes later, I would probably have been spending the night on a park bench!  My taxi arrived and took me to my hotel, the Blanc Bleu.

The owners of this small boutique Japanese style hotel were a lovely older couple who went out of their way to make me feel at home and drove me to restaurants for dinner and, on my last day,back to the port to catch my return ferry.  The lady, once she realised that I could understand a little Japanese said "Yokata!" ("Good!") and proceeded to speak Japanese to me the rest of the time!  Whenever she saw that I couldn't understand her, she spoke to me in more simple Japanese.  Her husband spoke a little more English and we communicated in half Japanese and half English.  She showed me to my room, and it was beautiful!

After dinner, I decided to go for a wander around the area (also, I was getting no WiFi signal in my room, so I thought I could get better reception if I went for a walk).  I came across a little port that was quite eerie.  It was silent all around, except for the occasional loud grinding noise as the boats occasionally rubbed up against the pier.

A few boats had been hauled up onto land, obviously undergoing some kind of repair work.  It looked like a boat graveyard!

A little further down the street, there was a lovely old wood house that took on an unusual orange glow under the streetlights

Next was a demonic looking train.  I'm sure in the daylight, it looks perfectly cute, but at night, definitely not......

Deciding I had had enough exploring, I went back to the hotel, (locked my door!) and went to sleep.  I was looking forward to the next day.  I was going to explore a volcano!

Thanks for reading.  Please check back again soon for part 2 of this series.  See you then.


  1. Dude this is awesome, I feel famous! :)

    1. No mate, I feel famous reading your comment!!

  2. Hi Jason,this place must be close to your heart,with the sea so close and plenty of fish in the sea.I can imagine that seafood is the main thing on the menu there!(any garfish , by the way?)It must be nice too,to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.105 minutes is not that long a trip(especially for Aussies) and the ferry certainly has had a wonderful paint job.The only concern I suppose is what are the dangers if the sea gets rough!Being a person that likes a good feed,you have no doubt found some interesting dishes on the menus.And how about the beaches there...are they sandy or rocky?Will check again for episode 2.(let's hope the volcano decides to not blow it's top)..Noel.:-)

    1. Hi Noel,
      it was great going to this island. As you said, the ocean has been an integral part of my life, and any time getting away from the hustle of Tokyo is a good break. Don't get me wrong, I love Tokyo, but getting away and exhaling once every so often is good!
      A lot of the island is a fair way above sea level, so with enough warning (and the tsunami warning systems have improved a lot recently, those down closer to sea level would be able to get to higher ground quick enough, especially after the wake-up call that was 2011.
      There was a lot of seafood on the menus in restaurants here, both cooked and raw. I haven't eaten that much seafood in a short ime span for a long time! The beaches are interesting. The couple that I looked at were sandy, but the sand was black, so that challenged my preconceived ideas of what beaches look like!
      Working on part 2 as we speak. Hopefully it will be finished in a couple of days.