Tokyo Islands are a group of islands located south of Tokyo. The water surrounding these islands is so pretty you won’t believe it’s part of Tokyo, plus, they have a ton of relaxing onsens as well. The only problem is, the ride on the large passenger ships that take you there can be as long as 12 hours, making it impractical for many.
There are planes that fly there too, but the tickets cost more than double those of the ferry. That’s why I am going to share with you here a better, tried and true method for getting to Kozushima, Shikinejima and Niijima, as told by the islanders themselves. It’s 3 hours shorter than the traditional route, at the same time costing much less than a flight.
Recap – The traditional way of getting to the islands
Oceans, onsens, fresh seafood and nature, the Izu islands are packed with attractions that make it hard to believe it is still a part of Tokyo. Of those, Niijima, Shikinejima, and Kozushima are especially popular. Below are the 3 traditional ways to get to them.
-Large Passenger Ship (operated by Tokai Kisen)
The most common way is to go by large passenger ship departing the Takeshiba Sanbashi Pier at Hamamatsucho, Tokyo. It usually leaves Tokyo around 10PM, traveling overnight, while the return leg travels in daylight.
Taking the large passenger ship, it takes 10.5 hours to Niijima, 11 to Shikinejima and 12 to Kozushima. The advantage is that they are cheap. Off season tickets are between ¥10,000 – 12,000 for a round trip in second class. Second class passengers normally sleep on the floor, but add an extra ¥3,000 per trip, and you get a bunk bed to sleep on.
The disadvantage is that it takes a long time. The outbound journey departs late at night, so you can sleep onboard to arrive at your destination in the morning. Even Kozushima, the farthest of the lot, can be reached before noon, allowing a full day of activities on the day of arrival. But as the ride back is during the day, you don’t arrive in Tokyo until 8PM. Those living in the city can make it back home, but if you live outside of the Kanto region you may have to stay an extra night in Tokyo.
You can get to the Izu islands by plane as well. Flights operated by New Central Airservice fly to Niijima and Kozushima from Chofu Airport.
The advantage by far is the speed. Niijima is 40 minutes from Chofu, while Kozushima is 1 hour 25 minutes. In no time after taking flight do you need to start preparing for landing. For those traveling to Shikinejima, fly first to Niijima and transfer to the Nishiki inter-island ferryboat. The total journey, excluding transfer wait time is about an hour. For Toshima, take a 25 minute flight from Chofu to Oshima, and transfer to a Tokai Kisen jet ferry, or the large passenger ship. You will arrive in about 1 hour 45 minutes (excludes transfer wait time).
The disadvantage is the cost, as flights are more expensive. On average, a one way ticket from Chofu to Niijima is ¥14,100, and Kozushima ¥15,300. That means a one way journey costs more than a round way ticket in second class on a large passenger ship.
-High-speed Jet Ferry
If available, the high speed jet ferry operated by Tokai Kisen is like god send. Even Kozushima, the farthest of the islands is only ¥9,000 one way during off-season. It’s cheaper than a flight, and faster than a large passenger ship. The ride to Kozushima is 4 hours – that’s a third of the time it takes on a large passenger ship. In the summer ferries operate daily, but during off-season it goes down to once a week, and worse still during the months of January to March, it only travels as far as Oshima. As a result it’s hard to make use of it outside of the summer season.
Time saving and easy on your wallet: how to cut down by 3 hours
I used to travel everywhere on the large passenger ship, but I learned of another, smarter way to get around by the islanders. Not only is this way faster, but it’s cheaper than a flight too.
The secret, is to travel up to Oshima by large passenger ship, but then transfer onto the high speed jet ferry. Tokyo to Oshima is 4.5 hours on the large passenger ship. The same journey on a high speed jet ferry is as short as 1 hour 45 minutes. That means you cut down as much as 3 hours from your total travel time. (Departure times differ depending on the month, possibly affecting the amount of time saved)
This only works on your way back to Tokyo from the outlying islands. For the Tokyo to Izu island route, the schedule of the high speed jet and large passenger ship don’t time well, so you have no choice but to take the large passenger ship, or take the plane.
The fee, from far away Kozushima to Oshima is ¥1,000 – 2,000 on second class (price dependent on season). The high speed jet ferry from Oshima to Tokyo is ¥5,000 – 7,000 (price dependent on season). Which means the total fee is about ¥6,000 – 10,000, saving you ¥5,000 compared to flying.
Faster than a large passenger ship, and yet cheaper than a flight. It’s a great, economical option. A quick recap of the charming islands you can travel to using this method.
The 4 islands you can travel to using the above method is Toshima, Niijima, Shikinejima and Kozushima.
–Toshima: the small island that is 80% covered in Camellia flowers
80% of Toshima’s trees are Camellia flowers. I highly recommend readers to arrive on the island with no plans other than to relax. A population of just 350 people, there are next to zero places to eat out (technically there are 2, but it’s absolutely necessary that you make reservations, making it hard for travelers to get a seat). There are 2 “supermarkets”. There’s not much of a beach to swim in either… but the night sky is incredibly beautiful, and the sight from the island observatory is magnificent with a sweeping view of the vast ocean with Mt. Fuji in the background. Walk to the edge of the pier and you will feel as though you are standing in the middle of the ocean with a 180 degree view of the ocean. It’s a beautiful, serene place where the only sounds are those of nature.
–Niijima: the island with marble colored waters
Niijima is a popular place for surfers. The beach is somewhere between white and gray, making the ocean appear marble colored. While it’s great fun to play in the waters, there are a ton of other activities such as the free onsen right next to the ocean, the sand baths, and trekking, which is great for winter travelers as well. There’s also a workshop where you get to try making Niijima glass, known for its beautiful olive color.
A must-have is the island sushi, try a variety of deliciously marinaded white fish.
–Shikinejima: An onsen paradise perfect for families
In the summer, families flock to the popular Haku beach on Shikinejima. In the winter, the free natural onsen hot springs are the main draw. There are 3 free onsens, and they all have very different qualities, making each a unique and fun experience. Shikinejima was also once the filming location for a cult Japanese film, ‘Otoko wa Tsurai yo’ (It’s tough being a man). From higher ground you barely see any buildings as they are all covered by the trees. It’s also a popular spot for diving and kayaking, and you will likely spot some tropical fish.
–Kozushima: power spot of the Gods
Kozushima is known as a place of gathering for the Gods. The view of the ocean as my boat pulled into Kozushima was so beautiful it took my breath away. The mountain, Mt. Tenjo, is memorable for looking white as though it had snowed. It’s also a known spot for trekking. In the summer, a popular activity is to jump into the water from Akasaki promenade for a swim.
In recent years, this beautiful island has become popular for touring power spots. As red snapper fish can be caught in the area, a red snapper set meal at Yocchare center is a mere ¥1,000. It’s an island abundant with fresh fish to be devoured.
Save time and money to make the most of your island trip.
In a time when even the government is encouraging weekend trips, I highly recommend making it out to Tokyo’s outlying islands. Save both time and money on travel, and head to the islands for an unforgettable trip.