Arriving into the harbor on Chichijima, the main island in the Ogasawara archipelago, was like arriving in the new world. After a long and arduous journey aboard the Ogasawara Maru we pulled into the gorgeous port to throngs of islanders welcoming us to their island. It was very nice to be greeted so warmly after such a long trip; plus the weather couldn’t have been better. So as we disembarked, we sought out the information desk to arrange accommodation for us for three nights and four days. After finally agreeing on a place and price we hunkered down along the water in Omura for what would be a great stay.
Omura is the main town, if you will, on Chichijima. The main road has two-way traffic, although there are very few cars and is where you can catch a bus or taxi. It also has some small hotels and most of the islands restaurants. Some are also located on the small back streets just off the main drag. Our hotel was located right across from the tourism bureau on the main street.
The Seafront Inn would be our home away from home on Chichijima and was very good. The staff was extremely friendly, very helpful, considerate and pleasant. The only drawback was nobody spoke English even though they had said they did at the information booth in the port. That would be a common theme on the island.
The Ogasawara archipelago is located some 600 miles south of Tokyo but for administrative purposes it is technically considered a part of Tokyo prefecture. That said, it is far from anything that you’d find in Tokyo. The people that live and even visit the island speak little English in general, we found. The few exceptions were the tourism bureau people who helped me map out a plan for the island with very good recommendations, English language maps and even restaurant tips. The restaurant tips would prove very useful because without them, we would never have known what type of food was served in the restaurants to even make a choice. All menus were in Japanese only. The restaurants we did go to were excellent-although with very small portions.
My favorite was the Kanza sushi restaurant which I insisted on eating the first night. They had excellent sushi and other Japanese specialties. My uncle had some type of chicken dish and shrimp tempura where I ate a ton of maguro or tuna sushi and sashimi. Edamame and soups were excellent as well. The other great thing about Kanza was the waitress spoke very good English and was very helpful. This would prove to be the only other person we encountered on the island that spoke English.
The second night we went to a place called Charlie Brown’s of all things. It was a steak place. Turns out they also did pasta and other types of meat dishes. We both ordered delicious steaks that they cooked on the grill hibachi style. The difference was that they didn’t cut it up all crazily like you’d see at Benihana in the US. They grilled it and added delicious seasoning before slapping it down on a plate with hot vegetables. It was great of course but very small. So we decided to take a chance and order some pasta dish we had seen them make for someone else. Although it was slightly scary looking at first because for some reason they dyed the noodles black once cooked, it turned out to be excellent.
The third night we ate at an Italian place called Horizon Dream. Who knows why it’s called that but their food was pretty good although exceptionally small portions again. The best part of this restaurant was that they featured television that showed boxing so we happened to catch a championship flyweight fight while we were there. The crazy thing about Ogasawara is the prices. Everything is expensive if it doesn’t come out of a vending machine.
For instance, in a restaurant if you want a coke (they don’t have diet coke), it cost somewhere between 350 to 750 yen. That is basically $6-10 thereabouts. If you get one at a vending machine which are everywhere on the island it costs 120 yen or about $1.50. The other thing with a coke is that at restaurants they give you this little small glass bottle coke that is like 6 ounces or something wherein the machines give you a normal 20 ounce coke. Then when you finish your coke quickly of course, there are no free refills. This can add up quickly and we figured out that if you have three cokes at dinner, it can be up to $30 just for that and it’s only 18 ounces or so total. I just found that interesting slash a rip off.
Aside from these restaurants I mentioned there are plenty of other places to try. For lunch we ate ramen and udon pretty much each day which was always delicious and reasonably priced. They also had some burger places which actually offered shark burgers. We didn’t try them but I had heard they were good from the British journalist, Tim, we had met on the boat.
For breakfast each day, I would sleep through the free breakfast (free is a relative word, I negotiated the breakfast into the extortionate room price but it was just fish and rice so I didn’t mind missing it). Then we would head to the general store to get fresh bread and some laughing cow cheese to eat before our exploration of the island hikes. Turns out we’d need the energy.
After mainly just relaxing and exploring the small town and harbor in Omura on day one; we set out on a hike day two. The plan was to head 30 minutes north of town up and over a big hill to Miyanohama Beach and then take the coastal trail past Tsurihama Beach and up to Nagasaki Observatory which is a nice Japanese way of saying a scenic lookout.
As I listened to my uncle bellyache about how steep the hills were, we eventually made it to Miyanohama Beach. It was a really nice and placid beach and was the closest to town aside from the small bay beach in town itself. This was much better. There were hardly any people on it at all. In fact nobody was in the water.
Miyanohama which resembled a small lake beach in Vermont or something was really pleasant and was flanked by meditation areas which is where the only people we saw were. After chilling out for 20 minutes or so we headed up the small trail and big mountain up to Tsurihama Observatory.
It was a great viewpoint to look down at the adjacent island and bay below. We saw some of the dive boats and the Japanese tourists diving in their wetsuits as it was pretty cold in the water. We then continued down to Tsurihama Beach which was pretty out of the way and down a very steep hill. After seeing that it wasn’t that nice a beach, we had to back track up the hill and head up another mountain toward Nagasaki Observatory.
This was a long hike and very steep. The older gentleman that I was with was having some issues so we decided that we would stop just short of the final ascent up to the actual observatory and would back track to the street after relaxing and enjoying some of the awesome views. The north and east side of the island was a bit like what I would expect a fjord in Colorado to look like if that makes sense. It was very evergreen and had some steep cliffs that resembled fjords in Norway. The south and west side of the island was much different.
The south and west side of the island reminded me more or the Seychelles meets Reunion Island with gorgeous beaches, steep green cliffs surrounding the beaches and rustic trails that go on forever to beaches that are completely untouched by man.
On day three we hopped on the bus in Omura to Kominato Beach, which turned out to be the most scenic and beautiful beach on the island. We took the bus because it was convenient but also because, as on Jeju Island, neither of us had an International driver’s license. Apparently you need one to even rent a scooter on Ogasawara. This did not please me but what can you do? I have since actually figured out how and where to get such a license and will do so when I get back to New York next week from AAA.
The bus drops you off right at the entrance to Kominato Beach. About 150 meters down a flat sandy path is the beach which at first glance looks right out of the Seychelles. It is pure white sand and surrounded by green cliffs and rocks that if it were granite would be the epitome of the famous Seychelles beaches.
We hung out and took the views of the beach in for a few and then set out over the random mangrove tree laden pond and up the 650 meter mountain to the Nakayama Pass. This would be the highest point we would climb on the day.
It was very hot and luckily I had read to bring at least two liters of water with us on the trip per person because from Kominato Beach to the destination of John Beach was a grueling two hour hike one way. Atop Nakayama Pass were the best views of the island and the surrounding bay. It was breathtaking as you can see. You could see much of the island in all directions. The Caribbean style water and smooth sand bottom looked very enticing from up above. If you turned back you could see the mountainous interior of Chichijima. Plus look down and forward, you saw you had a lot more time and distance to get to John Beach which was some 3km away but up and over several mountains and beaches along the way.
We headed down the 650 meter hill and made out way down to Buta Beach where we rested and made our way across to the long costal hike to John Beach. The hike was mainly in the sun which made it very hot. Not to mention it was during the heat of the day around 1pm and extremely steep. This made it rather difficult and extremely tiring so at one point my uncle decided he was going to stop and I would continue on the last 1.5 kilos to John Beach.
I hike pretty fast and am in pretty good shape so I made it to John Beach in about 20 minutes or so. The way down to the beach was very steep and slightly harrowing. There was nobody else there and there were no signs that anybody had been there in some time. It reminded me of a remote beach my friend Erin and I hiked to on Christmas Island earlier this year less all the spider webs and crabs. This path just had a bunch of goats I had to shoo away.
Lonely Planet had called John Beach “Beguiling”. This intrigued me greatly but as usual Lonely Planet was incorrect. The beach itself was very rocky and the water wasn’t that nice. The cliffs around it were OK at best and if it weren’t for the amazing hike and sense of accomplishment that went along with actually getting to and seeing the beach, it wouldn’t be worth visiting at all.
So after relaxing and enjoying the views of neighboring Minamijima; which is currently closed to visitors for some type of conservation project, I headed back up the steep steps to go meet my uncle who was waiting 1.5 kilos up the path. Almost running, I made it back to him in about 25 minutes and very out of breath and sweating profusely. After some serious water intake and relaxing, we continued back to Kominato Beach and patiently awaited the bus which came once an hour to bring us back to Omura.
All in all, it was a couple of great days hiking. Hiking is one of my favorite things to do. It is great exercise and is generally a nice challenge. I could have entertained myself for a few more days but we were scheduled on the Ogasawara Maru again the next day for 25.5 hours back to Tokyo.
It’s worth mentioning that as we were on the boat and started to pull out of port, the entire island comes to see the boat off from the port. Many of the people then hop into boats and ride along side of the ferry for a mile or so or until we were out of the harbor. The people would wave good bye incessantly. These are called bye-bye boats. To be honest, it may sound lame but it was really heart-warming and sweet. It gave you a great feeling leaving the island made you want to return someday even though with the pain it is to get there you know it probably won’t happen. Finally as the boats stop following you, the people on them do one last gesture of good bye and jump into the water. It’s very cool.
The boat back was better than the boat down because it was less rough and nobody got seasick. It was equally as boring though and I got no sleep. This was due to the fact that they squish some 100 plus people into one room and you sleep on the floor. That said, your sleeping space is about 5 feet long by 2 feet wide. That doesn’t work when you’re 6’ 3”. So basically my randomly assigned seat caused me to continually kick the two small Japanese people below me repeatedly in the head. One was an old lady who kept slapping my foot each time I made contact which obviously was not my intention. It was misery.
Needless to say, we made it back to Tokyo and eventually flew out of Haneda Airport back to Los Angeles. Haneda buries Narita in terms of services, convenience and getting to and I will never fly into Narita again if don’t have to. So I am back in the States and have finally gotten a chance to type this up. I am in Southern California a few more days before heading home to New York for the holidays.