The Ogasawara Archipelago is located about 1000 km south of Tokyo. The entire area is administered as a single rural municipality, Ogasawara Village, which itself is a subprefecture of Tokyo. The archipelago consists of four island groups: the Mukojima (Bridegroom Island) group, the Chichijima (Father Island) group, the Hahajima (Mother Island) group, and the Volcano Islands (also known as the Iwoto, or Iwojima, group (the Sulfur Island group)). Chichijima is located at the approximate center of the archipelago and works as the hub of the village.
The islands do not have airports. In general, the only way to reach the islands is on the Ogasawara Maru, a liner operated by OgasawaraKaiun that makes regular runs between Tokyo and Chichijima. The only other way to reach the island group is with Military Historic Tours when they run a charter flight to Iwojima in March. After my two Wake Island cancellations I will not be dealing with them again.
The ferry to Ogasawara is massive. It is 131 meters long, has 5 decks inside and has 3 levels of outside seating and viewing. It has a bar, restaurant, karaoke room and a conveniece store. It can carry over 1000 passengers, which is about how many boarded the ship yesterday in Tokyo.
The ship leaves once a week from the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal in Tokyo at 10am on Sunday mornings. The journey takes exactly 25.5 hours one way. There are a few ways to buy a ticket, none of which are very cheap.
First, you can go through a travel agent in Japan who will book the trip for you. You cannot book online and you cannot call the ferry company direct to book over the phone. The travel agent will charge you a large booking fee but can arrange tickets for different classes if you so choose. The ferry has some 5 classes of service. Three are second class rooms that sleep at least 125 people. The top two classes have private rooms with either 2 or 4 beds and a private bathroom.
When I called the company to inquire about buying tickets they told me that I wouldn’t have a problem booking the day of departure at 9am at counter four in the terminal. They were correct, it was relatively easy. However, what they didn’t tell me was that you could only book second class space the day of.
Since I was traveling with my Uncle who is 64 years old, he didn’t want to sleep on the floor in a room with 127 people in it. So we agreed we would upgrade. The cost of the tickets is ridiculous for the service you receive but no matter, they told us we could only buy second class tickets and we had no other choice.
I saw my uncles face drop as I had shown him what the rooms look like on the Internet the night before to coerce him into upgrading. He obliged but then when we were told we couldn’t, I thought he wouldn’t come. He steadfastly said, “Whatever we’ve got to do!” I was nervously pumped and we got our tickets.
It is confusing being in line and not speaking Japanese because all signs and announcements are in Japanese. The boarding goes by ticket numbers and as you board for second class the staff hand you a small piece of paper with an assigned bed number on it which corresponds to where you will sleep on the floor.
As we boarded and saw where we were to retire later that evening, we noticed the Japanese taking up camp and cracking open food they had brought along with them for the trip. Somewhat flabbergasted we headed up to watch the sailing from Tokyo Bay and decided to just deal with the bed situation when it arose later and make the best of it.
The ride out of Tokyo Bay was pretty awesome I must say. It was enclosed so there was minimal rocking and the view of Tokyo was pretty awesome. We continued south through Yokohama and the view of the Landmark Tower which I first visited in 1999. The whole way out of Tokyo Bay which took some 2.5 hours we were followed incessantly by Mount Fuji. It seemed to move as we weaved in and out of the bay and around land. The fantastic mountain was visible for about four hours out of Tokyo.
As we broke out of the bay and into the open ocean, the water got rougher and the boat started swaying and dipping a lot. Generally when you get sea sick, it happens in the first several hours. I have done a lot of sailing before and have only been sick once in my life and that was on a very small yacht to Tokelau in bad weather 2 summers ago; it was misery. So I felt bad when my uncle started saying he was feeling ill. We decided to break away from the gin rummy 500 match we were playing to go onto the deck and get some fresh air to make him feel better.
He didn’t make it and ended up yakking in the sink on level B. It was gross, kind of funny and at the same time I felt bad so I got him a coke from one of the 100 vending machines (some vend beer) they had on board to calm his stomach. It seemed to work. Additionally, I had met the only two other white people on the boat back at the terminal. Both were journalists, one from Australia and the other from Britain and they were very nice. The Brit spoke some Japanese and helped my uncle get some sea sickness tablets from the convenient store. Nobody on the boat besides those two and one other Japanese journalist spoke English.
Afterwards, I had some udon and ramen for dinner. My uncle didn’t eat and headed to bed. I stayed out on deck for a little while enjoying the sound of the ocean and the brisk fresh sea air. It got relatively chilly at night, especially with the ship doing 22 knots and I headed down to my beloved spot on the floor.
I was pissed at myself for forgetting sleeping pills as they would have been ideal for this boat but at least I remembered earplugs which were a godsend. The Japanese are the single most polite and well behaved people I have ever seen and they were a treat in the situation we were in. There were 125 Japanese people and my uncle and I. It was pretty funny and we managed to make the best of the situation. Granted it was annoying because the floor areas were small and since I am tall, I kept touching toes with the guy across from me as I reached into his space. I was easily the tallest guy on the boat.
In fact the boat had really short doorway clearances and I nailed my head three times. The Japanese may be really polite but they are also very short and apparently this boat was designed for them and not tall Americans!
Anyway, we both slept a few hours at night and were rudely woken up when the lights in the room were blasted on at 6am sharp. This did not please either of us as the Japanese people in the room started having little breakfast picnics. Again, funny in hindsight but really annoying at the time!
Anyway, we finally did arrive into Ogasawara and had a great view of the islands coming in. There are some 30 islands in the archipelago but only two are inhabited. I am really excited to explore the islands and to get some rest. However, in the back of my mind I know we have to take that ferry 25.5 hours back to Tokyo in three days followed shortly thereafter by a long flight back to Los Angeles. That should be interesting but for now, I will enjoy the islands and the perfect weather!