Technically a ward of Tokyo, Hachijō-jima (Hachijō Island) is just 45 minutes away by plane, making it an incredibly accessible get-away destination. Despite being so close, few people have actually visited, or even heard of, the island, and whenever they’re asked to think of an “island holiday location”, most people living in Japan immediately respond with “Okinawa”. That’s only natural, of course, since Okinawa has a well-earned reputation for being an exotic island paradise (and for being the home of The Karate Kid’s Mr Miyagi…), but we hope that after reading this article our readers might also consider Hachijō-jima the next time they feel like jetting off for a break on the beach.
Before launching into our list of why-this-place-is-so-wonderful, I should probably explain how we found ourselves out on Hachijō-jima in the first place, given that it is so relatively unknown.
Wanting to get away for an end-of-summer weekend recharge, we started off with a tropical island setting in mind. Tall trees, warm, clear waters to relax in- a Bounty commercial, in a short. However, with just two days of holiday time left to spare, we had to narrow our search down to locations that were close enough to allow quick visit with just one night in a hotel. Naturally, we wanted that single night on the island to be a comfortable one, so next on our checklist was finding a location with a decent selection of reasonable hotels to choose from. Finally, our mini-break destination had to be somewhere that was accessible without spending half of our budget on transportation fees.
The one location that ticked all the boxes was Hachijō-jima.
So, without further ado, we present:
The RocketNews24 Six Reasons Why Hachijō-jima Is Terrific!
1. It’s close, and it’s cheap (for those in and around Tokyo)
Haneda Airport à Naha Airport (Okinawa) About 2 hours 30 mins (Approx. 1580km)
Haneda Airport à Hachijō-jima Airport About 45 mins (Approx. 280km)
Compared to Okinawa, Hachijō-jima is astoundingly close to Tokyo. No sooner had the plane reached full altitude than it began its decent into Hachijō-jima airport, leaving barely enough time to enjoy an in-flight drink. Thanks to its relative closeness, the cost of a flight to the island is far cheaper than a similar trip to Okinawa, with our transportation fees coming to a more than reasonable ¥25,000 (approx. 320USD), round-trip.
2. The sea is beautiful
The seas in Okinawa are undoubtedly even more picturesque, but Hachijō-jima’s beaches are nevertheless nothing short of gorgeous. We slipped into the warm water countless times during our visit, and were met each time by a variety of tropical fish. Had we been led blindfolded to the same beach and asked to guess our location, “45 minutes from the centre of Tokyo” would be one of the last guesses we’d make; that a place like this exists so close to home really is quite remarkable.
After drying off, we strolled down the beach to explore a little. Before long, we spotted an angler staring nonchalantly at the water, his line cast out to sea. We called out to him and asked what he was fishing for.
“There’s not much to catch during this season,” he replied with a smile. “I have no idea what I’ll get, but it’s still good fun all the same.” We can’t think of many better ways to spend an afternoon, either…
3. The food is delicious
Upon arriving on the island, we were met by a member of staff from the rent-a-car company we’d chosen while researching online. During the drive to the rent-a-car centre, which is a short distance from the airport itself, the driver gave us some sightseeing tips.
“First of all, you should get yourself over to a Hachijō-Store, pick up some shimazushi (lit. ‘island sushi’) and take it down to the beach.”
To be honest, we weren’t entirely convinced at first. Eating sushi wasn’t exactly on our list of priorities, much less the thought of buying supermarket sushi… But, oh, how wrong we were! Hachijō-jima’s shimazushi is downright delicious- to the degree that, in the space of three minutes, we’d wolfed down the entire 10-piece pack. At ¥1280 per pack, it could be considered a little on the expensive side, but once tasted we’re sure you’ll agree that the price is quite reasonable. During our stay, we also sampled kusaya (salt-water-dipped horse mackerel) and relatively well-known parsley-like herb ashitaba dishes that were equally superb. The island’s tōgarashi red chilli peppers, meanwhile, are tremendously spicy, and make a great souvenir for the folks back home.
* Hachijō-jima’s sushi comes in nigirizushi form (oblong shaped lumps of rice with the topping, or neta, pressed onto the top) and, as with mainland sushi, vinegared rice is used. Hachijō-jima’s sushi, however, kicks things up a notch by mixing a little sugar with its rice, providing an incredible taste not dissimilar to sweet and sour, especially when enjoyed with soy sauce. Unlike most sushi, however, Hachijō-jima’s sushi is not eaten with wasabi. Instead, nerikarashi -yellow mustard not unlike traditional English mustard- is used, resulting in a genuinely unique flavour.
4. The plain and simple, but absolutely wonderful hot springs
Although there are few hotels with their own hot springs, there are numerous locations around the island at which you can take a dip, and with entrance fees as low as ¥300, they are exceptionally good value. For those seeking a hot spring with a view of the ocean, we highly recommend the Miharashi no Yu resort- which offers breathtaking scenery and is an experience that every Tokyoite should experience at least once in their lifetime.
5. The Shinagawa number-plates
After arriving at Hachijō-jima airport and stepping outside, guests are met with a familiar, yet somewhat uncanny sight: every one of the cars zooming around the island is fitted with a Tokyo number plate. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense since the island comes under the Tokyo Metropolitan government’s jurisdiction, but after taking a plane and arriving on a semi tropical island, seeing the same number plates that you’re used to seeing around your own neighbourhood is a genuinely bizarre sight.
Chiyoda-ku, Chūō-ku, Shinagawa-ku; they’re all here. It’s like arriving on an island off the coast of Africa and finding everyone watching the latest episode of your favourite sitcom…
6. # In the jungle, the mighty jungle #
Hachijō-jima’s annual rainfall clocks in at more than 3000mm, and as a result the local plants and vegetation grow at a tremendous rate. We drove the entire circumference of the island in our rental car, and rarely if ever saw a spot that wasn’t at least flecked with green. We were shocked to discover some places where the vegetation was so thick, in fact, that it genuinely resembled a jungle.
While Okinawa has plenty of its own rainfall to boast about, when we compare their annual precipitation rates, Hachijō-jima receives around 1000mm more than Okinawa’s Naha city, which probably goes some way towards explaining the floral uber-growth.
As much as we enjoyed our trip to Hachijō-jima, it would be remiss of me not to spend a moment discussing the less glamorous aspects of the island, with “glamour” being the operative word. Forgive me for speaking out of turn, Hachijō-jima (I promise, we do love you), but, when compared to Okinawa, Hachijō-jima is nowhere near as exotic. Unlike Okinawa’s main island, there are no expensive luxury hotels to be found on Hachijō-jima, nor will you find your favourite shopping outlets or brand names on its streets. While hardly glamorous in themselves, familiar sights like McDonald’s restaurants and well-known gyūdon chains are also notably absent from the roadsides, although we may have caught a glimpse of one pachinko parlour somewhere on our travels…
But does that really matter? On Hachijō-jima, slow and easy is the only way that time knows how to flow. For those seeking a glitzy and glamorous shopping experience in a luxurious island setting, Hachijō-jima is not the island for you. For those of you looking for a spot to enjoy beautiful scenery, exquisite tastes and tropical seas, however, this really is a great location, made all the better by the fact that it’s all just one very short plane ride away.
Go on a whim; go with an open mind; go and chill out on the island that’s right on your doorstep.
[ Read in Japanese ]