If I told you there’s a place in Tokyo Bay called Sarushima, and that its name means Monkey Island, how many of you would be ready to get on the boat right now? And how many of you would then be crushingly disappointed you made the trip when you found out there aren’t actually any monkeys living there?
I’m guessing the answer to the first question would be “most of you.” As for the second? Only as many of you who, heartbroken at a lack of monkeys, didn’t walk far enough into the island’s interior to see that what Sarushima lacks in monkeys it makes up for with a mix of natural beauty and preserved architecture that makes it look like it’d be a suitable filming location for a live-action version of Studio Ghibli’s classic anime Castle in the Sky Laputa.
Although it’s the largest natural island in Tokyo Bay, Sarushima isn’t part of Tokyo. It’s actually found inside Yokosuka, the same city in Kanagawa Prefecture that we stopped by last summer to try Japan’s most exclusive beer. That said, Sarushima makes for an easy day trip from Japan’s capital, as Yokosuka Chuo Station on the Keikyu Line is less than an hour away from Shinagawa in downtown Tokyo.
From Yokosuka Chuo Station, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the harbor and Mikasa Pier, where boats depart once an hour for the 10-minute trip to Sarushima.
Sarushima’s tourist literature makes a big deal about the fact that it’s an uninhabited island, although being so close to Yokosuka’s 400,000-plus mainland residents makes the sign proclaiming it “adventure island” seem a bit over-dramatic. Still, there’s very little in the way of amenities to be found outside of a small cafe that’s only open during the peak summer travel season. On sunny days, you might also find groups playing in the water or barbecuing along the beach.
Pleasant as it may be, the waterfront near the port isn’t especially impressive, even by Japanese standards. The real appeal of Sarushima, which is closed to motor traffic, lies further along the walkway that rises from the sea into the rocky hills.
While no one lives on the island now, up until the end of World War II Sarushima was the site of a fort with a cannon battery. The Japan Self Defense Forces have no need for the fortress today, but portions of its structure still remain along the trail.
The narrow path and heavy foliage provide ample shade for moss and other vegetation to grow, somehow making it look like the facility was deserted longer ago than it actually was.
As a matter of fact, depending on the time of day and amount of cloud cover, the winding walkway sometimes falls into deep shadows, which only adds to the timeless atmosphere, while adding just a touch of enticing mystery to the surroundings.
Multiple paths crisscross over the ridge, although all are traversable without dedicating hiking boots. Farther away from the remnants of the fort, the greenery becomes even more lush.
▼ If you get tired of imagining you’ve stepped into the world of Laputa, you can pretend you’re reenacting a scene from Totoro.
Once completely on the backside of the island, you’re treated to some gorgeous rock outcroppings and an unobstructed view out to sea.
Not bad at all for just a little over 60 minutes away from Tokyo. Of course, if Japan’s capital itself is pretty far from your home, you can always do a virtual tour of Sarushima with its newly updated Google Street View images (just search for Sarushima’s name in kanji characters, 猿島). Some of the scenery is truly breathtaking, even if you won’t see any monkeys.