Monday, October 6, 2008

Summer Vacation on Hachijo Island

I considered breaking this post into pieces, because it's going to be soooo ridiculously long, but it really was a trip that I experienced in its entirety and there was no good way to break it up. SO, please bear with me, take potty breaks, and enjoy the pics. I'll really try to keep the "unnecessary" commentary to a minimum, although I think you all know how difficult that is for me.

From July 22nd - August 22nd, students in Maebashi have their summer break from school. That's right, only 1 month of summer vacation. I was still required to work during the weekdays, but there were three days that all public employee's have off called Obon. This a time when Japanese follow the Buddhist custom of honoring their ancestors. Many families get together to visit their relatives graves and travel together, so it is peak travel season all over Japan. I was part of the Gunma Orientation Committee for the first year JETs during this week, so I got to use those days of holiday a week in advance which was perfect!

I planned a trip to the furthest island in the Izu island chain off Tokyo. There are 7 islands and Hachijo-jima is the furthest one away and thus the least crowded and least touristy: so it was no contest where I was headed.
I took a 12 hour overnight ferry ride from a port in Tokyo.
Leaving Tokyo.
The ferry stopped at a few other islands en route to Hachijo. I managed to awake from my sea legs stupor to see the sun rise near Nii-jima.

I got there on a Wednesday morning, and the skies were clear and temperature perfect. I walked to the campground where only a few other tents were. Since I was carrying a duffel bag, backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, I was disgustingly sweaty and just wanted to set the tent up anywhere. So, I did... until a Japanese guy came over and told me I was an idiot and would be frying by 5am if I set it up there. He then kindly helped me set it up under a tree.
After a nice cat nap and some chats with locals on the beach, I was ready to hike. The island caught my attention not only because it was away from the crowds, but because it offered everything I loved in life. An incredibly kind woman who's run an environmentally friendly scuba and outdoors activity outfitter on the island for years now sent me an awesome map of the island's 24 hiking trails with detailed descriptions. For the first climb, I wanted to go big - so, it was to the highest peak on the island: Mt. Hachijo-fuji. First, I rented a car and drove halfway up. Then, I actually started hiking. I saw a ton of these little buggers on the path, among other multi-legged creatures.
Mt. Hachijo-fuji is an extinct volcano. This is the view of the crater from the top. The inside is entirely lush now and a small lake has formed in the center, which I (unsuccessfully) attempted to hike to.

This is the view from down in the crater... do you see the 'path' I was following? I didn't either, which is why despite my most Indiana Jones-esque attempts, I did not find the lake in the center.

There is a cattle ranch in the middle of Mt. Hachijo-fuji which has an awesome view.
My first sunset on Hachijo; this is looking west toward Hachijo-koshima island.
My camping buddies went fishing/spearing that morning and this is what they got: fugu! It's a Japanese puffer fish and has quite a reputation in Japanese cuisine because it can be lethal if prepared incorrectly. One of my goals before leaving is to try the fish out myself, but this was most definitely not the time. I'd trust a chef in a fugu specialty restaurant, but wasn't about to put my life in the hands of my adventurous new camping friend.

Instead, I made friends with a local, Ryuji, who insisted we have dinner at his favorite izekaya: Yoshiba. I absolutely fell in love with the place. It seats about 15 people total and felt a bit like my Grandma Ruth's house, had she been Japanese. There are knick knacks and antiques and random decorations in every nook and cranny of the 'izekaya' that's actually part of the owner's house. Everyone calls the owner "Otosan" (father), and I could see why from his generosity and overall jolliness. More like a Japanese Santa Claus gone islander, really, but I rolled with 'Otosan'.

The island is also famous for 'glow in the dark' (bio luminescent) mushrooms. I had read about it before and was expecting to see something straight out of Fern Gully. It wasn't quite that apparent, but we did spot the 'lil guys lining this tree and peppered throughout the forest. This is the best my camera could do.

At 6am the next morning, Naoki was already up, ready to go fishing again.
Hachijo used to be a major getaway destination. You can see old worn down hotels throughout the island and a few still up and running resorts. A bit out of my teacher's salary range, though.
I've seen plenty 'o torii (gates to Shinto shrines) in my day, but the island toriis have a vibe all their own.
Waterfalls can be seen (and hopped into) throughout the island.

There are some nice onsen on the island, but this one is free and co-ed: a definite crowd pleaser.

Ryuji's favorite lunch locale: a cute and relaxing soba joint.

We mopeded up Mt. Mihara a bit and then hiked to get to this waterfall. Gorrrrrgeous!

A few of Ryuji's friends were practicing taiko (traditional Japanese drum) that afternoon, so we swung by to check it out. The sound and rhythm of taiko drumming is so soothing. It was a real privilege to see them play. They even let me play for awhile, but while their drumming sounded like a confident and courageous elephant stomping through a parade procession, mine sounded more like a donkey that's broken into it's owners Jack Daniels' collection. Praying mantis.
Every morning, Ryuji and I would hit the ocean around 5:00 am. He's a surfer by nature and I can see why it makes him so happy. It's such a rush to catch the waves in and so calming in between the swells. I've only surfed once before in my life on a sandy beach, so I wasn't quite ready to hit the volcanic rock beach from what would surely have been many falls from attempting to surf. So, I body boarded instead.
We went back to Yoshiba another night for dinner and Otosan didn't have a lot of the stuff on the menu we were ordering. Instead, he offered to prepare for us fresh vegetables from his garden and this fish he caught that morning. It was amazing!

The campsite is on the east side, so I actually made it up by 4:00 one morning for the sunrise. Soooo worth it!

We hiked to the top of Mt. Mihara where we got this view of Hachijo-koshima.
Absolutely beautiful graveyard... when I pass, I would love for my remains to be placed here.
I hadn't been scuba diving since Thailand in January (which was a total bust), so I was pumped to get back in a wetsuit and oxygen tank again. A current from Indonesia up to Northern Japan is called "Black Current" and runs through Hachijo. That current carries the same sea creatures seen in Okinawa, Ogasawara, the Philippines and the Marianas. I got to go to the diving point called Nazumado which is one of the top five in Japan. I saw sea turtles, yellow swordfish, Japanese rainbow fish, and swam through a lava bridge. It was amazing.
Ryuji's friend Rikia owns a ryokan (Japanese style inn) on the island and that night they were having a BBQ for the guests. I got to be guest of honor and ended up meeting a bunch of other people who had dived that day as well. They own a dive shop in Tokyo, but the entire staff comes to Hachijo once a year to bond. Great people!
Surfing the next morning.
Rikia and Ryuji.
I heart Hachijo!
One last hike in a more densely forested area.
Pretty sure these flowers weren't indigenous, but they sure are pretty.
There are a few beaches on the island, but none are the white sandy beaches some yearn for, what with it being a volcanic island and all. This is the main beach, Sokodo, with it's black sandy beach and beautiful reefs swimable (and snorkel-able) from the pier. Last sunset on Hachijo.

Dinner at my ryokan. The set meal was incredible. My favorite was the unique island sushi, although all the sashimi was delicious.
It was an incredible week I had in Hachijo and it was actually pretty tough to leave. The scenery was breathtaking, there were a ton of things to do to keep an active lady like myself busy, and the people of the island are one of a kind with their incredibly large hearts. There are a million and one places I want to go in Japan, but Hachijo was so great that I actually went back in September: that's how great it is!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good as a start for my next trip!!