Weekend Tokyo Travel Guide: Exploring Kouzushima Island 神津島19 January, 2018
If you are planning a trip to Tokyo and want to experience a completely different part of Tokyo apart from tax-free shopping and themed dining experiences, I strongly recommend checking out the Kouzushima (神津島)– one of the Izu Seven Tokyo Islands for an experience that brings you closer to nature and at the same time savouring some of the best seafood in Tokyo.
Kouzushima (or Kōzushima or Kouzu Island – as shima means island) is known for clear blue waters (ideal for snorkelling and diving) and the 572-metre high Mount Tenjo (天上山) (a very popular trekking trail leading to the summit). According to Japanese legend, the gods gathered to meet at Kouzushima’s mountain, Mount Tenjo to create the Izu islands. More recently, Mount Tenjo has been designated as one of Tokyo’s New 100 Mountains Famous for Flora as well as one of the spots for the 100 Best Views of Tokyo.
As part of the Tama-Shima PR project, we had the opportunity to explore this beautiful Kouzushima island (just 45 minutes by air from Tokyo). In this blog post, I will provide you with an overview of what you can do, see and eat during a 2 Days 1 Night weekend trip to Kouzushima from Tokyo.
Flying into Kouzushima from Tokyo Chofu Airport
The fastest way to reach Kouzushima is by a 45-minute flight from Chofu airport in Tokyo (not Haneda or Narita airport) via a small 19-seater propeller plane. There is only one airline – New Central Air Service that flies to Kouzushima and other Izu islands. You can check the flight timetables and book tickets at the airline website – look out for the 調布 〜 神津島 route. Do note that the baggage allowance is only 5kg per person and excess baggage is chargeable at 300 Yen per kg. You may request for your hotel in Tokyo to hold your bigger luggage until your return from Kouzushima or deposit your bigger luggage at one of the many left luggage facilities in Tokyo.
It is quite easy to reach Chofu airport from Shinjuku – the Keio Line express train (準特急Keio-Hachioji) takes 17 minutes to reach Chofu station from Shinjuku station (departing at 7.17am; 240 Yen). Upon arrival at Chofu station, exit by the Central Exit to reach the bus stop (across the road from Parco shopping centre and Creston hotel) where you can take Bus 40 (departing at 7.41am; 220 Yen) to reach Chofu airport by 7.55am – just in time to check in at 8am (30 minutes before our 8.30am flight to Kouzushima).
For the flights to and fro Kouzushima, although the seat will be assigned, I recommend for you to sit on the right side of the plane. As you land at Kouzushima, you will enjoy great views of the Tako beach and the white cliffs of Mount Tenjo. When you depart Kouzushima for Tokyo, you will be able to see the other side of Mount Tenjo with the Kouzushima village as well as the various Izu islands.
Staying at Yamashita Ryokan on Kouzushima
We stayed at the Yamashita Ryokan (山下旅館本館) – a traditional Japanese ryokan in an old building with shared bathroom and toilet facilities in the middle of the Kouzushima village. Complimentary return airport transfers were provided as part of our stay. Do note that there is another Yamashita Ryokan Bekkan (Annex) located near the beaches. Wi-Fi and ensuite toilet are only available in the Annex and not at this ryokan in the village.
The dinner and breakfast included as part of your stay at the ryokan, are one of the best Japanese meals I have tried – there was a sumptuous feast of seafood delicacies and vegetable dishes. Dinner was ready at around 6.30pm and breakfast around 8.30am.
Dinner at the Yamashita ryokan
Breakfast at the Yamashita ryokan
Sightseeing at the Kouzu Lighthouse, Senryoike Lake and Arima Observatory (Julia’s Cross)
After checking in at Yamashita Ryokan, we began our sightseeing at the island with a chartered taxi service (8 hours for 15,000 Yen – about 150 USD). We drove to the southern end of the island to hike along a trail which would bring us to the Kouzu Lighthouse and Senryoike lake (千両池). Do note that you will need to walk up quite a number of steps up a hill to reach the lighthouse.
The next part of this trail leads to the Senryoike (which means secret) lake which is a crater filled with sea water. You can also enjoy a picturesque view of the seas around Kouzushima. During summer, this is a great spot for swimming and snorkelling as this crater is sheltered from the rough sea waves.
Unlike the trail leading to the lighthouse, the path to reach the lake is less well defined – there are spots where you will need to pull yourself up rocks using ropes.
Our next stop was at the Arima Observatory (ありま展望台) which is also the location of the Julia’s Cross – a monument to Julia Otaa and other Christians who were exiled to Kouzushima during the 17th century. This observatory offers views of the Kouzushima village and the port and on a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji and the Japan mainland across the sea.
Lunch at Maitory – Buckwheat Soba
For lunch, we had buckwheat soba at Maitory – a small restaurant in the Kouzushima village known for its handmade buckwheat soba noodles.
I strongly recommend the duck buckwheat soba noodles (1500 Yen) – the duck meat was tender and the soup was very savoury (dip the cold soba noodles into the soup for the best taste).
Sightseeing at the Miura Observatory
After lunch, we drove to the eastern side of the island to the Miura Observatory which overlooks the Miura Bay. There are a lot of good scuba diving spots around the island and the sea around Miura Bay is one of the more popular one. The diving season starts from May and ends in November – during this period, the water temperature is about 25 to 27 degree Celsius and underwater visibility as deep as 30 metres. With the clear water, you can see a wide variety of temperate and tropical marine creatures during your dive e.g. colourful tropical fish, coral reefs, sea turtles, dolphins and sometimes even sperm whales.
There are a number of dive shops in the island where you can rent your dive equipment and engage them to bring you to the best dive spots around the island. For more info on the dive shops, check out: http://vill.kouzushima.tokyo.jp/travel/diving.html (website is in Japanese but look out for the title: ダイビングショップ which means Dive Shops)
The Miura observatory offers excellent views of sunrise over the Pacific Ocean and the 2 islands on the horizon – Miyakejima and Mikurajima.
You can also enjoy a view of the Tako Bay and Mount Tenjo – which you may have seen as your flight descends to land on the island.
Spring Water at Tako Beach
At the Tako beach, there is a spot where the natural spring water flowing from Mount Tenjo is collected. You can take a sip or fill your water bottle with the freshest spring water which beats any mineral water hands-down.
Tako beach is also a very beautiful beach with the clearest waters around it due to the white sands. The sand is white because of the erosion from the Mount Tenjo cliffs. What makes this beach very interesting is that it is peppered with dried up carcasses of pufferfish – according to locals, this is a lower grade of pufferfish that fishermen would dispose of. Even birds do not like to eat the fish.
Tako beach is also a popular surfing spot. Surfing is another sea sport that you can do during warmer months. There are a number of great surfing spots e.g. Maehama beach, Nagahama beach. You can also rent surf boards from the local dive shops.
Fishing at Kouzushima
At Tako Bay, you will also find a lot of fishing boats bringing in their catch for the day. If you enjoy fishing, you can also charter a fishing boat out to the sea. You can also fish off the port like what most locals do.
The Kimedai fish (金目鯛) is one of the most caught fish in the sea around the island and is a Kouzushima delicacy so you can try it in many restaurants, cafes and ryokans in the island.
Swimming and Snorkelling at Akasaki Walking Trail
The Akasaki walking trail (赤崎遊歩道) on the northern end of the island is a popular tourist attraction in Kouzushima. The clear and calm waters make this place a perfect spot for swimming and snorkelling.
In the summer, you will find a lot of people swimming and snorkelling in the area and jumping off the white wooden platform and surrounding cliffs into the water for a swim.
Relaxing with Hot Spring Onsen at Kouzushima Recreation Center
After a long day of hiking and sightseeing, we decided to wind down with a relaxing hot spring onsen experience at the Kouzushima Recreation Center (Kouzushima Onsen Hoyou Center). Entrance fee is 800 Yen for adults (16 years old and above) and 400 Yen for child (6 to 15 years old). Bring your own towel or you will have to rent a bath towel for 150 Yen or buy a washing towel for 150 Yen. If this is your first time in a Japanese onsen, refer to this infographics on onsen etiquette so you know what to do and what not to do so as not to offend the other onsen users.
The highlight of the Kouzushima Recreation Center is its natural hot spring water and its outdoor onsen. There are separate male and female indoor onsen baths and you are expected to be naked when using the indoor onsen.
For the outdoor onsen, you are required to wear swimwear as both male and female bathers can use the onsen together. You can enjoy great views of the sea and the strong waves as it crashes on the cliffs and rocks around the outdoor onsen.
You can also enjoy excellent views of the sunset from this outdoor onsen which is a perfect way to wrap up a day of sightseeing at Kouzushima.
Star-gazing at the Yotane Observatory
After dinner at the ryokan, we headed up to Yotane observatory which is a 5 minute walk away for star-gazing. Being far away from city lights, we were able to see a sky full of stars.
To reach this observatory from the Yamashita ryokan, you will need to input山下旅館本館, Japan, 〒100-0601 東京都神津島村604 as the starting point and 974 (Sonota), Kōzushima-mura, Tōkyō-to 100-0601, Japan as the destination on Google Maps. You will need to walk up flight of stairs and there are no street lightings at this area so do walk carefully.
Trekking at Mount Tenjo (天上山)
We started off Day 2 with a trek to Mount Tenjo. There are 2 ways to get to the top of Mount Tenjo:
- The toughest way for experienced and fit trekkers is via the 黒島登山 (Kuroshima Tozanguchi). This is a steeper and longer route and you should set aside about 6 to 7 hours to complete the trek
- The easier way for trekkers who are less fit and do not exercise regularly is via the 白島登山 (Shiroshima Tozanguchi). This route brings you to the summit (最高地点) of Mount Tenjo faster. Most people trek to the trailhead (i.e. starting point of the trail) of either黒島登山 or白島登山 by foot all the way from the Kouzushima village. However, if you do not have time (e.g. your flight back to Tokyo departs in the afternoon) or is not fit enough to walk all the way to the trailhead, you can hire a taxi to bring you to the trailhead from the village. It will be based on metered fare – the estimated fare is about 3480 Yen (about 35 USD). There is a toilet at the entrance of the 白島登山 trailhead – do go for it as there won’t be any toilets at the summit. Also, if you need help, grab walking sticks from the basket at the trailhead before you go up.
What is unique about Mount Tenjo is the almost 360 degree scenery view of the ocean and the Izu islands you can enjoy from the summit, the beautiful wildflowers that bloom all year round (these flowers typically grow at an altitude of 2000 metres but they can still be found at the 574 metres Mount Tenjo).
The trek to the summit is only half of the journey. To explore the volcanic crater lakes and deserts at Mount Tenjo, trekkers will need to do a round loop around the summit. Do note that while on the map below, it looks like a plateau, the trekking path is not an easy one to take and part of the trail require you to pass through narrow paths lined with prickly and thorny bushes and manage steep inclined paths with loose rocks.
As you trek up Mount Tenjo, you will be able to see the change from trees and lush vegetation to a more barren landscape nearer the summit (like this dried up crater Hairanai-ga-sawa (不入が沢) lined with white sand – shown in the picture below)
As you go in a clockwise direction around the summit i.e. turn left upon reaching Hairanai-ga-sawa (不入が沢), you will see more interesting landscape like this grassy and rocky valley in the picture below …
… and more craters like the Babaa ike ババア池 which will be filled with water during the wet season and …
… 360 degree viewpoints at the Tenku no oka (天空の丘) where you can get a view of the Izu islands around Kouzushima and even Mount Fuji on a clear day and …
… you will reach the Fudo-ike (不動池) which is an interesting stop. Here you will find a heart shaped pond with a bridge to a shrine for Ryujin, the dragon god (the pond was dried out as we took this trek during the dry season). There are also some benches for you to rest or have lunch (you will need to bring your own food) …
… continuing on further in this trail, you will reach an even more barren landscape which looks like a desert – the Omote Sabaku Desert (表砂漠). As Mount Tenjo was an active volcano in the past, the eruptions have rendered this piece of land completely barren and very little vegetation can grow on this land. It is also exposed to strong winds from the sea which erodes the land further.
Image credit: www.facebook.com/visit.kozu
Due to limited time (we have a mid-afternoon flight back to Tokyo), we had to head back downhill – the rest of the trail around the summit will look similar with picturesque viewpoints of the Izu islands and another bigger desert landscape. We had arranged for our taxi driver to meet us back at the trailhead at a predetermined time so he could drive us back to the village for lunch – the metered fare from the 白島登山 trailhead to Yochare Center was 3780 Yen.
Lunch at Yochare Center – where the Locals eat
Eating where the locals eat is usually a safe bet that the food is good and affordable. We stopped at Yochare Center for lunch which is a busy restaurant filled with locals, mostly workers from the nearby harbour. The set meals are all 1000 Yen from sashimi rice set to curry fish set and pork chop set and you order using a vending machine (though it is all in Japanese – ask the staff if you need help). The set meal also includes the Ashitaba tempura – Ashitaba is a local produce at Kouzushima and you should try it at least once when you are here.
The restaurant is at Level 2. Level 1 sells various local fish produce – fresh and dried ones. Cooler bags and ice packs are available for sale if you intend to bring your purchases to Tokyo and back home.
Souvenir Shopping at Kouzu Village
I love Japanese snacks e.g. Tokyo Banana and Hokkaido chocolate and I will buy a bunch of them back home whenever I visit Japan. Kouzushima also sells Kouzushima-only snacks i.e. snacks made with local produce like Ashitaba and passionfruit. If you are interested in getting them, buy them in the island as I have not seen these snacks sold elsewhere in Tokyo. There are 2 souvenir shops I know of on the island and both are located side by side near the only traffic light on the island.
Besides snacks, you can also get magnets, T-shirts and other Kouzushima souvenir. Do take note that your baggage allowance for your flight back to Tokyo is only 5 kg and you will be charged excess baggage of 300 Yen per kg if you exceed the 5kg limit so you have to plan your shopping.
Getting to Kouzushima by Boat
The flight to Kouzushima from Tokyo cost 15,300 Yen (about 150 USD) one way and there is a discounted return fare of 27,800 Yen (about 280 USD).
If you are on a budget, you can take an overnight ferry (travel duration: 11 hr 55 min) from Takeshiba ferry terminal (竹芝客船ターミナル) in Tokyo (6090 Yen one way for reclining seat or 9150 Yen for a basic sleeper bed – I recommend getting a sleeper bed so you can get a good night’s sleep so you can wake up refreshed for next day’s activities on the island). You will depart Tokyo at 10pm and arrive at Kouzushima at 10am the next day.
Image credit: www.facebook.com/visit.kozu
If you want a faster way to get there by boat, you can take the high speed jet ferry which takes 3 hr 45 min to reach Kouzushima (departs Takeshiba ferry terminal at 8.35am; departs Kouzushima at 12.45pm) for about 90 USD one-way.
Getting Around Kouzushima
If you would like to charter a taxi to drive you around the island, the fee is 150,000 Yen for 8 hours. You can contact 都島タクシー (Oshima Taxi) at this phone number: 04992-8-0147 – unfortunately they do not have email.
Alternatively, you can take the Kouzushima island bus to get to the onsen center, Akasaki walking path, Kouzushima airport, Tako bay port. The fare is 200 Yen. You can check the latest Kouzushima island bus schedule here (in Japanese only). The bus schedule (valid til 31 Jan 2018) is included below for reference on the bus routes.
You can also rent a bicycle to cycle around the island but do note that most of the roads have a steep incline so unless you are very fit and is used to cycling on hills, you may end up having to push your bicycle up most of the time. Bicycle rental will cost 2000 Yen per day.
Car and motorcycle rentals are available on the island too – make sure you bring your International Driving Permit. For Singaporeans, please note that our Singapore driving license should be accompanied with an International Driving Permit.
For more info on Kouzushima and the other Izu islands, check out: https://tamashima.tokyo/en/access/shima.html
* All rates and timings stated in this post are subject to change