Our little island getaway almost didn't happen. As we were exchanging our reservation slip for real tickets at the Takeshiba pier - not far from Hinode pier where you can catch a ride to Odaiba - we were advised that the boat would be departing on a "conditional voyage." Meaning, that we would go, but that rough waters might prevent us from docking, in which case we'd just turn around and go back to Tokyo (and get a full refund). Well that would suck, we thought. Oh well. All aboard!
As it turned out, we did dock, after stopping at two other islands, including Oshima, the largest of the Izu islands (it's closer to the mainland, has an active volcano and is more popular with tourists). About a 3-hour journey all told. Not unpleasant.
The nice lady from the Niijima Grand Hotel, where we had booked a one-night stay, met us at the pier with her minivan. She seemed to run the place with her husband (the cook?) and son (porter/maintenance?).
We picked up this path not far from the hotel and it leads straight to Habushiura beach, on the east side of the island. Handily, it also runs right past a surf shop/restaurant where we ate lunch both days (the menu had plenty to choose from, including fried chicken, hotdogs, miso soup, rice, edamame and beer)
Boys don't need much to entertain themselves, just a sandy slope to scale
Saturday evening before dinner we checked out the Yunohama Onsen, on the west coast, south of Maehama beach. It's co-ed, swimsuits required.
It was a shame the highest bath was closed the day we were there...
...but there are plenty of other ways to take in the waterfront view
At the Grand hotel, dinner was included in the room rate (charged per person, per usual in Japan) and it was quite a feast. Unfortunately, it was heavy on the seafood, much of which my kids wouldn't touch.
On Monday morning (June 18) we cycled into the village - there's Terry, a mini pickup passing him on the right - and then up and down the west side, where we saw stone heads. Lots of 'em.
Before midday we had made our way back through town and over to the east side for lunch at the surf shop and then another dip in the ocean. Back at Habushiura we spotted the young guy who works at our hotel sitting on a rock, taking in the view:
Apparently international surfing competitions are held here
Cliffs to climb!
Mid Monday afternoon the hotel lady gave us a lift to the pier where we would catch the ferry back to Tokyo (we arrived on one side of the island, departed from the other)
Time to board
-During the Edo period, Niijima was a place of exile for convicts.
-The heads are carved out from kogaseki, a.k.a. rhyolite, a silica-based pumice-like stone that is indigenous to the island. The only other place on earth where it is mined is Lipari, Italy.
-The people of Niijima gave Tokyo the 2-sided stone head that is now parked outside the Shibuya train station, next to the West bus terminal.
The Takeshiba pier in Tokyo is a relatively short walk from the Hamamatsucho JR station; I went to the ticket counter in person to look at the schedule and reserve seats. There appeared to be one jet foil departure a day, in the morning, with the earliest return the following afternoon. Passengers are advised to call the pier's hotline at 6 a.m. on the morning of their scheduled trip to find out if all systems are go, which we did, and they were (we think, after listening the Japanese recording a few times) but we weren't aware of this We'll-go-and-then-we'll-see option.
I could see how the uncertainty could be a deal breaker for some, but you do get your money back, and canceling hotel reservations in Japan is never a big deal. For more info about how to get to Niijima and other islands, visit tokyo-islands.com. The jet foil is just one way; you can also fly there, from Chofu airport, and Tokai Kisen operates an overnight ferry, the cheapest option. Other ferries leave from Shimoda, in Shizuhoka prefecture.
Niijima Grand Hotel is located at 371 Niijimamura, Niijima-mura, Tokyo Prefecture 100-0400. (We had a native Japanese speaker call for us to book.)