Hachijojima Monitor Tour Report

Lying 55 minutes by plane from the Haneda Airport in Tokyo and 287 km from the city itself, Hachijo island is often a forgotten part of Tokyo hence its nickname “Hidden Tokyo.” The local number plates remind locals and visitors of that, as they often feature the tag “Shinagawa,” which basically says, “this is Tokyo!” The administrative records tell you that the lovely island is part of the capital, however, the tropical paradise atmosphere paints a different story: a story of simple shores undisturbed by urban life. The moment our plane touched down at the airport, I could tell there was something special about this Izu Island.

Accommodation

We stayed at the “Lido Park Resort Hachijojima,” the largest hotel on the island located at the foot of Mt. Hachijo Fuji in the foreground of a beautiful coast. Centuries ago, Emperor Showa stayed here on his visit to Hachijo, and it indeed provides residence fit for a king. The hotel houses spacious rooms that include an open-air bath and a rooftop terrace where you can watch a lovely star-filled sky during the night. The staff is friendly while the seaside views are stunning and include scenery from the nearby “Yuyu jersey cattle ranch,” which belongs to the hotel as well.

Cycling Hachijojima

We went cycling on our first morning on Hachijojima and started on a route from the hotel to the centre of the island. The road was a bit rough, but the electric-powered bikes made cycling easy, ensuring you can focus on the lovely seafront and the soothing breeze that blows from it.

The Visitor Center and the Hachijojima Botanical garden were the first places I went to. I got to see an adorable deer there and later on learnt about the terrain, animals, and plants that make up the magnificent nature of the region. We even got to see the famous glowing mushrooms of Hachijo! A video introduction explains the nature and history of Hachijojima before the tour, and it comes with English subtitles so that foreigners aren’t left out.

The journey from the heart of the island to the coast was also another highlight of our day. The road is long and straight, I had to be careful not to go too fast, and it leads up to a coast of many lava rocks. There’s just something magical about seeing the waves crash against the rocks, and we couldn’t resist taking photos as we strolled the refreshing coastline.

Island Sightseeing on a Taxi

Hachijojima is a small island but not tiny enough to cover its entirety by cycling. Visitors have the option of renting cars or seeking the services of one of the many taxi companies on Hachijo. We chose the taxi option because we heard they are excellent for half and one day tours.

Our half-day chartered taxi sightseeing tour was around Miharayama, where we came across lovely mountain trails full of excellent hot springs and hiking spots. We stopped by a lighthouse and an observatory, which offered amazing views of the land as it meets the sea. We also had time to relax at the “Miharashino-Yu” hot spring that offers more breathtaking seaside scenes from a warm open-air bath. There are many hot springs on the island, but this one stands out due to its hilly vantage point overlooking the ocean, making it perfect for whale watching! Although we were not lucky enough to see any whales, it is said that you can see them from the bath when the weather is nice.

Our taxi driver was friendly and very knowledgeable of the island’s history, and he helped us understand the lifestyle, economy, and agriculture during our drive. Like many other taxi drivers on Hachijo, he only talked in Japanese, but if you have someone on board who understands both English and the native tongue, they can do the translating for you.

Relaxing at Yukou

Yukou is a spa located in the Osato area where old-fashioned houses with round stone walls exist in plenty. It is the place to visit for a full-fledged relaxation experience, which is what we got. The treatment room is large and calming, and you feel the relaxation set in by just lying on the comfortable sheets. I had a head massage and soon fell asleep from the overwhelming comfort; it’s that good!

The masseuse also places warm cobblestones on your back or stomach, which reminded me of the Hawaii Lomi Lomi massage. The stones add to the healing pleasure and work wonders for a tired body! We rounded off the session with special Hachijojima herbal tea, and the experience is one will never forget. I’ll definitely recommend this to my friends if they visit Hachijo.

Nature Guide “Shiinoki”

There are many ways to enjoy Hachijojima’s outdoor activities, but I’d say that the best option is through a guided tour of the unique nature. The island’s natural history is different from what mainland Tokyo has to offer, and these tours provide interesting answers to the differences in addition to quiet nature walks. It’s like a two-in-one package of learning and sightseeing!

Our nature guide for the day was Yuriko Orui, who moved to the island more than 20 years ago. When she’s not leading people on nature walks, she tutors one-on-one diving classes and offers beach snorkelling guides that involve searching for beautiful sea turtles.

Yuriko took us on a cobblestone tour of Yokoma Beach where we got to learn how the stones are formed as the waves hit against them. We also uncovered the importance of these boulders to the people of Hachijojima, who use them for making wishes and dedications in a shrine at the top of Mt. Hachijo Fuji. The mountain has surprisingly large cobblestones, but we were able to climb it and see the shrine at the summit.

From the coast, I headed to Osato area where cobblestone lines the streets and walls. The walk felt like we had travelled back in time to the old days when the Hachijojima government office was still located here. The building is now gone, but I feel there should be a renovation project to recreate the old government office and commemorate it as a heritage site.

Mt. Hachijo Fuji

Climbing Hachijo Fuji is an experience like no other; it is hard, but the views from the peak are very rewarding. The mountain towers 854.3 metres and our climb started at the mountain trail on the 8th station which we got to by car. There are a total of 1280 stone steps between the top and the station, and you have to balance your pace so that you don’t go too fast and tire yourself out along the way.

We made the climb with our nature guide Ms Orui, and her stories about Hachijojima nature and roadside plants provided good company as we scaled the mountain and during breaks. The weather was excellent on the day, which made the scenery from the summit stunning and spectacular. It takes a great deal of effort to reach the top, but the 360-degree views overlooking the ocean and rocks made it worthwhile. Since Hachijojima is a volcanic mountain, there was a lovely caldera lake called “Ohachi-Meguri” at the summit that made for a nice stroll, looking into the waters and the lovely landscape beyond it. Walking the mountain peaks is a little adventure in itself given their jugged nature, however, these are punctuated by beautiful sights wherever you look!

The wind was strong, so I had a little trouble standing upright, but our nature guide had done this climb several times before and she offered great advice on how to handle the weather. She made the peaks and strong wind seem so harmless and fun!

Once we had our fill of the summit and the lake, we headed to the famous shrine where people dedicate cobblestone in exchange for good fortunes. It is located in a peaceful area guarded by a small torii gate and a sacred tree, and we could see past cobblestone offerings, some of which were painted in various colours. Ms Orui explained that the coloured rocks were left by the local children who made the dedication as they graduated kindergarten. Other stones had names written on them, and we learnt that these were the work of couples who would etch their names on the huge boulders to commemorate their marriage.

Climbing Hachijo Fuji took us about an hour, while we spent 30 minutes each at “Ohachi-Meguri” and the shrine. The return trip lasted 40 minutes, so I’d advise that this is an experience best explored through a half-day tour. When the weather is smiling down on you, the summit and everything around it is very appealing and time flies by so fast.

Jersey Café and Yu-Yu Farm

Hachijojima has a sterling diary reputation whose success was down to the Holstein cattle that were initially preferred for livestock. The once dairy giant has however stumbled in recent times, as the dairy production declined for a little while. However, the industry is on the rise again because of a new approach to dairy farming where jersey cattle are now used instead. These are smaller than the Holstein and provide less milk, but it is a case of quality over quantity as the milk is rich and very delicious even before processing. It makes for excellent dairy gourmet, most notably milk sorbet, mozzarella cheese, pudding and yoghurt.

Jersey milk has proven so good and popular, and it grabbed attention at the crowing of the Reiwa Emperor where it served as the banquet dessert that fed many guests from all around the world. At the 2018 “Japan Cheese Award,” Mozzarella Cheese from Hachijojima Dairy received the gold prize while all other cheeses from the region won accolades.

We sampled some of the delicious jersey dairy milk products at the Lido Park Resort Hachijojima. The hotel offers a breakfast plan including milk, yoghurt and even jersey milk puddings. Visiting a jersey café is something I’d recommend to everyone visiting the island. I’d also suggest making time for the nearby Yu Yu farm, only five minutes away, where you get to see cute brown jerseys and witness an interesting milking process that involves calling the animals by name into a hut!

Visting the Kusaya Factory “Osada Shoten”

Kusaya is another one of Hachijojima’s specialities. This strong-smelling fermented fish is made by immersion in a special liquid, and it has a rich and deep taste. Some people like its smell, others do not, but it’s similar to the appeal of strong French cheese. If you like Natto (Japanese fermented soya beans), you may like Kusaya.

For an in-depth look at Kusaya making from an insider’s perspective, we visited Mr Osada of “Osada Shoten.” Mr Osada is enthusiastic about teaching children and people about Kusaya creation and the food culture of Hachijo. He was once featured on a popular British television program where he talked about what he does and how Kusaya connects people and creates opportunities. He helped us understand a lot about what goes on in-between preparing the fresh fish and the final delicacy.

Shiitake Picking at Dairyu Farm

Umikaze Shiitake mushrooms are hugely popular not just in Hachijojima but in Japan as a whole. These mushrooms from the Dairyu Farm run by Ryuji Osawa appeared on a popular TV program recently and have become a household name. They are so in demand that the company already has shipment reservations for the next six months!

Shiitake mushrooms are usually planted on raw wood, and it is the same case at Dairyu Farm, where domestic shitake fungi grow on wood chip blocks called “fungus bed blocks.” Inside the greenhouse, I saw huge mushrooms growing on the shelves, which I did not expect to be so large. Harvesting them was fun and exciting!

The other exciting part was learning about how Mr Osawa got the idea to start his business from his hobby. At first, these fungus bed blocks were not designed for mushroom planting; they were meant for cultivating and feeding stag beetles. However, he realised that large mushrooms grew from the blocks as a result of the larval breeding stage and he wondered if the humidity and climate of the island were responsible. He spent the next four years researching shiitake bacteria and mushrooms that would fit in with the island’s environment, and he found his answer. From there, he started production of the “Umikaze Shiitake,” which is a lot thicker than regular mushrooms.

After harvesting shiitake, Mr Osawa took us to his “Hobby Room” within the farm where he made his discovery. We saw the huge larvae and stag beetle that gave him the idea for shiitake farming. Hercules, the largest beetle larva in the world, was on display, and Mr Osawa told us a lot more about how he breeds his beetles and larvae. This impressive hobby room featured in a section of that famous TV program.

The farm’s location also puts other attractions at the fingertips of visitors. The “Uramigataki Onsen” and “Uramigataki waterfall” are a short walking distance from Dairyu and they can be enjoyed through a 30 minute round trip. The nature walk includes an open-air bath overlooking a quiet forest. There’s no admission fee for the hot spring, but you have to bring your swimsuit along because it is a unisex bath.

Hachijojima gourmet

On this trip, we got to taste many delicious Hachijo gourmet dishes. Our time at the pizza restaurant “Paradiso” was memorable for the pizza with mozzarella cheese from Jersey milk and thick Umikaze shiitake mushroom pizza. The chestnut pizza with autumn flavouring was also very nice.

The Paradiso is famous because of these unique dishes and also the friendly staff who always welcome visitors with smiles and stories. You may need to book a reservation early to get a table here!

The izakaya (Japanese bar) Ryzonpaku is just as loved as the Paradiso, and our taxi driver even said it has the best food and drinks on the island so I couldn’t wait to check it out! Ryzonpaku is split into one main room and several private rooms, and you can feel how happy everyone is with the meals. The food was in line with his praise, with the fresh local fish impressing, as did the rare sea turtle dish that was so good. There were also servings of Iwanori seaweed sushi, Ashitaba tempura, and traditional sushi which were equally well made. The green-coloured Ashitaba beer was just as delicious as the rest of the menu, which had helpful English pointers for picking out the drinks.

Our time at the Lido Park Resort Hachijojima also included a standout dinner that I liked a lot. The dish featured a shabu-shabu with jersey milk, and I was a little surprised at first, but as soon as I tasted it, I felt the creamy delight melt in the mouth. It won me over immediately. The breadth of jersey milk as a food ingredient in Hachijojima is truly amazing!

There’s also another establishment called the “Kukansya” which impressed me a lot as well. This café is in the middle of a forest, and it has a homey atmosphere. You can feel the personal care and attention that went into its construction, and that goes into the service. If the weather permits, you can sip tea on the balcony as you lay eyes on the lovely garden around you. A second-floor balcony offers more height for picturesque viewing, and the observation terrace on the floor above it is great for reading a book or staring out at sea. Kukansya offers pleasant relaxation, and it’s an excellent place to forget your worries and enjoy a couple of carefree hours.

Impressions of this trip

This was my first time visiting Hachijojima, and I couldn’t be happier with my experience. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give the trip a nine without hesitation. The missing point is because I didn’t get a chance to discover all that the island has to offer, but I would love to come back one day and see what I missed!

Preferably, I’d like to return when it’s summer so that I get a feel of the island during this season to discover what I didn’t during the fall of November. Nonetheless, the trip was a huge success. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hachijojima, and I was delighted with everything overall.

If someone asked to recommend a good place for a holiday outside of Kyoto or Tokyo, Hachijojima Island would undoubtedly be the first place that comes to mind!