Kozushima Monitor Tour Report

The Island Where Gods Gathered

Kozushima is an island of the Izu archipelago, and it lies 178 km south of Tokyo. There are basically three travel options for visitors, the most popular including a small airplane from Chofu airport, and a 3.5 hour trip from Takeshibafuto on a high-speed boat. The third involves an overnight boat trip that departs Tokyo at 10 PM to reach Kozushima in the morning. We chose the high-speed boat for our monitor tour of Kozushima, and it’s safe to say it was a nice experience. The weather was perfect, and the same goes for the sea and waves, and the onboard English communication made progress-checking a lot easier. Sure there were some dull times since you had to sit around as you would on a plane, so we could have used some entertainment, but the journey was excellent overall.

Kozushima, or Kozu, as most people fondly call it, has the most beautiful water networks, including so many lovely springs that spread out across the island. If you’re one for Japanese mythology, you’ll be interested to know that the local narrative attributes the watery delight to an ancient quarrel between the seven gods of Izu. It is said that one day these gods met at Kozushima peak to discuss the distribution of water in the region, and it was agreed that they would allocate the resource on a first-come, first-serve basis. The next day, the god of Toshima was the last to arrive having overslept, and so he found there was little left for him. He directed his anger at a pond, rampaging so that water spread everywhere hence resulting in the island’s many beautiful springs.

You can see some of the Izu deities on Maehama beach where statues of the water-distributing gods stand today.

How the accommodation was like

Kozushima is home to 1800 people, and its education needs are met by the many high, junior high, and elementary schools on it. The urban heart of Kozu is Maehama in Kozushima port, which has the only traffic light on the island.  It is the place to be for souvenir shops, restaurants, inns, Minshuku and all your modern conveniences.

We spent two days across residences at a minshuku and ryokan in Maehama, and we had a unique and memorable experience. Our first night was at “Matsuyoshi,” a minshuku inn, while we spent the next day at the ryokan called “Yamashita Ryokan (Bekkan).” We got to experience traditional Japanese tatami rooms at Matsuyoshi, a rare treat for foreigners, and we had the best staff service, which truly made our stay feel more like visiting a friend.

However, it would be helpful if establishments like Matsuyoshi had some sort of rule list for foreigners who are usually not familiar with the local ways or customs of staying in a Japanese Minshuku. For instance, while it’s required that you wear slippers in the hallway, you need to leave them at the door when you enter a tatami room. There are also a few unspoken guidelines for using the communal bath, and it would be nice if such things would be mentioned, preferably in English, beforehand.

As for the “Yamashita Ryokan,” we were also very pleased with our stay there. The view of Kozushima port and the water was charming, and the exclusive hot spring amenity was also a rare delight. Our stay here felt different but in a good way. Usually, ryokan beds involve a floor futon, but the ones at Yamashita were western-style although everything else was traditionally Japanese. If I were travelling with my parents, this ryokan accommodation would be at the top of my consideration.

A look at awesome activities

Cycling along the Kozushima coast

Kozu is a small island with a lot to offer. The roads along the western coast are one of its most scenic treasures, offering views of sun-kissed shores beautifully disappearing into the blue waters. You can stroll this majestic coastline by car, but it’s best you do so through cycling. With bikes, you’ll be privy to amazing scenes that are often missed on a vehicle. What’s more, you can easily stop along the way to stroll a refreshing promenade or have a quiet picnic beside calming waves.

We went cycling two times during our three-day stay. Our first adventure was a round trip between Maehama and the Akasaki promenade, a popular swimming spot toward the north end of Kozushima. The day after that, we could not resist the picture-perfect promenade along the coast, so we got off our bikes and explored the beach like children. We played by the water and had a memorable picnic later on where we got to see lots of fish in the clear sea.

The Kozushima coast provides chairs and benches, which makes things easy for a picnic. For food, we had delicious bread from the island’s only bakery, and for company, we had a warm sun and the soothing tunes of seagulls and waves.

I find myself smiling whenever I look back to that day because we had such a great time!

Experiencing the Fishing Town culture on a fisherman’s boat

Fishing is the primary livelihood in Kozushima with flourishing red breams the speciality of the industry. Kozu’s location in the middle of the Kuroshio currents has ensured fertile breeding grounds, which is why fishing is so popular on the island.

We got to experience a fishing day out at sea under the guidance of local fisherman, Mr Kazutaka Hamakawa. Just like his boat, the “Daiseimaru,” Mr Hamakawa was very pleasant and friendly. He took us on a tour of his wheelhouse, where he explained how he catches a fish variety that prefers to live 400m below the surface! He has all manner of equipment, including sonar technology, to help him make an informed guess. Ultimately though, it seems the success of the fishing strategy largely depends on the fisherman’s intuition and experience. Mr Hamakawa has plenty of both and is very good at what he does!

He was kind enough to let us help out, and we assisted in reeling in a catch of red breams that he had caught earlier in the morning. I have to say there’s a lot more to the process beyond the actual fishing. Once the fish hit the deck, we placed them on buckets and carried them over to a cargo bed for transportation by car. Raising several red breams at once requires some effort, but it was enjoyable to participate in the process and see what a day is like in the life of a real fisherman.

The readying of red breams is an especially exciting affair, and if you ever go fishing in Kozu, be sure to stop by the fishery association premises to see how it’s done. Machines tend to the sorting, which follows weight and size criteria, on a belt conveyor system that looks a lot like a merry-go-round. It’s quite impressive to watch man and machine go about their work so seamlessly!

Fishing experiences in Kozu can be different according to the season you visit in, so we’d like to participate in more experience tours to get the full picture. Nonetheless, from what we saw and did, a cultural fishing village experience on Kozushima is one of a kind!

Water Tour

Mr Kei Nakamura leads water tours on Kozushima, and he is part of the NPO “Kozushima Moriagetai” or “Cheering UP Team” which is working to present the fun and happy side of Kozu tourism. He was the guide during our water tour, and his experience stems from years of work with the Kozushima Tourism Association. There’s not a single thing that goes on on the island that he hasn’t seen before!

Mr Nakamura told us about the mythical stories of the water distribution in front of seven statues in Maehama, each representing one of the seven gods of the islands of Izu, which have been put to together to recreate the meeting. Afterwards, we travelled to Tako Bay on the opposite end to sightsee Tako Spring. It gushes vigorously, producing water that I found to be very tasty. I don’t know if that had something to do with the minerals or the story I heard before, but what I know is that I should have brought a large, empty water bottle. The spring water was so delicious!

When he’s not out giving water tours, Mr Nakamura partners with others on a renovation project that turns vacant homes into works of art.

Hot Spring Facilities

There’s only one hot spring facility in Kozushima, and there are no restrictions for entry. The establishment features outdoor and indoor baths, with the latter separated according to gender. However, the three outdoor hot spring baths are unisex, so it’s a requirement that guests put on swimwear. One was unavailable during the November off-season, but the two that were provided beautiful views of the lovely seafront under a blue sky. We enjoyed the outdoor bath more because of the scenery, and that we could share the experience as a couple.

There are a lot of things to do in Kozushima beyond basking in a bubbling pool. You can go hiking on Mt. Tenjo for more breathtaking sights or star gazing at a night observation facility. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do that because the weather wasn’t favourable on the day of the visit.

Kozushima Cuisine

Yocchare

A must-visit for foreigners is the cafeteria “Yocchare” run by a fishery cooperative in the port of Kozushima Bay. It is a popular joint for fish lovers, and the wives of Kozu fishermen prepare the meals here. You get decent seafood at reasonable rates, with the most popular meals involving the local Donburi and Red Breams. The menu also features Ashitaba pickles, Ashitaba tempura, and the Kozushima specialities of “Tokoroten” that come in adorable small bowls.

The only downside is that the menu is exclusively in Japanese, but there are pictures of the dishes beside the wording, so you know exactly what to expect.

Matsuyoshi

Eating at a minshuku is just as good an experience as eating out at a restaurant or cafeteria. During our stay at the Minshuku Matsuyoshi, we sampled a fantastic cuisine full of the usual favourite of simmered red bream in addition to Ise shrimps. For the shrimps, you may have to order in advance.

The meals at the inn felt nicely home-cooked, and so did the generous plating that included tasty fish sashimi. Again, the problem here was that there were no English descriptions to explain the meals. The dishes are prepared from locally-sought ingredients, and it would have been nice if we could understand the cooking process. Nonetheless, we can’t complain about the food or service!

Izakaya “Yamacho”

Yamacho is a popular izakaya or bar that the locals love. The unforgettable fish sashimi and the fried chicken helped us understand why the place is popular! Besides the typical offerings, there were also many lovely delicacies we got to try for the first time like the deep-fried moray eel, and the native Iwanori seaweed. We were not disappointed with any of them!

The Kusaya, however, might not be for everyone. While we enjoyed this fermented fish because of its rich taste, some may not find its strong smell appealing. I think it all boils down to whether you like fermented foods or not, kind of like how some people adore strong French cheese while others can’t stand it. Fermented foods are popular in Japanese tradition, Natto (fermented soya beans) come to mind, and the Kusaya is a meal we’d love to try again.

Airana

Authentic Hawaiian burgers on Kozushima? I was just as surprised as you are! Kozushima’s fish is without a doubt among the world’s best, but meat lovers welcome the chance to break the monotony with some change, and these burgers did just the thing!

The local beer from the Kozushima Hyuga Brewery provided excellent escort for the sizzling meals at the Airana.

Summary

Hidden Tokyo is a joy to visit no matter the season. We had lots of fun swimming on white sandy beaches, leaping off the diving board into the sea at the Akasaki promenade, fishing in the open sea, cycling in the sunsets, and climbing Mt. Tenjo. There’s much to see and do in Kozushima, some of which we did not get to the opportunity to, but we had the best holiday even so! We left with fond memories of a paradise on earth, and I look forward to making another visit to Kozushima soon!