An Island fit for a god?
Why Kozushima’s Bewitching Beauty is Dominating Travel Headlines
A proud member of the Izu archipelago, Kozushima is a castaway paradise engulfed in green beauty and necklaced by a cyan sea. The island came into being thanks to volcanic activity, and, according to local folklore, the “gods of Izu” also had a hand in the landmass’ outlook as we know it today.
Japanese mythology says the island’s water networks are as they are now due to the “Legend of water sharing,” where seven gods, each representing one of the major islands in the chain, gathered to deliberate on how to share the water.
According to this tale, the deities met on Mt.Tenjo in Kozushima and agreed on a system of water allocation that relied on a first-come, first-serve basis. The following day, the sharing took place, and the god of Toshima, one of the smallest islands in the archipelago, arrived late after oversleeping only to find there was little left to choose from. Enraged by what he perceived to be an injustice, the god threw an almighty tantrum on the crater pond, with geographical ripples echoing in his wake, resulting in the haphazard onset of springs on the island.
This watery paradise and the stories behind its origin proves a major selling point for Kozushima, as thousands visit its shores each year to uncover the tale of gods and the lovely scenery on display. It’s also enticing to see how the spring water soothingly merges into beautiful streams as they funnel into the ocean to form part of the legendary Kuroshio Current. This current is renowned for its abundant biomass, and it brings to shore multitudes of visitors in addition to delicious fish and squid, much to the joy of fishers.
The island also has a sacred vibe about it, serving up shrines and other religious havens across the peaceful landscape. In particular, a hike up Mt. Tenjo to the place where it is said the gods met is a truly divine experience, offering snow-white sands and alluring combinations of contrasting landscapes. Beyond the crater loop and ‘Hairanaigasawa,’ the latter is the actual meeting point of the Izu gods on the mountain, the turquoise seascape looks magical under the shade of the drifting clouds. It clashes perfectly with the vivid green accents below and truly gives the air a feeling of holiness, especially toward the end of the today when the setting sun glistens across the water. It’s hard to believe that this pristine marvel is part of the capital city!
Kozushima’s mysterious and mythical waters are a significant highlight for sightseers, as are the peculiar white-washed sands that make up the beaches. Atop this presentation is a theme park-like diving accessory built against the pale rocks, which offers both young and old the dive of a lifetime amid a glorious setting. Once you get enough of the refreshing waters, round off your day perfectly with a seaside, open-air bath where you can bask in fairytale sunsets.
After the sun bids you farewell, wind down your evening savoring the unrivaled delight of Ise shrimp, kinme-dai fish, among other seafood treats.
I bet you weren’t aware that Tokyo had such a paradisiacal side to it!
Kozushima Port Fisherman Hamakawa Kazutaka
A fisherman’s account of fishing in the Kuroshio Sea
A literal case of the early bird catching the worm, or rather fish in this case, Mr. Kazutaka Hamakawa departs for the black sea every morning aboard his boat, the Oseimaru, way before the crack of dawn. He leaves at 4:00 am, a time when the obsidian sea and sky seem to merge into one endless reality save for the glittering stars, which enables you to distinguish one part from the other.
Kozushima is at the heart of the Kuroshio Current, and, as a result, his vessel bobbles against the white waves as they gently ripple out from the island.
Mr. Hamakawa marvels at the enchanting beauty of the night sky, exclaiming that views from the ship are exceptionally scintillating. He’s able to get a front-row seat to the action courtesy of the sunroof of his boat. He cheerfully compares the view to that available on the island, and acknowledges that while both are utterly divine, the scenes from the ocean are just brilliant, he concludes with a beaming smile. Kozushima fishermen are undoubtedly enjoying a rare Mother Nature delight.
An hour’s journey comes to an end at his desired fishing spot, which he’s able to get to due to the GPS technology- alternatively known as the fish finder that guides him on his way to fertile locations. Rife with all sorts of shifting data, this device gives him the edge allowing him to complement instincts with the unparalleled accuracy of machinery.
Explaining how he gets his catch, the Kinme-dai fish, which have a preference for depths of around 400 meters, Mr. Hamakawa acknowledges it takes a bit of research and technical know-how to figure out where and when to dispatch his gadgets. He adds that aside from considering the distance, he must factor into his decisions tide flow, the ship’s position, among a host of other details.
Once he has worked out the nitty-gritty, he gets to work using his peculiarly thick fishing rod, which presents 50 robust hooks and a generous electric reel. The contraption sinks into the sea under its weight and the guidance of the fisherman, whose experience is vividly evident in the way he quickly and dramatically manipulates the fishing line. The electrical reel displays the length of the fishing line, but it’s impressive to note how Mr. Hamakawa works even with the aid of his trusty equipment. It is as if he can see what’s going on 400 meters below the surface!
After a while, the hazy horizon begins to take shape as the sun emerges from the distance, greeting the surrounding with warm, orange hues that separate the sea from the sky. Sunrise on the sea is just as magical as what happens in the sky during the wee hours.
“Wrap it up!” Mr. Hamakawa exclaims as the electric reel pulls its catch up in hypnotizing fashion, making odd sounds as it rhythmically returns from whence it came, although not empty-handed like when it went in. It takes quite a while for the entire finishing line to complete its ascension, culminating in a hand-drawn device at the nether part of the process.
Finally, the reddish fish (the Kinme-dai) pop out of the turquoise, firmly in the grasp of the line. The crimson skins sparkle brightly in the morning light, making for a strange and beautiful sight. One by one, each fish takes its place in a waiting cage as Mr. Hamakawa sees to it that everything goes according to plan.
He explains that once the fish are on board, they will be tightened and loaded with ice, which acts as a preservative to keep the fish fresh. He adds that he wouldn’t want to deliver fish to the village that was anything but sweet and fresh.
At the port, the collected fish first pass through the hands of the fishery cooperative for size sorting in preparation for market bids on the same day. At the end of the auctions, the fish make their way to the general Tokyo metropolitan area and the island’s stores as well. Guesthouses all over Kozushima offer the fresh delicacy to visitors to enjoy.
For exclusive fresh seafood amassed from the riches of the Kuroshio rough sea spots, you may need to visit the island because some of those goodies don’t make it past Kozushima borders.
A day with Mr. Wataru Furuya as we uncover the magical art of stargazing in Kozushima
The sky has cleared up, and the night seems set for a memorable treat. Starry Sky Watching tour guide Mr. Wataru Furuya rings me up at 7:00 pm, stating that tonight would the perfect time to sample the beautiful night sky. He promises to pick me up an hour later for a road trip to a peaceful location for a picturesque astronomy showing.
Star watching is an art that Mr. Furuya seems to have mastered down to a tee. He explains en route that certain factors go into making excellent conditions for star watching, the first being that the night be cloudless or clear. He adds that he has to consider the moon cycle as well, stating that it’s preferable to go viewing during a new moon than a full moon, as the latter’s brilliance tends to drown out the fainter stars. It is also for the same reason that the perfect location needs to be away from urban centers riddled with light pollution.
Kozu Island is home to about 1900 people, with the majority of that pollution taking up residence in Maehama beach, the port of Kozushima, and the central part of the western division of the island. Save for those areas, the landmass remains mostly uninhabited, and therefore devoid of artificial lighting. Consequently, there are no shortages of excellent star watching spots around Kozushima. You can take in the sooty sky and the jaw-dropping astronomical displays therein from most parts of the island.
Once we get to the star watching spot, Mr. Furuya explains that it will take a while for our eyes to acclimatize, after which we will be able to pick up many more stars as our sight gets more comfortable with the pitch darkness. True to those words, a whole new world opens up ten minutes into our experience. The seemingly hidden stars whose light was too faint for the unsettled eye to detect now shine as brighter than a diamond against the contrasting backdrop. An explosion of lights twinkles away in the distance, revealing a cluster of countless stars. We marvel at the fantastic light show, and I realize that these are the most stars I’ve ever seen in one place in my entire life!
As we are amazed by the sheer number of glowing dots in the sky, Mr. Furuya proceeds to give an account of the constellation while emphasizing his points with a pointing LED torch light that illuminates the heavens. He explains that the Milky Way, named so due to its hazy appearance from the earth, is also sufficiently visible from where we stand. He also shows us other solar system features, which until now were only a preserve of planetarium exhibitions. With so many stars so close to Kozushima, I think to myself, “it’s no wonder the gods chose to meet here because it’s just so magical!”
Mr. Furuya readies a 20 mm full-scale, astronomical telescope to help us explore the treasures of outer space in greater detail. We are able to affirm that Saturn does have a ring, while we also scrutinize star clusters to uncover the multitude of stars concealed within Mother Nature’s streaking missiles! A night in the stars comes to an end with a perfect photoshoot that preserves the striking beauty of the vast canvas of space in timeless memory. The odd camera requires certain seconds to capture a photo, which makes taking pictures a hassle since it’s quite the chore to remain still for a long time! However, the result is worth the wait as you get the perfect image that encompasses bright stars and the mesmerizing colors that complement your surreal background. It is, without a doubt, one of the stand-out aspects of the entire experience.
Before his time at the Starry Sky Observatory, Mr. Furuya took in stints across New Zealand and Ogasawara as a nature guide. He taps into this side of his expertise via the “Full Earth” concept, which affords guests the best of two worlds. The company he manages abides by the mantle “Movement that moves your heart,” offers just that via breathtaking star watching tours by night and wondrous Mt. Tenjo walks by day.
The native islander who was drawn back by Kozushima’s unrivaled charm and how he is spearheading the tourism charge
Mr. Kei Nakamura completed his education in mainland Tokyo after his academic path strayed from Kozushima village, where he was born and raised until he went off to junior high school. He completed his university degree in the Tokyo metropolis and crafted his professional niche at a local railway company in the mainland. However, like a moth to a flame, he was drawn back to his childhood island four-and-a-half years on from his graduation.
After leaving for the mainland at such a tender age, Mr. Nakamura always felt that something was missing. His childhood memories mumbled away at his subconscious, nudging him to return to Kozushima, an island whose culture and nature is simply unlike anywhere else on the planet.
He hadn’t completely forgotten his roots during his time away though, as he would make the occasional trip back home during his summer vacations while he was still studying at the university. He would bring his friends along for the ride, and awed by Kozushima’s storybook beauty, his friends would, in turn, invite theirs until the visiting party was about thirty in number!
Mr. Nakamura was always eager to tell anyone who cared to listen about the treasures of Kozushima way before he defected to his current line of work. He loved the island to bits and had seen all its majestic landscapes firsthand, and his infectious passion was evident for all to see. So when news broke that the island’s government office was looking for people to join the tourism department, Mr. Nakamura didn’t think twice about calling quits on his time at the railway company. He left for the green pastures of Kozushima in November 2015.
Now he lives his dream, getting paid for a cause he had long done for free since his university days. His career entails guiding visitors and travelers on an itinerary of the island’s line up of delights. He’s also an ever-present figure at promotional events on mainland Tokyo, and he couldn’t be happier about his decision.
As rewarding as his new-found career may be, it has not been without its share of shortcomings. For example, the original “Regional Revitalization Cooperation, and Connecting Island Stakeholders” was shackled by the demands of deadlines, which made seamless operation difficult. Mr. Nakamura got around this by starting his alternative, the NPO Kozushima Raise Corps, in December 2017. This organization isn’t governed by such limitations, and he now sits at the top of the hierarchy, serving in a presidential capacity.
Mr. Nakamura has a long-term vision way beyond the here and now, as he says he has a 30-year vision mapping out the island’s prosperity. In line with the philosophy of his company, which is “Knowing, learning and enjoying Kozushima, and making life easier in Kozushima,” he continues to build social bridges that unite masses from all divides. His team is made up of people native to the idyllic island, others who left for the modernity of urban centers and later retraced their rural steps, and some who were lured away from modernity by the appeal of the place although they were not originally born there.
The Kozushima Raising team has a host of constructive activities that enlist the participation of the local people to ensure they aren’t left out of the project. For instance, the company takes it upon itself to educate budding minds, high and middle school students to be exact, about the Kozu Sea so that they may one day tell others of its greatness. To that end, the team partners with the Kozushima Diving Association to offer accredited diving license acquisition courses around the beautiful waters of the island.
Additionally, they also host Bon Odori (a traditional Japanese dance) practice sessions with a view to adding a spark to the local festivities. There are also plans to give local businesses the platform to showcase their expertise via informative stall exhibitions. Mr. Nakamura aims to bring together visitors and locals to create opportunities and places for new partnerships to materialize into something big. That he is already doing by turning abandoned houses into establishments dubbed “Happy Turn Kozushima” with the aid of talented artists. The Arts Council Tokyo and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have provided the necessary assistance that made this possible through the Tokyo Art point plan, of which Mr. Nakamura is a successful candidate.
The work is far from over, but Mr. Nakamura is already laying the groundwork for prosperity and has made strides in the right direction. With the many promising ideas he has for Kozushima and the insatiable passion that fuels him on, the future is so bright that it’s blinding for Kozushima and its people. There’s nowhere else to go but up!