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Sept 2003

KS Classifieds
#017 out now

Far From the Maddening Crowd

The deafening cry of cicadas, billowing sea-side onsens and a vast, unspoiled ecosystem welcome the weary to Shikine Island. Seiji Komachi tours Tokyo Prefecture’s last frontier.

At high tide, the waves rise over the boulders by the sea and replenish the hot springs surging from underneath the rocks with cool seawater. At low tide, the seawater that remains forms pools in between the rocks, and the temperature steadily rises from the heat deep inside the earth.

That’s how Shikinejima’s three public onsens by the sea work, basically, we were told, and the trick was to pick a time in the day
or night to plunge into the therapeutic natural baths when the right amount of seawater entered through the cracks allowing for a dip neither too hot nor too cold. The onsens, all located on the southern shore of the island, are known for their healing powers — Ashitsuki Onsen’s waters work miracles on wounds and dermatological diseases, and Jinata and Matsugashita Onsens (the latter draws its waters from the former) are known to cure rheumatism, stomach ulcers and even psychological disorders.

Suffering no ailments but keen to have a soak nonetheless, we clambered down a steep, rocky valley to the Jinata hot springs and slid into one of several frothy natural pools wearing bathing suits (required). Particles of what appeared to be algae floated on the surface, and we could feel layers of it covering the rocks beneath
the warm, opaque water. Though forewarned that the greenish baths would stain our bathing suits, it seemed a meager price to pay if it meant no doctor fees.

We later learned that during the war, the Japanese Imperial Navy had made plans to turn the area into a rehab unit for injured soldiers, in order for them to recuperate faster and return to the front. The plan ended in vain when Japan lost the war soon thereafter. Today, as minshuku owner Yoshimi Okuyama proudly told us, Shikine still plays the rehab role, but for city folk whose daily commutes into the concrete jungle leave them exhausted and craving for the greens and the blues of the wild outdoors.

O-ura Beach, a beautiful, moon-shaped stretch of pebble and sand faces a placid, aqua blue cove. During a quick dip before dark, we came across chunky lobsters (protected by law), foot-long puffers and an array of tropical fish that skidded to and fro under our diving masks. An ideal spot for snorkeling, diving or spear fishing, O-ura’s waters are usually calm and contained. A campsite sits above the beach and is open during the summer, where campers can rent lots free of charge whilst enjoying amenities that include a barbecue platform with bench tables and a shower room.

Most of Shikine’s sparkling beaches are located on the northern shore. Beach hopping to neighboring Nakanoura Kaigan, where crowds gathered at midday to feast on barbecued turban shells, and then cycling onto the Kanbiki Observatory was no mean feat. The island’s hilly roads, albeit paved, were a true test of endurance, and we agreed a good bike with greased gears was an indispensable item. Once at the belvedere though, we were rewarded with splendid views of the crystalline seascape far below, a 360-degree view of Shikine’s lush rainforest
and the cloud-covered peak of Izu Oshima in the distance.

While most tourists remain on the eastern half of the island where the village, the beaches and the onsens lie, the western half, mostly covered by a jungle, features trekking paths and several lookout points—ultimate getaway spots with not a soul in sight. Braving the arduous climbs and descents through dense foliage and brushing off blood-hungry mosquitoes and a plethora of other tiny forest dwellers, we ventured on the two-and-a-half hour trek, during which we took a long, solitary break at the Mikawan Observatory. A rocky clearing towering over the Pacific Ocean, the lookout gave us the impression of being at the edge of the world surrounded by nothing more than the wind and Shikine’s ubiquitous bell-shaped orange flowers in full bloom.

Travel Tips

Take plenty of it, since stores and restaurants on Shikine do not take credit cards, and there is only one ATM machine and post office.

When to go:
Through most of the country the dry season is May to October. Go outside this time and you'll get to experience serious tropical downpours.

Getting there:
Take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Atami Station (Kodama trains only), change to the Izukyu-Shimoda Line and travel to Izukyu-Shimoda station. From there, catch a bus or taxi to the ferry
pier where a boat makes daily runs to the Izu Archipelago.
For information, call Tokai Kisen at 03-5472-0999 or visit www.tokaikisen.co.jp/

Getting Around:
While quite possible to travel the island on foot, we recommend you rent a mountain bike (approximately ¥1,000 per day) during your stay on Shikine, in order to maximize time spent on activities.

Further info:
Visit www10.ocn.ne.jp/~shikikyo

Text & Photos: Seiji Komachi


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To win a copy of the Lonely Planet guide to TOKYO, just answer this question and write in your comments on KS. Mail your answer to [email protected] with 'Lonely Planet September giveaway' in the subject line:

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