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 Prefectures
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.
Thats how Shikinejimas 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
Onsens 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.
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-uras
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 Shikines 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 islands 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
Shikines lush rainforest
and the cloud-covered peak of Izu Oshima in the distance.
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
pointsultimate 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 Shikines ubiquitous bell-shaped orange
flowers in full bloom.
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
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/
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.