October 29, 2016
Miyakejima 三宅島 is a volcanic island situated in Kanagawa, about 178 km from Tokyo, which you can reach via an hour’s domestic flight from Tokyo. You could take the ferry, but that takes a close to seven hours so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Despite all the buzz about Tokyo city, Japan’s scenic islands are quite underrated, making Miyakejima a good choice to travel to if you’re in need of an alternate peaceful, scenic destination.
Since its volcanic eruption in 2000 and evacuation, Miyakejima residents have returned to the isle years later, with island life more serene than ever and the environment returning to its former beauty.
There’s a weird rumour online that all the islanders have to wear gas masks permanently due to the volcanic activity, and even talk about gas-mask tourism, but that is simply not true. Sulphur dioxide levels have been stable and there is no need to constantly wear masks – I assure readers with my still alive and kicking self that it is 100% safe for travel to this rare destination. Don’t believe everything on the internet kids.
Miyakejima offers visitors a dynamic, unique volcanic landscape, and is a treasure trove of wild birds and marine life that attracts fellow animal-lovers from around the world. Visitors are invited to experience the vast natural land’s picturesque beaches, hills and also partake in trekking and diving tours.
As part of a Tokyo PR project, I’ve flown to Tokyo then visited Miyakejima personally in 2016.
Allow me to show you some of the reasons why you should take a short trip to Miyakejima the next time you’re in Japan.
The volcanic activity has speckled Miyakejima a brownish ash, but amongst the ashes life finds a way.
After several eruptions in the past, this particular volcanic trail was laid out on top of the hardened lava from the 1983 eruption that buried the entire village of Ako. It offers a glimpse of the destructive power of volcanic lava flow while you walk safely across.
There are various other short trekking routes all over Miyakejima to explore, mostly marked with safe walkways so you won’t fall off the deep end. These easy trails are suitable for the non-sporty types like myself, who would rather not experience cardiac arrest on an isolated island.
For the truly adventurous who think footpath trails are too basic, you can trek up, down and around the undulating mountainous island as well, which is about 38 km in coastline perimeter.
Had enough of the crowded, fast-paced city life? Welcome to Miyakejima, where life can be as calm as you want it to be.
As of 2016, the population in Miyakejima is only 2451; odds of you meeting your ex-tinder date here are pretty low.
Over two nights, I stayed at a lovely, quiet inn called Yama no be やまのべ.
Rustic living is the entire theme here, with an extremely hospitable host who presents delicious homecooked meals made with local produce along with your accommodations.
The rooms at Yama no be are austere, separated by traditional sliding doors known as Shoji 障子, which comprises of wood and translucent paper.
Never tried sleeping on a Japanese tatami mat or futon bedding you see in Japanese films? You get the full-blown Japanese bed and breakfast experience here.
If you find the bathing facilities at the inn a bit too bare, so you’ll want to head to the local village onsen 温泉, a Japanese public hot spring and the bathing facility.
This onsen cum restaurant complex was established by the Miyake Village Office in 1995, comprising of the hot spring Furusato-no-Yu and restaurant Furusato Mikakukan.
Soak in the natural hot spring bath with waters coming from the volcanic island. The best time to head there would be around 6pm so you can catch the stunning view of the sun setting over the pacific sea.
Of course, there’s a variety of other inns and mom and pop stores around the island to explore, all run by locals and fully soaked in Japanese tradition.
If you want to learn more about small town fishing, travel to Miike Port, which is where you’ll arrive if you took the ferry.
Fishing boats also come in regularly with their bounty, like this haul of Kinmedai 金目鯛 (Golden Eye Snapper).
The fishes are then weighed, sorted and iced to be prepared for export to other parts of the country. A humble livelihood to bring you fresh seafood that not many diners can appreciate until you’ve seen the hardwork put in from sea to table.
Remember those undulating paths I was talking about that you could trek around? Well, here’s the lazy person option: e-bicycles.
These e-bicycles that you can rent from the Miyakejima tourism association come with a small motor that immensely aid cycling uphill. Unless you’re Lance Armstrong, the motorized cycling aid is a life-saver.
Oh, do make sure the motor is fully charged. The buses here come in two hour intervals if you’re ever stranded.
Armed with an e-bicycle, traveling around the scenic island in a day or two becomes entirely possible, short of renting a car.
Pack a couple of drinks and onigiri, and you’re set to cycle off around Miyakejima.
Due to Miyakejima’s continuous volcanic activity in the past, the coastal surrounding of the island are now ‘Black Sand Beaches’. This is caused by hot lava contacting water and rapidly cooling to break into sand and basalt fragments to produce this mysterious color.
These black beaches are rarely found, and are usually near volcanic formations. There’s even some chatter of therapeutic health benefits that black sand can give.
Everyone is familiar with sunny, white beaches, but have you played beach volleyball on a black one?
The dynamic sea around Miyakejima offers many marine bio-diversities including sea turtles and wild dolphins nearby.
Book a Dolphin swimming tour with Miyake Dolphin Club, which brings you to Mikura island just next to Miyakejima – there’s about a hundred over bottlenose dolphins here!
Dolphins aren’t always as friendly as they seem, so do wait for them to approach you rather than chase after them.
Okatairo honpo 岡太楼本舗 manufactures a popular milk biscuit cracker 牛乳せんべい and is one of the locally-produced products of Miyakejima exported to Japan.
For generations, they used to have their own herd of cows on the island, but the volcanic eruption wiped them out, hence the milk is now delivered from another source while the biscuits are still made here.
This milk-based senbei is a gentle, delicious biscuit exemplifying the simplicity of goodness in Miyakejima.
Oyamaichi 雄山一 is a shochu distillery that produces a range of local shochus, made from sweet potato and a combination of grain.
There’s free sampling of the Honkaku shochu within the stall, which has a rough, natural flavour.
Shiitori-jinja 椎取神社 is the origin of all myths on the island, where the Shinto deity Kotoshironushi 事代主神 took his first step onto Miyakejima when he crossed into this land. In the eruption of 2000, a huge mudslide buried both the shrine and the torii 鳥居 gate.
Although both structures were buried, apparently only the torii gate had to be rebuilt, while the shrine itself was magically unharmed. Make a prayer at this shrine and who knows, maybe some magic will rub off on you too.
Miyakejima is an acclaimed bird-watching haven established in 1993 and run by the village.
The native Akakokko (Izu Thrush) bird is a coveted sight by many bird watchers, and Miyakejima is one of the rare islands to spot it.
Not a professional bird-watcher? You can borrow a free pair of binoculars from the Nature Center to try your hand at bird-watching.
A signature sightseeing spot of Miyakejima, Tairo-ike Lake 大路池 is a insta-worthy spot not to be missed.
This crater lake is 2 km in circumference and was formed over 2000 years ago, and framed by a laurel of nature within Miyake Nature Center. Truly a thing of beauty.
The coast of Miyakejima was largely formed by lava cooling, and over time interesting geo-spots have formed to create this beautiful volcanic landscape. Megane Rock (Spectacle rock) is one such result, formed by two enormous arches lined together which have eroded over time to create a formation that looks like spectacles.
Natural tidal pools reach as far as 50m across the lava rock surrounded coast.
Miyakejima is truly a minimally touched natural formation, vastly different from the city. On this volcanic island, you’ll find simple serenity deeply rooted in Japanese-culture, great for travelers who want to get away from it all.
The best way to get to Miyakejima from Tokyo would probably be to take a train to Choufu Station, then proceed to Choufu airport via a free shuttle bus from the South Exit.
Next, book a domestic flight to Miyakejima airport, which would take roughly less than an hour.
You can also travel by passenger ship from the Takeshiba Pier, which would take 6.5 hours.
*This post was brought to you in partnership with Tokyo Convention Visitors Bureau