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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Niijima Island


Niijima, 160km south of Tokyo, is part of the Izu Islands (Izu-shoto) which also include Oshima, Toshima, Kozushima and Shikine-jima. The outer group of islands includes Hachijojima, Mikurajima and Mitakejima. The islands are actually part of Tokyo!

Niijima was a place of exile in the Edo Period (1603-1868) but is now a popular surfer's paradise in summer, though largely deserted of visitors at other times.

Habushi-ura is the best surfing, windsurfing and swimming beach on the island - over 6km of fine white sand and good waves. Maehama is a smaller beach on the other side of the island.

If you come outside the surfing season, hire a bicycle and enjoy the peace and tranquility the island offers after Tokyo. Things worth seeing include the hot-springs at Yunohama Onsen and Mamashita Onsen and the the Niijima Modern Glass Art Center (Tel: 04992 55140), where you can see glass-blowers at work.

Moyai Hill, which overlooks the two main beaches contains Niijima Stone Zoo, with over 100 stone sculptures. The Moyai statue, a popular meeting place near Shibuya Station in Tokyo, is a gift from Niijima.

The Niijima Museum, which tells the history of the island, also has an interesting display of surfboards on show. Choeiji Temple dates from the 13th century and includes the graves of political prisoners sent to the island in past times.

Basho, the famous haiku master visited Niijima in 1698 by wooden boat, while modern visitors can now fly to the tiny airport on Niijima from Chofu Airport or to Oshima from Haneda Airport.

Most people arrive, however, on the overnight ferry from Takeshiba Sanbashi Pier near the north exit of Hamamatsucho Station (8 hours, 45 minutes) or on high-speed hydrofoils from the same port.

The overnight ferry visits the other islands in the inner group of the Izu Islands in a loop before returning to Tokyo: travel times are Oshima (6 hours, 15 mins), Toshima (7 hours), Shikine-jima (9 hours, 15 mins) and Kozushima (10 hours, 15 mins).

The colorful jet boats, also operated by Tokai Kisen (Tel: 03 5472 9999) are much quicker but more expensive. Times to the islands are as follows: Oshima (1 hour, 45 mins), Toshima (2 hours, 15 mins), Niijima (2 hours, 50 mins), Shikine-jima (3 hours, 10 mins) and Kozushima (3 hours, 40 mins).

Shinshin Kisen (a subsidiary owned by Tokai Kisen) runs ferries from Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula to Niijima (4 hours) and other Izu islands. There is also a local boat connecting Niijima with Shikine-jima.

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