Saturday, October 23

The exotic islands of Tokyo, the Galapagos of Japan

When we think of Tokyo an image of skyscrapers invades our mind. A large overcrowded city, home to some 14 million people, full of lights, bustling, frenetic pace and somewhat dehumanized. A fascinating, surprising and crazy city that captivates with the most disparate contrasts that we can imagine. But what few know is that Tokyo is much more, a place full of islands where you can even see whales and dolphins.

In addition to being a large metropolis, Tokyo is also one of the 47 prefectures into which Japan is divided. The most densely populated of all, yes, but even so part of its territory is divided into islands where absolutely no one lives. A chain of volcanic islands where the rush disappears, tranquility reigns and nature is the protagonist.

The islands of Tokyo can be divided into two: the islands of Izu, the closest, and the islands of Ogasawara, the most remote. They all have a special charm, but the further south we travel, the more beautiful and wild they appear before us.

The islands of Izu, a quick getaway from Tokyo

Those of Izu are the closest islands to the city of Tokyo. Capital that, let’s not forget, is also found on an island, that of Honshu. For many Japanese and foreigners, this small archipelago becomes the perfect place for a beach vacation, enjoying its crystal clear waters, its mountains, its forests and its hot springs. In fact, volcanic onsen, traditional Japanese baths, are one of its great attractions.

It is not difficult to get to Izu. From the Takeshiba ferry terminal in Tokyo, we are two hours by boat from Oshima Island, which is the largest and most accessible of the Izu. But to reach others, such as Niijima, Shikinejima, Kozushima, Miyakejima, Mikurajima, Hachijojima and Aogashima, the journey is not much more complicated. If not, you can also fly to Oshima from Tokyo.

The Izu are perfect for enjoying water sports. Its warm waters are an invitation for lovers of snorkeling and diving, and even surfing if we go to the island of Niijima. Oshima, for its part, is ideal for hiking thanks to its Mount Mohara, a volcano that awakens every 30 or 40 years, and if we visit it between January and March we will enjoy the spectacle of its many varieties of flowering camellias.

The islands of Ogasawara, the Galapagos of the East

But the true spectacle of Tokyo Prefecture is on the Ogasawara Islands. This UNESCO World Heritage archipelago is a true natural paradise. So much so that they are even known as “the Galapagos of the East”, given the isolated process of evolution from the mainland. The Ogasawara are located a thousand kilometers south of the main island of Japan and are made up of neither more nor less than thirty small islands.

As a curiosity, it is interesting to know that the Ogasawara Islands were discovered by a Spanish expedition in October 1543, and that Bernardo de la Torre, who was in command, baptized them as the Archbishop’s Islands. In 1593 the Japanese came to them from the hand of the samurai Ogasawara Sadayori and that is how we know them today.

It is a remote place, to get there you have to take a 25-hour ferry ride and the boat, the Ogasawara-maru Liner, he only makes that trip once a week. Of all of them, only two are inhabited, Chichijima and Hahajima, and the depopulation makes it an ideal destination for astronomy lovers, since the absence of artificial light makes its skies shine brightly when night falls.

UNESCO paid attention to them because they are the refuge of more than 190 species of birds in danger of extinction, the home of more than 400 native plants and a place that has exceptional marine life. In fact, it is a reference for the observation of cetaceans such as sperm whales from May to November, humpback whales from February to March and, of course, also dolphins. And if you want to discover its seabeds, on Sakiura beach, in Chichijima, you have even a wreck waiting for you under its crystalline waters: the Hinko-maru, a Japanese ship sunk during World War II. For although it may not seem like it now, the Ogasawara Islands were once a battlefield. In fact, the island of Iwo Jima is one of them.

The Ogasawara Islands maintain their essence thanks to eco-tourism that is respectful of their natural ecosystems. They are fragile spaces, very sensitive to human presence and their protection is essential for their conservation. One of the islands, that of Minamijima, which is only twenty minutes by boat from Chichijima, is famous for its geological formations, such as a striking stone arch under which the sea passes before resting on the fine sand of its beach. So if we add vegetation, fauna and geology we can say that we are in a truly unique corner of Japan.

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