A few years ago, my friend strongly recommended to visit Ogasawara Islands as it is one of Japan’s richest places in terms of nature, with deep-blue and clean ocean and local village warmness, but I hesitated to go. Ogasawara Islands comprise a group of about 30 oceanic islands located 1,000 km south of Tokyo. It requires a 2-night stay on board the Ogasawara Maru for a round trip from Tokyo Bay Takeshiba Pier to Ogasawara Islands. I couldn’t imagine how I would be able to waste 48 hours for just transportation. 9 days are the maximum number for my summer vacation and 2 days on board is unbelievable. However, after visiting Hachijojima Island and Yakushima Island, I was fascinated with the scenery and experience on Japanese islands. Finally, I decided to go to Ogasawara Islands before my kids become teens to show them different aspects of Tokyo. Here are the highlights of Ogasawara Maru Cruise.
On board Ogasawara Maru
The Ogasawara Maru sails from Tokyo Bay Takeshiba Pier, departing at 11:00am and arriving at Futami Port on Chichijima Island at 11:00am the following morning. I understood how large the Earth is after making this 24-hour long journey of 1000 km to Chichijima Island.Unfortunately, our journey started with huge waves as a result of a Typhoon. I felt it was more than 3 days to stay on the boat due to my seasickness. When my son vomited I tried to take care of him, but I couldn’t go close to him at all. Local people advised me to take some medicine for motion sickness and to eat biscuits, a rice ball or jelly before sailing. After boarding, I tried drinking lots of water and just laying down straight in the cabin for 24 hours.We gave ourselves one rule boarding Ogasawara Ship to Ogasawara Islands: catch every sunset and sunrise. The sun rises early around 5:00 am so we started quite early each day. Then every evening we would catch the sunset on the deck.
There are several cabin options on board the Ogasawara Maru, from a Suite room through to an Economy room shared with 20 people. We stayed this room didn’t have bathroom but public bathroom was so clean and wasn’t no problem. One restaurant and one kiosk which you can buy snacks and cup noodles.
How long to stay
The peak season is from June to August. August is typhoon season, so Ogasawara Maru is often cancelled due to bad weather. August boarding tickets are sold in early June. After purchasing Ogasawara Maru’s boarding tickets, you need to book hotels immediately. Usually, travel agents provide 2 nights for a round-trip and 3 nights when staying for an Ogasawara Islands tour. If you want to stay much longer than 3 nights in Ogasawara Islands, you will need to make reservations by yourself.
Cancellation of the ship
Once the ship is cancelled, the next ship is usually full as the maximum capacity of the Ogasawara-maru is 800. Visitors to the Ogasawara Islands sometimes have to extend their stay before going back to the mainland. In these cases, hotels and guesthouses are full of guests but the amount of food is limited. Hotels sometimes serve only Japanese Curry Rice to the guests to make it through till the next ship brings foods from the mainland.
Farewell from Ogasawara
The most touching event happened on the final day. Each time when Ogasawara Maru leaves the Port, islanders come to the Port for a send-off. Islanders value each meeting and encounter on the islands and see people off wholeheartedly with a wish to meet again. I hesitated to come to Ogasawara Islands, but this send-off event made me convinced to come back again.On the departure day to Chichijima Island from Hahajima Island, local people from the guest house and shops came to say “i-te ra-shai” in Japanese (see you and take care) instead of saying goodbye and they dived into the sea as a farewell. At Chichijima Island, the scale of the send-off event was much bigger than Hahajima Island with lots of islanders attending. Several boats followed the Ogasawara Maru and the passengers jumped into the sea for send-off. We were so moved to find a fishing boat which we took on the previous day. The boat overtook other boats with high speed to say “i-te ra-shai” to us. We shouted back to the captain loudly.
On Hahajima Island, the number of islanders at the send-off event was about 20 and some of them ran up to the end of the jetty and jumped into the sea at the moment of departure.
A little bit of History
Japanese settlers arrived to Ogasawara Islands in the mid 19th century and prospered from whaling. Settlers planted sugar and pumpkin, using the advantage of the subtropical climate, which they could sell to the mainland in winter. The population increased to 6,000. However, in 1944, due to World War Ⅱ, people were forced to evacuate to the mainland. In 1968 people were allowed to go back or migrate to Ogasawara Islands.
Only 50 years have passed since people started to live on Ogasawara Islands. The population of Ogasawara Islands have remained at the same number. The population of Chichijima Island is about 2,000 and Hahajima Island population is less than 500. Tourists come to Ogasawara Islands for fishing or scuba-diving and some of them migrate here for pursuing their new life with natural surroundings. Immigrants tend to migrate from city areas in Japan, so they often start cozy cafes and practical shops in city-like neighborhoods. Islanders look to not intervene in each others’ lives too much. This tendency is a little bit different from other historical and sparsely-populated areas in Japan.
I met several young families who were raising kids while managing their own businesses. They started to open guest houses and cafes and provided tourist services. I felt newcomers to Ogasawara Islands understand what tourists want because they used to be tourists themselves. My son is eager to migrate to Ogasawara to graduate from Ogasawara High School and he is seriously trying to find the best way to live and work here.