This year, my wife and I traveled to the US early in December for our youngest daughter’s wedding. We couldn’t stay in the US for the whole month, so we had an early holiday celebration with the family, and returned to Japan.
Since this would be the first time ever away from our children at Christmas, we wanted to do something special and completely different. We looked at several options for an “away from home” Christmas, and finally opted for a short trip to Hachijojima, an island about 300 kilometers south of Tokyo.
There are two ways to get to Hachijo. One is a ferry that leaves Tokyo in the late evening and arrives at the island the next morning. The other is by air. ANA has three flights a day – a very short trip by air, about 50 minutes. The ferry sounded like fun, but we decided on the simplicity of a flight.
Our flight left on 23 December from Haneda airport. After being used to flying internationally, a domestic flight is refreshing. No immigration, no need for a passport. ANA has a simple and effective automated drop off point for baggage. A short stroll through security and we were headed to the gate.
Our flight was, as promised short and easy. We arrived at the small Hachijo airport 50 minutes after takeoff. Bags arrived quickly, and we were ready to go.
A Japanese friend had made car rental arrangements for us. We were to call the rental company, and they would pick us up at the airport. As we didn’t know how much English the rental company person would speak, we took the easy way out and asked a bilingual airport information person to call for us. A few minutes later, a friendly lady arrived to pick us up for the 2-minute ride to the car rental place.
Turns out the car rental guy spoke passibly good English. He took a copy of my US driver’s license and my International Driving permit (I don’t have a Japanese license), and asked if I needed the optional insurance, which I accepted. I was a bit surprised that they didn’t accept credit cards. Fortunately I had enough cash to cover the charge. No paperwork, no receipts – but very quickly, we had a small Suzuki car at tour disposal.
Driving on the island is pretty easy. Of course, as every place else in Japan, you drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. Takes a little time to get used to, but with little traffic, it wasn’t a challenge. Some of the roads are very narrow – which is quite unsettling when meeting an oncoming car. However, the car is really necessary for getting around the island.
We stayed at the Lido Park Hotel, a nice and comfortable place about 10 minutes’ drive from the airport. Many of the hotel staff only speak Japanese, but are very friendly. One man at the desk, and a young girl on the restaurant staff spoke good English. Even with our limited Japanese language skills, we had no problems with communication. We enjoyed the hotel, and our room had a nice ocean view.
Hachijojima has a variety of activities available. December is pretty much the off season – the island is probably much more active in the spring and summer months. Still, it is subtropical and the temperature was about 10 to 15 degrees warmer than Tokyo. We spent much of our first full day driving around the island and getting a feel for where things were located. There are some beautiful views of the ocean and adjacent island that can be seen from the comfort of your car.
Christmas day was sunny, cool and beautiful. We started the day with a hike up Mt. Nishi – also known as Hachijo-Fuji. We drove to a trail head, and took a rock trail to the top. It’s a fairly steep hike up to the rim of the volcano. At 854 meters, it is much smaller than Mt. Fuji. There is a trail around the rim, which we found to be more challenging than expected. The trail is narrow, rocky, and there are places with steep drops and climbs. But it is beautiful. This mountain is short enough that there is vegetation everywhere, on the outside of the mountain and into the crater. Views of the ocean and surrounding area are awesome. The hike around the rim took about an hour, and it was well worth the effort.
There are many other things to do on the island. We hiked to two waterfalls, and took the road around the island to see as many sights as we could in our short time available. There are many onsens – Japanese hot baths – available. We didn’t go on this trip, but they are a popular attraction.
Our short trip ended the day after Christmas. During our brief time on the island, we learned some things that will help us on our next visit. One, most places don’t take credit cards, so have cash (and, ATMs are available, so cash isn’t really a problem). Two, finding restaurants can be a challenge, particularly on a holiday in the off season. And three, most things close at around 5 p.m., at least in the off season, so don’t expect a lot of evening activities.
We thoroughly enjoyed our short time on Hachijojima, and look forward to another visit to this scenic and subtropical part of Japan.