Besides looking like a marine fortress, the island is known for inspiring the critically acclaimed anime Your Name (Kimi no Nawa). The heroine’s birthplace is surrounded by an equally fabulous landscape, forged by the impact of a comet. In the case of Aogashima, hell was unleashed from the depths of the oceans rather than from space 🙂
How to get there!?
In my case, by ferry from Hachijojima! But that’s not the only option. In fact, visitors generally travel by helicopter, also from Hachijojima..
The problem with the ferry is that it’s cancelled most of the time! Watch it manoeuvring at the dock … at Aogashima it’s difficult, every time! Impossible to really plan a trip … unless you stay on Hachijojima and wait for the gods to relent. So I booked in at a guesthouse near Hachijojima port, waited for the right conditions, and jumped on the ferry as soon as everything fell into place.
Another option is to book a flight in advance. Only 8 places (and a waiting list in case of cancellation, which I tried …). So you need to book a few months beforehand. Not at all my style, unfortunately, and no wish to land at Aogashima in the rain, even less to be stuck inside a copter in a storm! 🙁
I was lucky because, if all went well I’d find a couple of companionable guys … and so it turned out! Everything had indeed fallen into place, and how. Add a hire car (essential) which was waiting for us at the dock and off we went. Here’s a taster from my drone …
This is how Aogashima looks, there’s no beach, the lush greenery is concentrated inside the caldera, there’s no incredible waterfall (despite a photo posted online of somewhere else, or it’s a montage). The island has just the one route out of the port which somehow or other leads to the only village. Then it takes you to various spots and around Maruyama, the central cone. Come on, let’s go!
Maruyama, the inner crater
I might be from Bordeaux, but I couldn’t make you a cannelé French pastry if I tried. Or if I did it would probably look like Maruyama! A cream puff? Sprinkled with stunningly diffused light, our sunken snack just begs to be savoured.
The walkabout is soon over: barely 45 minutes. But it’s quite an experience. We’re on Aogashima, even better! We fool around at its heart, the very cradle of its existence! A mystical aura pervades, flowers and colours contrast with the intoxicating greenery, until we think we’ve landed on another planet.
The volcanic activity of Aogashima is intense, the steam from fumaroles rising crazily all round Maruyama. And because – don’t forget! – this is Japan, every effort is made to turn them into attractions. Here you can heat or reheat dishes using the volcanic heat, or better, warm yourself up in a sauna. We choose the second option. So here is Fureai, Aogashima’s one and only sento and geothermal sauna.
Sexier than hot spring eggs …
And that’s about it.
I think we’ve pretty much seen all the sights of Aogashima. But as I sense you wanting more, let’s ride further along the island’s kune-kune road. Kune-kune (く ね く ね) onomatopoeically conveys the shape of this route so well.
The state of the road and the efforts made to protect it show how hazardous (human) life is on Aogashimar. Fishing is difficult, agriculture is very limited, ferry access is a problem … and the road connecting the port to the village is threatening to collapse! So I’m wondering, why not leave this island to the birds?
In fact there used to be another port. We stumbled across it trying to follow a crumbling track.
I have the strange impression that supporting human settlement on Aogashima has political and military aims. A huge ultra-modern military base could even be hidden under the island!? Let’s be crazy, come on, a total extra-terrestrial civilization trying to get used to humanity, very subtly, by emerging from time to time in Aogashima City 😼 Speaking of which …
The little town is located on the raised plateau, at the ship’s bow as it were. With barely a hundred islanders, there’s no need for much infrastructure, and to defy the violence of the elements the buildings are simple concrete constructions. There’s no restaurant on the island, only a very basic shop, a petrol station, some guesthouses and … a bar!
Down from the town, towards the end of the island, is the one and only farm.
Here lives a wagyu breeder. You know, that luxury beef from the king of Japanese cattle. They luxuriate in their massages, while soaking up kegs of beer, watching Netflix (“classical music is for old nerdy cows” – as they delight in telling us) … awaiting their hour of glory at the guillotine! The simple truth is that these animals are very well treated and live healthy lives (2–3 years) in the open air. Those from Aogashima are sent to Kobe. The meat is commercialized as Kobe Beef, although they come from a much more unlikely place.
Just to please me, go and eat wagyu that’s not necessarily stamped Kobe Beef, so not necessarily in Kobe, and even less in restaurants that boast of being the best. Away from the city, ask the locals where to eat wagyu and they’ll point you in the right direction. Sorry if I’m getting carried away … but it’ll soon be sunset!
Otonbu, Oyama, and Todaisho Sanctuary
All these sites are concentrated in roughly the same place, between the town and the inner crater. There’s just a few routes to choose from, with no more than half an hour’s hike to reach any of them.
Why not click on these photos to enlarge them and so appreciate the authentic atmosphere of Aogashima. Imagine being here with your besties, bowled over with excitement before this majestic spectacle!
An evening on Aogashima
And crazy it was! We were lucky enough that day to find a room in the minshuku (B&B) Aogashimaya (あ お が し ま 屋 ). We ended up having dinner with ten other guys, who really didn’t want to reveal anything about what they were doing on the island, except that some had already been there for a few months. But after excellent sushi and shots of sake, the masks fell: they work for the telecommunications company NTT! But they managed to stay discreet, so difficult to find out more.
Afterwards we’re still rather thirsty – just as well because there’s a bar on the island: Monji. There we met the locals among other NTT workers, and learned one of the island’s secrets. It’s a super-fast connection (fibre?) that’s being installed! What it’s to be used for remains a mystery.
After drinking half their supply of Ao-chu – the local shochu (vodka-like liquor) – and joining in the karaoke, we go out to stargaze beside the king cattle, also drunk on their beer. The Milky Way can even be seen … how’s that for a magical day?
The next morning, we again explore the island’s little roads, flying the drone here and there, literally exploding its memory cards. But I think I’ve said it already and made it OBVIOUS so you’ll REALLY know how much I loved Aogashima.
A workman against the wall
On the way back to the port, we risk a barred route to have a look at the retaining walls. There we find a workman who confides that he’s been here for months, condemned to shore up an island in a constant state of collapse. He spends his life beside these concrete walls that demand endless repair, and his evenings very much alone. He recounts that many of his workmates suffer from depression, while others have left the island.
And don’t forget: Aogashima is a full-blown active volcano. In 1785, it had already destroyed half the population (the others had fled). The islanders still live in fear of another eruption.
…. so yes. Again I ask the question :
Why don’t we leave this island to the birds?
I’d like to thank the Tokyo taxpayers, as well as the Mysterious Reason that makes Aogashima accessible to humans. Thanks to you, I’ve had an unforgettable experience.
Shed a tear and we are here, back on Hachijojima. The island’s renowned abandoned hotel can be seen, but … that’s a tale for another day.