Tokyo’s Treasure Islands

The fantastic islands south of Japan's central coast

Serena Ogawa   - 17 min read

Off the coast of Tokyo are eleven islands; the nine closest to Tokyo belong to the Izu Islands with the furthest two being in the Ogasawara Islands. It should come as no surprise that these islands are known for their wealth of unique flora and fauna, ocean resources, natural landscapes, and local specialty foods and products; in addition, each island also houses its own treasure trove of activities, wonders, and discoveries found nowhere else in Japan.

For a truly sensational journey, discover the heart, history, and culture of each one of these eleven islands and learn what makes each one a uniquely charming part of Japan.

Japan Travel recently conducted a survey of nearly 500 members where we gathered information on users who have an interest in travel and have visited or lived in Japan. While nearly two-thirds of those surveyed typically think of Okinawa when it comes to resort islands in Japan, there were still more than one-third who have heard of the 11 Tokyo Treasure Islands and even about 75 or so who had visited one or more of the Islands. Our responses came from over 50 countries with the US, UK, and France as the top three.

The first five islands are the closest to Tokyo and can be loosely grouped together as they form a somewhat connected line from Oshima down to Kozushima, with Toshima, Niijima, and Shikinejima in between. In our survey, the number one reason for visiting these islands was typically due to easy access from Tokyo followed by the urge to explore a new area with unique activities.

Oshima

Toted as an island of volcanic mystery thanks to Mount Mihara where if you are lucky plumes of smoke can be seen, Oshima is 105 minutes from Tokyo by high-speed boat (25 minutes by air via Chofu Airport) and the largest island of the Tokyo Treasure Islands. In addition to an active volcano—with its most recent eruption in 1986—there is a delicate beauty to be had on the island; visit the Tsubaki Tunnel, which is famous for its camellias, located near Oshima Park.

Oshima's volcanic caldera
Oshima's volcanic caldera

Survey note: From those surveyed, the most memorable part of their trip to Oshima was the nature and landscape, followed closely by experiencing local island activities such as hiking and mountain climbing at Mt. Mihara.

Toshima

Covered with around 200,000 camellia trees and sakuyuri lilies, Toshima Island is a unique seashell-shaped island with vestiges of the past. Famed for camellia oil and the culinary specialties of horned turban and Sakuyuri (a shochu made with sakuyuri lilies sold at Toshima Farm), Toshima offers visitors a unique and calm experience. Be sure to visit during camellia season to see the ground blanketed in pink-red flowers—a sublime sight.

Toshima's blanket of camellias
Toshima's blanket of camellias

Survey note: People who visited Toshima were often there to attend events. Similar to Oshima, those who visited Toshima enjoyed nature and activities, but Toshima Island is more known for being charming in its simplicity. Visitors here seemed to enjoy calming activities such as a light hike amid the quiet and relaxing natural environments.

Niijima

Niijima Island is beloved for its white waves that are perfect for surfing and other marine sports as well as Moyai statues (the local name for moai statues, derived from "Moyau" which means to join forces and help one another). Geologists may take a special interest in the island for its Koga stones—sponge-like pumice created by steam explosions from a volcano—this is one of two of the major places where Koga stones can be excavated, the other being in Italy. Be sure to also taste the local dried horse mackerel and sweet potatoes that are different from those on the mainland. The sweet potatoes are also fermented and used to create shochu, a distilled spirit loved by the locals. Niijima is 40 minutes by air via Chofu Airport.

The waves off of Niijima
The waves off of Niijima

Survey note: In addition to the attractive beaches, those who visited Niijima were often interested in triathlon and surfing activities followed by a trip to the hot springs. In the survey, activity interest was one of the strongest here of all 11 islands. This island ranked in our top three of the island people want to visit most.

Shikinejima

Those looking for a relaxing island time under the sun will find their paradise in Shikinejima Island. With a beautiful laguna of emerald waters perfect for swimming, lounging, and getting some sunshine, every beachgoer will fall in love with Tomari Swimming Beach. For further relaxation, try out one of the island’s many hot springs, Jinata Onsen is especially popular as a Spa of Internal Medicine. Try the red squid or gnomefish, and don’t forget to add capsicum peppers for a kick of flavor to your local dishes.

Shikinejima's beautiful laguna beach
Shikinejima's beautiful laguna beach

Survey note: Those who visit Shikinejima often pair the trip with nearby Niijima. Outdoors and onsens are the memorable attractions selected and 100% of visitors recommended the nature and landscapes found here.

Kozushima

Known as the “gathering place of the gods”, it’s easy to see why Kozushima Island might be beloved by the kami of Japan; gaze out at a sea of stars from the Miura Bay Observation Deck where a view of the Milky Way, unobstructed by lights, waits for you. It’s the perfect place for a starlit rendezvous. In 2020, Kozushima was even designated as an International Dark Sky Park, the second such zone to be certified in Japan by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). After your star viewing, appreciate a sea-styled menu of splendid alfonsino (kinmedai) and yellow-striped butterfish. Kozushima is 45 minutes by air via Chofu Airport.

Kozushima's night skies
Kozushima's night skies (Photo: Hiroyuki Narisawa)

Survey note: We did not have too many participants who have visited, but those who had recommended activities such as camping (currently all campsites are closed) and hiking at Mt. Tenjo as well as swimming and snorkeling at the Akasaki Promenade. People choose this area to get to an unexplored area of Japan more than any other reason.

The next two islands are a bit separated from the first five but are each within reach of Tokyo using boats and ferries on a different and marginally longer route than the first five islands. You could also reach these islands by plane or helicopter.

Miyakejima

A visit to the island of birds is sure to enthrall any avian lover. Miyakejima Island is known for the Akakokko bird, or endemic thrush, and harsh terrain that makes for a relatively untouched paradise. The peak of Mount Sanshichi homes an observation deck where birdwatching is a popular pastime. A specialty of the island, relatively unknown in other parts of Japan, is Angelica Keiskei, or ashitaba, which can be made into noodles and other foods, even soft-served ice cream. Miyakejima is 50 minutes by air via Chofu Airport.

Birds of Miyakejima
Birds of Miyakejima

Survey note: Activities are highest on the list of reasons for visiting. Many visitors chose group activities such as bicycle trips and swimming with dolphins as their reason for visiting Miyakejima. More visitors recommended activities here than on any other island. This island ranked in our top three of the island people want to visit most.

Mikurashima

Mikurashima Island is where nature coexists with people. With lush greenery and clear waters surrounding the island, it’s the perfect place for a quiet escape. Go swimming and diving with dolphins off the coast or visit the west coast for a view of Shirataki Waterfall. For souvenirs, take home boxwood or mulberry products crafted by local artisans or lovely photographs of the local orchids, Calanthe discolor (ebine in Japanese).

Mikurashima's dolphins
Mikurashima's dolphins

Survey note: Not many surveyed had made it to Mikurashima, but those who did found activities that could not be experienced anywhere else such as a volcanic mountain climb and dolphin diving off the rocky coast. There was also a very high interest in local products.

Islands eight and nine are starting quite a bit further off the Japanese coast and have a long ferry route or flight into Hachijojima. Aogashima is a small volcanic island that can be accessed from Hachijojima via boat or helicopter.

Hachijojima

A colorful paradise of tropical flowers, Hachijojima Island is only 55 minutes from Haneda Airport. Known as the birthplace of shochu making in the Izu islands, there are as many as four distilleries on the island. Visit the Uramigataki Waterfall, where you can walk a loop around the fall and see it from behind, which creates a unique perspective. After walking visit the nearby open-air hot spring to rest your weary muscles (a bathing suit is required). Another of the many spas on the island is Miharashi no Yu that faces the Pacific Ocean. Wherever you decide to visit Hachijojima, you’ll be entranced by the natural beauty.

Hachijojima
Hachijojima

Survey note: Many visitors found Hachijojma from the internet and signed up for group trips with a mix of snorkeling, hiking, and camping to fully explore the outdoors. This is an island people go to primarily because it is unique and unexplored. Some visitors praised the marine life such as whale viewing (sperm whales and killer whales).

Aogashima

Once an evacuated island due to a large-scale volcanic eruption in 1785, Aogashima was reinhabited 50 years later and remains so today. With a unique double volcano landform, Aogashima commemorates its history with a Kanju Monument (returning home). There are also many unique plants on the island, such as the Japanese bird’s nest fern (Ootaniwatari). While visiting be sure to try a soft-boiled egg cooked with geothermal heat and flavored with local sea salt. There is also shochu from Aogashima called Aochu that is made with natural koji and wild yeast using ootaniwatari. Each brand within Aochu has its own unique flavor distinct from other shochu on the market. It is produced in small quantities and is therefore extremely rare.

Aogashima's double volcano
Aogashima's double volcano

Survey note: Aogashima was the least visited of all 11 islands and considering the island's population is less than 200 that is not too surprising. The few who made it loved the nature and communication with locals who likely do not get too many western tourists!

The last two islands on our list are the farthest from Tokyo and are accessible via ferry. The journey to Chichijima and Hahajima will take you around 24 hours via ferry and the ferries run a few times a week during peak season or once a week otherwise. That being said, the ocean journey in itself is a grand experience and part of the appeal of many travelers.

Chichijima

Chichijima Island is a veritable host of natural wonders. From December to May, boat tours take visitors out to see nearby herds of humpback or sperm whales. The rest of the year can be spent lazing on the beautiful beaches or visiting Minamijima, an uninhabited smaller island to the southwest where green turtles lay eggs between May and August. Let your taste buds have a vacation too, with flavorful mango and coffee being a specialty of the land and marlin being a great dish from the sea.

Turtles of Chichijima
Turtles of Chichijima

Survey note: The few people that made it to Chichijima chose this place as it was on their list of places to visit. Nature, activities, and local products are all highly recommended. Examples of activities here include beach-going, diving, snorkeling, and fishing. There are also a few unique activities such as swimming with sea turtles and picking coffee beans at a local coffee farm. Chichijima Island ranked in our top three of the islands people want to visit most.

Hahajima

The entirety of the Ogasawara Islands, including Hahajima, was registered as a World Natural Heritage site due to its unique flora, fauna, and ecosystem, a subtropical marine island environment. This beautiful island has preserved nature and a touted eco-tourism base with special indigenous plant and whale tours. See flora unique only to the island in the dense forests; in addition, rare species of birds can be seen close up as well. From the beaches of Miyukinohama, snorkel in the pristine waters and discover fossils, fish, and other marine wonders. Indulge in the mouthwatering passionfruit, mini tomatoes, and rum, especially appetizing during summer.

Hahajima: fruit and beaches
Hahajima: fruit and beaches

Survey note: Less visited than its neighboring island, Hahajima was praised for its activities and nature as well. Activities include hiking tours in the deep forest of Sekimon. There are also hiking tours that take you through remnants of World War II. Hahajima is also a popular spot for diving and other beach and water activities.

Tokyo Treasure Islands official web site

Serena Ogawa

Serena Ogawa @serena.ogawa

Travel Editor for Japan Travel by day, novel-writing cat lady by night.