36 views of Mt. Fuji, camellia oil, Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, Hokusai, Izu archipelago, Izu Peninsula, jetfoils, Mt. Mihara, Niijima, Oshima, Oshima-san, Shizuoka, Takeshiba, the Camellia Festival, The Prince ParkTower Tokyo, Tokyo Tower, volcanic islands, Zojoji temple
I have always wanted to visit some of the several volcanic islands that form the Izu archipelago. Although the Izu islands are considered part of Tokyo, they seem actually closer to Shizuoka prefecture geographically. However, in terms of the transportational convenience these islands may be considered more accessible from the metropolitan Tokyo than other parts of Shizuoka due to a good number of available jetfoils, which can travel speedily between Takeshiba, Tokyo, and Oshima. The jetfoils seem to fly slightly above water so that one does not feel the effects of rolling ocean waves, etc. This winter, initially I wanted to visit Oshima as well as Niijima, which is famous for its beaches, a pseudo-Greek structure, glass-work studios, and an open onsen near the beach. However, this plan could not be realized due to a lack of convenient transportation (I mean “jetfoils”) between Oshima and Niijima. It seems the jetfoil service operates only between Tokyo and Oshima during the off-peak season such as late January and February.
My husband and I visited Oshima one day this February. Since Takeshiba. the port in Tokyo that jet foils depart and arrive from other ports, was located within walking distance from the Prince Park Tower Tokyo Hotel near the Tokyo Tower and Zojoji temple we got up early and walked to the pier to catch the jetfoil which was to leave for Oshima at 8:10am. We picked up breakfast (lattes and sandwiches) at a Starbuck on the way to the pier and stood in line to pick up the reserved tickets (for some strange reason we could not pick them up one day earlier). When we arrived at the ticket counter there was already a sizable number of people waiting at the ticket counter. There were two jetfoils that were scheduled to depart for Oshima at 8am and 8:10am. Things went swiftly like most boarding processes in Japan. In no time we were sitting in our assigned seats on the jetfoil. Since the weather was quite good (meaning sunny but not warm) the view from our seats was splendid. In fact, I took many photos of Mt. Fuji through the window of the boat (one cannot open the windows in this boat) after the manner of Hokusai, who created 36 views of Mt. Fuji. Our jetfoil stopped at Kurihama to release some passengers while picking up replacement passengers. Since the foil hovers over the water, I did not feel any boat-like swaying motions. At Oshima all of us were greeted by a group of Miss Camellias who were selected to entertain the tourists visiting Oshima at its Camellia Festival. Most of the tourists on the boat were part of the tours. Some of us who chose to move independently by rental cars were greeted by the rental car service people from another port of Oshima (we did make a reservation for this about 10 to 14 days prior to this trip).
My husband and I picked up Toyota Aqua hybrid and headed to the park where the arboretum and camellia museum were located. Oshima (though the name suggests a big island) was an island small enough to drive the entire surrounding coast in less than 2 hours, and thus we arrived at the park in no time. (I somehow wonder if Oshima-san, my favorite character in Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore, was named after this island.) In the museum about 50 different kinds of camellias (some small, some large, some red, some white, some marbled white and red camellias, etc.) were exhibited. We walked around the park finding different kinds of camellias (each one seems to blossom at a different time) after going through the gift shop area where Miss Camellias (?) or village young women were dancing to the local fold songs to greet us the tourists. In the gift shops the most prominent gift item was varied bottles of camellia oil because Oshima is famous for its camellia oil. Since we did not want to purchase anything fluid to burden us we did not buy camellia oil. (I have to confess: I don’t know how to use it anyway though I somewhat remember it was supposed to be good for hair. Later when I purchased a Heattech shirt from Uniqlo I noticed that the product information said that the cloth was woven together with Camellia oil to keep the fabric moisturized. So Camellia oil is used in many ways though probably not for eating.) We decided to drive around the entire island rather than moving to the top of the volcano, Mt. Mihara (my husband did not want to visit another volcano perhaps because he was a little worried about the possibility of its eruption).
From the southern tip of the island several islands, such as Toshima, Niijima, Shikinejima, could be seen. In some ways the beautiful sight of the blue sea and islands reminded me of the Greek islands (probably this is the reason why somebody thought of constructing a small Greek temple-like structure on Niijima). We were looking for a restaurant with a view at the southern tip of the island to have late lunch, but we obviously missed it. So we decided to have lunch at one of the small eateries at Motomachi, the port on the west side (we landed at Okada Port, the port on the north side of the island). Two of these eateries looked promising. One was called “Kaa-chan” (meaning Mommy) while the other was called “Tomodachi”(meaning friends).” I chose Kaa-chan over Tomodachi because the name seemed promising home-cooked meals. The restaurant was run by a middle-aged woman and a young woman. As we sat at the rough table made out of vertically sliced wood trunk, I noticed many “thank-you” notes written by mass-media (TV station) people. I also noticed a hand-written note that said “Please try to help yourself because we do not have enough helpers.” The meals were very reasonable (the sashimi-teishoku, set meal, costing about $16) and the meal we had was very good. This lunch at Kaa-chan helped us experience another local color of Oshima.
Our jetfoil ride back to Takeshiba was as pleasant and interesting as our ride to Oshima. I am hoping that we will visit other small islands in Izu archipelago when the weather is warm, though my husband seems less enthusiastic about such a plan.