MAXING & RELAXING
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... of old culture and new culture, Edo-era architecture and futuristic new buildings, traditional food and delicious new styles of cuisine, hidden bars, laneways and 37 million people. And while this patchwork of lanterns and busy intersections, high-rise buildings and people (so many people) is intoxicating and exciting, it’s not absurd to crave some fresh air sometimes. Fortunately, there’s all that in Greater Tokyo too.
Who knew that travelling an hour in the right direction would bring you to a volcano? To world class surf breaks? To mountains, forests, rivers and remote beauty?
Within an hour of Tokyo to the west is the Tama region: Where mountains melt into glacial waters, flowing as rivers through gorges and making fresh water to go with the fresh countryside air.
An hour’s flight to the south-east will bring you to the extraordinary (and mostly unknown) Izu Islands: a series of tiny, stunning islands where any adventure feels possible. It’s easy to find thrills in this part of the world, but it seems just as easy to chill, as well.
We’ve found seven genuinely awesome adventurous outdoor experiences that are all within cooee of the capital. And because this is Japan, we’ve paired those with seven nearby experiences where you can wind down, and take it easy afterward.
For more than just the epic chaos of the famous bright lights of Shibuya or Shinjuku, be sure to add the peace and tranquillity of the outdoors to your Tokyo adventure.
MAX | EXPLORE A VOLCANO CRATER
Mt Hachijo-Fuji gets its name from the very famous mountain in central Japan, which it bears an uncanny resemblance to. Climb to the 854 metre, cone-shaped summit through (slightly random for a mountain) cattle-grazing pastures and a small dairy farm. Explore the epic volcano crater at the top, and take in the views from the highest spot in the Tokyo Islands.
RELAX | BATHE IN THE NATURAL SPRINGS AT THE VOLCANO BASE
Being a volcano, the area is naturally pretty volcanic (who would have thought) which means there are natural springs bubbling away beneath ground. There’s a bunch of onsens (a Japanese hot spring) warmed by natural thermal springs to choose from on the island and while they’re all great spots to unwind and relax after a hard day of volcano hiking, Miharashi-no-Yu is the pick.
From Tokyo: The Akigawa Valley is a one-hour train ride from the centre of Tokyo, or about one episode of Tokyo Vice.
MAX | CYCLING AKIGAWA VALLEY
It is difficult to believe that within an hour of hopping on a train in the unmitigated frenzy that is Tokyo Station, you could end up in the lush greenery of the Akigawa Valley. Let clean air fill your lungs as you pedal through a new, purpose-built cycling route, a relatively short (20 kilometre) but steep route amongst mountains, rivers, forests and gorges.
RELAX | A 32O-YEAR-OLD SAKE BREWERY
Calves burning and bum hurting? You’ve earnt a sake, my friend. Nearby Ozawa Brewery’s sake is brewed with clear, clean water straight from the Okutama river and mountainside. Creaking wooden floorboards and old-school wooden shelves piled high with bottles of sake will make you feel as if you’re in Ollivander’s Wand Shop from Harry Potter, but it’s not purely for looks: this brewery has been around since 1702.
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From Tokyo: Niijima Island is a 40-minute flight from Tokyo, or a little longer than one episode of Iron Chef.
MAX | TOKYO'S SECRET SURFING ISLAND
Japan mightn’t be the first place you think of when it comes to getting barrelled and stoked, but that’s only because you haven’t heard of Niijima Island. With a population of less than 3,000, there’s around 10 uncrowded breaks on the island for surfers of all experience and ability. White sand and emerald green water make these picture perfect, postcard-like waves that also happen to spurt out barrels on a consistent basis. Start practising those shakas.
RELAX | BURY YOURSELF IN SAND
Sunamushi translates to ‘sand steam’. Whereas surfing is a relatively new activity in these parts, this is a practice that has been taking place for at least 300 years. Due to the volcanic activity, the sand is naturally hot (around 50-55 degrees Celsius). After you lay down in a special robe at Sunamushi Mamashita, staff will promptly bury you in sand the way you did to your younger sibling on the beach as a kid. Relax, and let the sand do the work. It’s said to be four times more effective than a normal hot spring.
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From Tokyo: Oshima Island is just a 25 minutes flight from Tokyo ... not even enough time for an episode of Pokémon.
MAX | EXPLORE TOKYO'S DESERT
Who the hell knew there was a desert in Japan, let alone in Greater Tokyo? Certainly not us, but we’re into it. Ura-Sabaku Desert on Izu Ōshima is an otherworldly spot covered in small black volcanic rocks that give you the feeling you’re on Mars, rather than half an hour away from Tokyo. Explore a spot that is not only unlike anywhere in Japan, but unlike anywhere else on the planet.
RELAX | ISLAND NIGHTLIFE
The term ‘nightlife’ means something different on Ōshima. Explore Earth’s own Mars during the day, and then look up at the real thing at night, admiring the crystal clear skies that have yet to feel the effects of pollution. Curl up under a blanket and listen to a local astronomer talk you through the magic of the night sky.
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From Tokyo: The Tama region is a one-hour train ride from the centre of Tokyo, or about half of the latest remake of Godzilla.
MAX | TAKE ON MT TAKAO
Some of the best hiking and outdoor activities in Japan are in the Tama region, an hour’s train trip west of Tokyo. Mt Takao is one of these. Hike the stunning trail to the top, where you can grab a beer at the all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink Beer Mount which hangs over the edge. Depending on how many you end up having, the trip back down may go a lot faster or a lot slower.
RELAX | RUN AWAY TO THE CIRCUS
Circus Outdoor wants to “create the world's most beautiful outdoor field in Tokyo's secret forest”. They’re on their way too because this place looks legit. Circus Outdoor was named as it feels, as you wander between circus tents overlooking the beautiful hills of the Tama region. Vintage furniture fills every tent, and you can lash out and hire a butler too, which is pretty wild.
From Tokyo: Hopping on a plane will get you there in 55 minutes, or about two episodes of Naruto.
MAX | REEL ONE IN ...
If you’re an adventurous angler, then this is for you. The reward for fishing in such a remote and unique location is access to fish that you may never get on the end of your line again again. It’s easy to find someone to tailor a charter boat to meet your needs, and the Hachiojima Fishing Club also loans out gear to help you catch that monster tuna.
RELAX | ... AND THEN COOK IT UP LATER
Fish doesn’t get much fresher than when you catch it and eat it the same day. If you manage to reel one in, head to the village to learn ‘himono’: the Japanese style of gutting, drying and then grilling fish. It always tastes better when you catch it yourself.
From Tokyo: O.K, this one isn’t quite within an hour. It’s actually closer than some of the other Tokyo Islands, but can only be reached by a ferry, which takes about 24 hours. The ferry is more than comfortable, though, and the 24 hours are so worth it once you’re there drinking rum. Buy a second bottle for the return trip.
MAX | DIVE THE ASIAN GALAPAGOS
Due to how uninhibited the ‘Asian Galapagos’ has been, divers who make it to the islands of the Ogasawara archipelago (also known as the Bonin Islands) will be stunned with the vibrancy of the hard, healthy coral reef that exists. Dive alongside tropic fish, whales and dolphins…but be sure to stay away from the endemic Tiger Sharks.
RELAX | DRINK RUM ... FRESH FROM THE SEA
They do things differently here, something that’s also not restricted to fermentation techniques. Since 2014, Rum has been aged underwater here, a process inspired by delicious tasting wine found in sunken shipwrecks around the world. Enjoy an Ogasawara Rum at the Le Ciel drinking hut on Hahajima Island…’fresh’ (kind-of) from the sea bed.
Please visit the Official Tokyo Guide for COVID-19 Health & Safety Information: Gotokyo.org/en/
Fly to Tokyo and from there, all of these destinations are pretty closely within reach. Air Nippon are one airline that offer flights to the Izu Islands, and a metro card will be enough to get you to the Tama region. Japan is open to travellers again from June 10, 2022.
There is basic accommodation available on most of the islands – check with Go Tokyo ahead of time, or make your own way once you get there.
There are still nine completely uninhabited islands in the Izu Islands.