Touring the Tiniest Town in Japan
You don’t know inaka until you have visited the smallest town in Japan: Aogashima. This tiny island is technically still part of Tokyo, and is the southernmost tip of the Izu Island chain. The population hovers around 170 and on the “stuff to do” scale, it sits somewhere just above 1. The island is accessible by a scenic helicopter ride or by ferry, and it’s a great place to spend a day or two.
Aogashima’s main attraction is its geologic anomaly, the double volcano. The island itself is one volcano, and another smaller volcano sits inside the caldera of it. The donut-like site can be reached by hiking trails, which lead up from Aogashima town.
The main volcano also has steam vents around one side of it. The steam is scalding hot, and is used to power the public sauna, which is the perfect way to relax after a long day of hiking the island. Bring a few eggs with you, because the steam vents can also be used to cook food. Pots are available outside the sauna where you can steam your goodies.
The entire population of Aogashima lives on one small part of the island, where all amenities are also located. There are a few minshukus, a general store, the heliport, and a number of friendly locals who can help you find trailheads and sights. The island’s only harbor sits far away. Cameras record waves and weather, which then broadcast the images to everyone on the island. That way, you don’t have to make the trip to the ferry if it’s going to be canceled.
There’s not a lot of action on Aogashima, but it is a great place to unwind and experience Japan’s unspoiled nature. And by the time you head home, maybe your town won’t seem so small in comparison.
How to Get There
First, you need to get to Hachijo-jima. You can take a flight from Haneda in Tokyo on ANA or a ferry from Takeshiba port. Once in Hachijo, you have two options. The first is the helicopter (recommended). Tickets can be purchased at the TAL counter in the Hachijo airport. The flight takes about 20 minutes, and leaves Hachijo once a day (be sure to check in half an hour before to keep your seat). Tickets are approximately ¥11,500 each way. The helicopter seats nine. A cheaper option is to take the ferry. Tickets can be purchased from the ferry office at Sokodo Port in Hachijo. The ferry takes about 2.5 hours, and tickets are approximately ¥2,500 each way. The ferry is less reliable than the helicopter, though, since waves between Hachijo and Aogashima can be rough.
Where to Stay
I recommend the minshuku Aji Sai, but I can’t find the direct phone number. There are a few other minshukus on the island, and all provide meals with your stay. There are no restaurants on Aogashima. There is also a free campground on the volcano, but be sure to bring your own food if you stay there. Call the village office for more information on where to stay: 04996-9-0111
What to Do
Definitely plan a day to hike around the volcanoes. Be sure to check out the trails that lead up from Aogashima town (where all the buildings are), because the trails there are well-marked and easy to climb. Also, sit for a spell in the volcano-powered sauna. Near the sauna, check out the salt shop where Aogashima’s famous salt is manufactured. Since the town sits on steep cliffs, getting down to the ocean to swim isn’t all that easy. You can splash around near the harbor, though. Keep your eye out for dolphins.
What to Buy
Aogashima is famous for two things: salt and shochu. The salt is made by slowly drying ocean water over the volcanic vents. And I can attest that it is delicious. The shochu (or aochu) is different from any other Japanese shochu I’ve tasted. It’s hard to describe the taste, but give it a try.