Monday, March 23, 2009

Izu Oshima

I took a short trip to Izu Oshima, an island off the coast of Tokyo. It took about two hours to get there by hydrofoil, and I enjoyed a beautiful evening walk on the beach.

Izu Oshima is technically part of Tokyo, but it feels so different. Its towns are quiet, working class and a bit run down, which makes me feel comfortable there.

There was only one restaurant in the town I stayed in, and since I chose not to have meals at my hotel I either ate at the restaurant or bought food at the grocery store for every meal. This is a sashimi (raw fish) rice bowl. This fish is marinated in sake and soy sauce.

Oshima is famous for its active volcano, which most recently erupted in 1986. This is the volcano from a distance.

There is a hiking trail to the top of the volcano, going through the hardened lava flows.

Periodically along the trail there are shelters, in case of eruption. I was glad that I didn't have to use one!

Along the way there were places where smoke came out of the ground.

This is the crater. I didn't stay long because it was really cold and windy, and snowing!

Me with lava rock - trying to smile but it was so cold up there!!

Izu Oshima is also famous for its flowers, especially camellias. These are Oshimia cherry blossoms at the entrance to the camellia park.

Camellias come in many colors.

Every evening during the camellia festival, the island people put on a show for tourists. I really like that men in Japan can dance around with fans. People here don't have the same image of masculinity as we have in the U.S. For example, men like to attach tiny stuffed animals and decorations to their cell phones, and recently I saw a 40-year-old man with a small teddy bear attached to his tote bag.

The performance was part of the island's camellia festival. There was dancing, and a pachinko (Japanese gambling) game. I was the only gaijin (foreigner) in the audience. I think most of the Japanese tourists were in tourist groups rather than traveling independently, and I was the only one by myself. A group of three local men was sitting near me, and they were enjoying a few beers and cheering boisterously while watching the performance. Seeing that I was the lone foreigner, they befriended me and brought me gifts of tea and the island's famous milk.

They showed me how to play the pachinko game, and at the end of the performance when the dancers invited the audience to dance, the local men insisted that I dance. They borrowed my camera and took lots of funny pictures of me dancing.

Also in Oshima I soaked in a hot spring pool on a cliff above the ocean. It was amazing to soak in the water while watching the ocean and the activity in the harbor. Even though it was raining, it felt great to soak in the hot water.
Unlike most hot springs in Japan, bathers wear swimming suits at this one because women and men bathe together. Photo borrowed from the internet.

Not too many people spoke English on Izu Oshima, and I had to struggle more to communicate in the little bit of Japanese I've learned, but many people on the island reached out to help me, the lone foreigner, get my transportation, lodging, eating and entertainment needs met. I want to visit this island again in the summer time.

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