Day trip from Tokyo: Sarushima island

Today we will talk about Sarushima, an “Uninhabited island in Tokyo Bay”. As the name hints, no people live on the island, and no monkeys (Saru-shima means monkey island) for that fact. The area of the island is approximately 55.000 km, equivalent to 4 times the area of Yokohama stadium, while the maximum altitude is 40 m. Surprisingly, it is the only naturally formed island in Tokyo Bay (together with Ukishima in Chiba prefecture). A visit to Sarushima is an easy excursion from downtown Tokyo.

In order to reach Sarushima, you need to first head down towards Yokosuka in Kanagawa, preferably using the Keikyu line. From there, the pier at Mikasa park is a walking distance away. Since Sarushima is uninhabited, only round trip tickets are available. The cost is 1400JPY plus 200JPY entrance fee to step on the island, because it is considered a national park. The boat ride lasts about 10minutes, the island is less than 2km away from the shore. There are cruises available every hour, from 9:30 until 15:30 daily.

If no one lives there, then why is Sarushima worth visiting? Well, it is mainly due to the historical context. Sarushima is located at the entry point of Tokyo bay, next to present day Yokosuka naval base of the U.S. military. Before the Americans called dibs on the location, it functioned as a naval base of the Tokugawa Shogunate and then the Japanese imperial navy. A small island at the entrance of the bay could easily serve as an entry checkpoint, as well as a military fort. In 1853, U.S. commodore Matthew Perry gave the island his name. For some years in the past, the general public was not allowed to even visit the island, so both the nature and the structures remain untouched to this day. The main function of the island was that of a defense formation, with several gun battery sites at the exposed east side.

The boat arrives at the west seashore, a large beach were the only modern structures of the island are located. The beach doubles as a BBQ area, with rental equipment and garbage collection available on the spot. It is a sandy, shallow beach, so it is also the recommended swimming spot of the entire island. Directly above, there is a visitor center and a wooden deck with tables for picnic or just chilling. At the moment, all the rental facilities were non-operational due to the virus emergency, but they will probably open up again as the situation eases.

While a lot of people prefer to spend the entire day here, there is a 60-minute path that takes you around the perimeter of the island. The start of the path is behind the deck and heads to the east and then back around. The first checkpoint is a relatively narrow path (cut passage) with barracks and an ammunition depot made of bricks on the side. The doors are blocked, so you can’t enter, but it is nonetheless interesting to watch unused structures fall into decay and be re-occupied by nature. There is also a small power station, initially built during Meiji era.

Soon after (reaaaaally soon, the distances are minimal) you come across a tunnel, but not any random tunnel; it’s the tunnel of love. I am pretty sure that the name is just an idea of some marketing manager and nothing more. If you are a war enthusiast, there seems to be some allure of the spot. At the entrance of the tunnel we saw two people clad in anime costumes and nazi flags having a photoshoot. Although it was indeed fans of an alternate reality anime and not a neonazi group, the scene still struck me as odd and, rather than disrespectful, widely ignorant. In any part of Europe, such a realistic cosplay would probably not have been tolerated, but in Japan it is just Sunday.

The tunnel of love is quite long and at its end it splits in two shorter tunnels, leading to four different battery sites. At the time it was built, the temperature during the process of baking the bricks was not kept uniform, resulting in bricks with a variety of colors, which adds a certain charm. Despite all military preparations, the island has never been in used in warfare, thus the structures remain untouched. No military equipment remains on the scene, apart from the cement base of the machinery.

Due to the large-scale typhoon two years ago, the prime fishing spot of the island, Yonenone, is not accessible for the time being. That small beach is also home to Nichiren Cave, where traces of Jomon era were discovered. If you are familiar with the Bhuddist tradition of Japan, you probably have come across the name of Nichiren Shonin in the past. Some 800 years ago, Nichiren, the founder of a sect and the Honmonji temple in Ota-ku in Tokyo, was crossing the bay from Chiba to Kamakura in Kanagawa. A passing storm cause the boat to lose direction and go adrift, until Nichiren saw the form of a white monkey, that led them safely ashore. The spirit-monkey that Nichiren witnessed is the origin of the name of Sarushima island.

The only way forward is the second best fishing spot, Oimonohana, a rocky ground ideal for catching fat greenlings, false kelpfish and rockfish. There is also an open space to enjoy the view towards the bay with three picnic tables. Several locations on the island are associated with popular movies, such as Raputa: Castle in the sky and Kamer Rider.

We turn around to head back to the beach through the observation tower in the middle of the island. It used to be the base of the first shocker, but no-one is allowed to enter the building. From there, there is excellent view towards Yokosuka city and Mount Fuji on a clear day. Look closely, and tell me if you can find the snow cap of Mt. Fuji in the photo?

We pass another gun battery site and suddenly the path towards the open space on the east is blocked, again due to the typhoon. Luckily, there is a staircase heading back to the barracks.

February is still quite cold, so I didn’t dare to swim. We headed to the peer to catch a ride back to try getting on a second cruise, around the military port this time. Unfortunately, Yokosuka Naval Port Cruise is cancelled for the time being due to the state of emergency in Kanto, so it has to wait for another time. Instead, I got myself a beautiful sukajan with a heron and enjoyed Dobuita street once more.

Read more about Yokosuka here:

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