With all the negative hype surrounding Japan at the moment, and possibly a lot more to come, I thought it might be time to take a look at some of her remaining beauty. For surfers, avoid Fukushima and surrounds like the plague, but if you like the idea of heading a little south and further offshore than rock-bottom ticket air ticket sales to the island nation will surely attract your attention.
I’m calling this blog series ‘Journey Japan’, and will do a succession of posts relating to safer surf travel destinations in the South. Remember the Fukushima situation is one that will take years to contain, so please travel safe and use this only as a guide. At the end of the day, trust in your own instincts and don’t go anywhere you feel might not be safe.
Most of the embassies have now lifted their travel warnings to Tokyo but check with yours to be sure. Flying into Narita is easy and cheap but do check various airlines as Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport is now in action and much closer to the city. As a surfer, a night or two in the big city should be enough to sustain and cravings for the usual sightseeing routine, but I do suggest getting yourself to Takeshiba Ferry Terminal in Tokyo as quick as you can and jumping on the two hour jet ferry ride to Niijima Island. Her transparent blue waters will welcome you with open arms.
Once the island you’re not far from anything at all, but your first tendency (other than diving off the ferry terminal into the inviting water) will most likely be finding a place to sleep. I’m a biased adventurer and this is my blog, so I’m going to recommend only two places; Habushira Camp Ground (free and stunningly beautiful) and local minshiku (Japanese style cheap inn accommodation) ‘Tomihachi’ run by local surfer Keisuke. And because I love the island as much for its incredible surf as the friendly locals and pristine natural environment, I’m not going to share too many details of how to find everything (that would take away the excitement surely!). I will say, however, that getting yourself a rental bicycle for as little as 500yen (about $5) a day is the ideal to get around on the island, so ask at the information desk inside the ferry terminal on where to rent (some of the local accommodations offer free bike rental).
Although there’s more than a handful of decent breaks scattered around the island, Habushira (found opposite the campground) is the most well known and not just for the good surf. The colours of Habushira are staggering; snow coloured sand trickling into turquoise waters, all back dropped by towering stone cliffs. The surf break is best with westerly winds and prefers swell from the south but Habushira can produce quality waves all year round and is especially enjoyable in summer and autumn when the water is warmest.
When you are all surfed out, head to the free onsen (hot springs) near the ferry port. The free baths are situated high atop the cliffs above the ocean; in good weather, expect to watch the sky dance to the remarkable beat of the setting sun from the warmth of the rock baths. After you’re refreshed again, ride down past the ferry terminal and along the coastline until you reach WAX Bar, the local hangout bar on the sand; pumping live music in Summer and where you will meet other travelling surfers and friendly islanders.
There’s only one alcohol shop on the island and it closes early. Local restaurants are pretty well priced but if you decide to camp make use of the free kitchen area and take a cooker to fry up your fresh catch; the fishing off Niijima is equally superb. Best to take cash with you as there are no convenience stores or international ATMs.
Niijima is equally family friendly; Kuni and I spent a week camping with Ryder last summer and had the time of our life! The shorebreak around Habushira can be a little dangerous for a toddler but the calm waters by the ferry terminal are flat and watched by lifeguards in summer. Inflatable tubes and floaties are available for purchase from any of the local souvenir shops.
The Tokyo Block ‘Seven Cross Tokyo’ surf contest is held at the end of July/early August where the best of Japan’s amateur surfers gather for a two-day contest. The after party at WAX is a great chance to mingle with surfing locals from both the island and mainland.
If the waves go flat or you’ve seen all you can around the island that’s similarly famed for its international Glass Museum, ask at the ferry terminal’s information centre about day trips to some of the surrounding islands.