April 10, 2019
Three weeks have passed quickly at this magical island and we are prepping for our passage to Kyushu. Arriving here was a dreamlike experience after heaving to in heavy weather off shore for several hours, the weather cleared and we rounded the headlands, passing many feeding Humpback whales . Chichijima is beautiful with charming and polite people, excellent food, a sheltered place to dock, great walking trails, lovely beaches. Although a tourist destination it feels sparsely populated and what people we see are low key. It has been a restorative place to prep for our visit to the mainland.
Ten years ago a friend of Douglas’ announced he’d bought a sailboat, was quitting his job and heading out to sail around the world. It was an inspiring topic of discussion around our house. When we started taking sailing lessons and found Tumbleweed, Kevin and his adventures were a kind of touch stone, and Chichijima was a key part of the story. Kevin had met Naomi here, the woman who he would marry. Naomi’s mother has been a wonderful friend on the island, taking us on walks to all the great vistas and to many of the beaches, bringing us delicious treats, taking us to picnics and out to meals. Her kindness has been one of the nicest things about our visit. I look forward to shopping day when the ferry arrives and we meet up go to the market. I think Junko has a commercial account with one of the grocery stores, we skip the long lines in the front and shop at the back with the chefs and innkeepers. When the ferry arrives the fresh produce and fish is bought as quickly as it is put on the shelves.
It was a bit disorienting at first to arrive to Chichijima, it had lived so strongly in my imagination for so long. It is more beautiful than I had imagined. The coast line alternates between raw, towering cliffs and lovely sheltered beaches. There are offshore islets and at this time of the year pods of whales swim between them and the main island, spouting, diving, feeding. There is a large cliff on the west side of the island, behind the village, and we have taken to walking there to catch the sunsets. As the sun sets we have a good view along the coast and can watch whales. It is a local favorite spot and families gather to watch the sunset then head home. It’s one of the many things that makes this island feel part of another time, rather quaint.
To the north is the companion island of Anijima. It is an uninhabited nature preserve with no camping and limited areas where tourists can visit. There is a pass that divides the two islands and from Chichijima we have watched the waters build with standing waves and vicious whirlpools as the tide changes. There many trails that give access to overlooks and also trails to beaches along the coast that give a sea level view of the island.
The rhythm of life here revolves around the ferry that arrives from Tokyo, offloads a few hundred passengers, idles at the dock four days, then makes a three day round trip to Tokyo. In the day before the ferry arrives many businesses are closed, presumably gearing up for tourists. During the 4 days that the ferry is at the dock there are boats running divers and whale watchers out of the bay and people stroll the village streets, restaurants are open, the place feels lively. The first day the ferry arrives the shelves of the grocery stores are packed with fresh produce and perishables. There are long lines at the two main grocers in the village. It is the best day to go for sushi at the local restaurants. We’ve eaten at Bougain and Manta on the nights the ferry arrived with fresh fish from Tokyo and our meals were excellent. The day after the ferry leaves most businesses again close to take a pause and reorganize. The whole village shifting its calendar around so that the two days off a week revolve around the ferry and are a moving target, an ever shifting “weekend”.
Weather between the Ogasawara islands and the “mainland” is volatile, the patterns shifting quickly from light winds to strong headwinds. We’ve been watching for weeks now and have yet to see a perfect window. Our plan is to head out with favorable winds to at least get us away from the Ogasawara islands and on our way to Kagoshima in Kyushu, and if we face strong head winds we’ll just have to heave to and sit tight. There is also the Kuro Shio, a strong current that runs along the east coast of Japan and can run up to three knots. We intend to head mostly west from Chichijima and make for the Okinawa islands and then head north to hopefully ride the Kuro Shio.
Most days we walk, at first long walks with Naomi’s mother along many of the paths in the hills to her favorite spots, and to hidden beaches, to overlooks with vistas of the sea and the village. Walking up the hill to the weather station and the view over the sea has become a habit when the weather is nice. The sea is such a powerful component of life here, carving away at the island and setting the emotional tenor of each day.
Our position at the wharf is well sheltered and gives us a view out to the main harbor. When the winds kick up we can watch the fishing boats heading to sea, bucking the swell, bows crashing into white water. The weather switches quickly and following a day of rough weather we can have a day of pond like seas dancing with brilliant sunshine. It is a place that engages, it is such a seductive, beautiful place to visit. I will try to appreciate each moment and will treasure the memories of my time here.
Notes for Cruisers:
Pre Arrival contacts:
Ogasawara Coast Guard: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ogasawara Customs: email@example.com
We wrote to them from Saipan and they sent us the forms they wanted filled out and met us at the dock when we arrived.
Location against the wharf: 27º05.914’N - 142º12.006’E
Note - construction is wrapping up on a breakwater at the end of the pier that is not on current charts.
Formalities: Clearing in was straightforward. We had completed pre-arrival papers (which we would fill out again when we arrived) and had sent emails to customs and the coast guard of our intended arrival. As we pulled up to the dock there were two coast guardsmen waiting to take our lines. Quarantine, Immigration, customs, all checked us out. We rode back to the customs office on the other side of the village for photos and fingerprints and a few signatures. Everyone was incredibly professional and polite.
ATM: One at the ferry terminal, one at the Post Office.
Provisions: Two small grocery stores with excellent selection of produce and other fresh goods the day the ferry arrives. By end of day that the ferry arrives the selection is greatly diminished. Fresh produce can also be sourced from the small locally grown store also on the main street. There is a small convenience store up the hill from the marina - right at the first major intersection when walking from the marina to the village (at the tunnel). It is run by an alumnus of Seattle University and carries a nice variety of Western foods not found at the larger stores, also has the best selection of wine, sake and spirits on the island. Kenny, the owner, is friendly and speaks excellent english. Up the hill from the convenience store (you’ll want locals’ directions) a Tokyo trained baker runs sells bread, pastries, sandwiches out of a house. Best baguettes since New Zealand.
Kanno-san of the Ogasawara Yacht Club can lend the key to the water main, on the pier.. There was a 1,000 yen fee. I think this paid for a utility worker to come to the pier and open the main water valve.
Fuel: Across the harbor at the fish packing operation. We coordinated with the customs office, I don’t think it’s possible to just show up and take on fuel.
Transportation: There is a local bus line that is run as a hop off, hop on, operation that tours the island. Town House guest house attached to Kenny’s convenience store, rented us bicycles and there are a few other options for rentals in town.
Information: There is a excellent tourist info office on the main street, look for the massive whale mural. Very helpful and always someone speaking English around.
Internet: The visitor’s center, across the street from the tourist center, has free hi speed wifi in their library. Really nice set up. A few cafes also offer wifi.
Laundry: See the tourist info folks for a recommendation to use the facilities at a hotel. We were able to do our laundry at the guest house attached to the small convenience store. There is no laundromat.
Chandlery: No hardware, yachting supplies, etc. I think everything is shipped in via ferry. We ordered charts and an inverter/charger and shipping was quick, just has to be timed to make it on the next sailing ferry or will need to wait an extra week.
Restaurants: Great selection. Most close the day before the ferry arrives and then the day after the ferry departs. Highly recommend Bougain for sushi the day the ferry arrives. Recommend reservations. Also liked Manta, they had an English menu and excellent food, Tetsuya for lunch, Amenohi Shokudoan was one of our favorite places, they had interesting daily specials and did tasty tempura dishes.
Post service: It is possible to have mail held as general delivery. This is the address the post office gave us to use:
Ogasawara Post Office
Post Restante or General Delivery