The fortress on Sarushima Island

Sarushima Island, Yokosuka

A historic island with summer-time fun

By Catherine Hagar, Kanagawa, August 2012
The fortress on Sarushima Island The fortress on Sarushima Island

Sarushima, or Monkey Island in English, is an uninhabited island only a fifteen minute ferry ride from the docks at Mikasa Park in Yokosuka. Despite the name, no monkeys live on Sarushima. The name comes from the legend that when a famous priest lost his way trying to find Kamakura, a giant white monkey from the island guided him safely to the shore.

For more believable history, the island holds a fortress used in the mid-1800s. The fortress played a critical role during World War II, and although it was not used for artillery, the cliffs of the island were an excellent way to gain a view of the entire Tokyo Bay.

The island is quite small and takes about an hour to circle by foot. Some of the more historic sights include the moss covered brick walls of the fortress and the dilapidated lookout tower at the top of the island. For trekking, there are trails through bamboo forests and overgrown ferns, as well as the paved roads that go through the eerie tunnels of the fortress. Grab one of the free walking sticks found at the trailhead and make your way into the forest. Every step and sound echoes off the dark walls and, leaving you with a chilling feeling.

Once you leave the fortress, make your way north to the rocky beaches of the island. Here you can find excellent fishing spots with a distant view of Yokohama.  The cliffs and large rocks hold shallow pools full of snails, shellfish, and even some crawling crabs. Beware of the strange bugs that make these rocks their home. These bugs, funamushi, may resemble a silver cockroach with many legs, but they are absolutely harmless and afraid of any sudden movements or bright light. They’ll scatter as you approach and leave an empty area for you to relax.

If these funamushi make you wary, there is always the sandy beach on the south of the island. Although it is dark and grainy sand with a few rocks scattered along the coast, this designated swimming area is perfect for barbecues. If you don’t want to lug your grill and cooler to the island, you can rent these at the wooden pavilion found near the entrance of the island. They even offer raw seafood, meat, and vegetables as their barbeque special. 

The pavilion provides everything needed for a comfortable day at the beach, like umbrellas and inner tubes. There’s a small restaurant downstairs that offers an array of foods such as taco rice, fried noodles, and even a barbeque plate. I went for the mixed barbeque, where I chose three different meats: seafood, chicken, and pork. The meal came on a bed of rice with a large slice of pineapple. It was absolutely delicious, each meat unique with their own spice. After my lunch, I grabbed a huge melon snow cone and finished it off underneath the shade of one of the island’s umbrellas.

Before heading home, use the water taps at the pavilion to wash the sand off your feet and hands. The ferry leaves once every hour from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm. The ferry runs every day from March through November, and only on weekends from December to February. Make sure to get to the beach early, as swimming is prohibited past 4:00 pm. The beach is  a bit crowded during the summer, so if you want to feel the abandoned feel of the forest, try going during the autumn.

Catherine Hagar
Written by Catherine Hagar
Contributor, Tokyo
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Join the discussion

Catherine Hagar
Catherine Hagar Author 2 years ago
Yes, I never knew a creature like that existed until I visited the rocky beaches in Chiba. I was so amazed, curious, and creeped out all at the same time.
James Holford
James Holford 2 years ago
I enjoyed the description of the tidal pools. Those 'funamushi' certainly do beat a path out of the way.