Shikine-jima, part of the Izu Seven Islands group, is a volcanic island located just about 150 km south of Tokyo in the Philippine Sea. It is a perfect getaway if you are looking for a relaxed time surrounded by crystal clear waters and beautiful scenery.
Who would expect such a treasure so relatively close to Tokyo? The island is very small, just about 3 km long by 2.5 km wide. Its rocky surface and stunning bays with calm waters and sandy beaches create a kind of magic atmosphere. You can explore this natural beauty by bicycle (can be rented all over the island), which makes you feel somehow local in no time. However, be prepared for some uphill passages, as the island is quite hilly. There are no steep inclines really, but by using the typical “mama-chari” (granny bike), you definitely get some exercise.
Shikine-jima is home to 3 fantastic outdoor onsen (hot spring), which alone are a good reason to visit outside the main season (July-August). The onsen experience here is definitely special. First of all, the setting is unique as you can enjoy the view across the ocean while soaking in the hot pools. Secondly, each onsen offers mixed bathing - just put on your swimwear. Don’t wear your newest swimming costume though; the orange-rusty colour of the water comes from its iron content and that might leave stains, though it is supposed to be good for your body! Last but not least, the onsen are free of charge and open 24 hours. I would try a night soak under the stars (bring along a torch). Make sure you double-check the temperature before you fully enter. Especially at Jinata Onsen the source water is very hot (about 80°C). It mixes with cool seawater, so the final temperature depends on the tides.
If you go in summer, you might be more interested in beaches than in onsen. Ishijirogawa Beach in the south is probably the most popular, being closest to the residential area and the onsen. As we went in May we had this beautiful sandy stretch to ourselves. It is supposed to get more visitors in July and August, when you can find the usual facilities: sun-umbrella rental, beach bar, etc.
The most spectacular beach is Tomari in the north. It is perfectly fan-shaped, surrounded by rocky hills, and has incredible crystal-clear calm waters. Going further westward along the north coast, you will get to another couple of lovely secluded coves, Naka-no-ura and O-ura Beach. Snorkelling is supposedly very good here. For all beaches swimming sandals are highly recommended, as despite the sandy shores, the ocean floor is usually a bit rocky.
Heading even further to the west, you will reach the Kanbiki Mountain/Lookout. Make sure you go up and take in the spectacular view. It is only 100 m above sea level, but the panorama is definitely breathtaking. You'll see many of the surrounding islands, and on a very clear day it is said that you can see as far as Mt. Fuji.
From Kanbiki, if you want to explore the woods in this westernmost part of the island, you will have to leave your bicycle behind and walk. There is a trail that leads through thick forest, but with more spectacular views to come. Don’t worry - thanks to the size of the island you cannot really get lost.
If you are going in low or off-season, be prepared not to find any beach facilities or places to eat along your way. The convenience store close to Ishijirogawa Beach will be your best friend; make sure to stop here and grab some lunch before starting your island tour or heading to your preferred beach.
To make the most out of your trip, stay at least one night. Apart from the two campsites on the island, there is a choice of simple family-run guesthouses called minshuku. They will pick you up at the port upon arrival, provide you with a map of the island, cook you a lovely breakfast and dinner, and usually rent out bicycles (seats for children often included). You should not expect any advanced English skills, but there is no need to worry since people are so friendly and open compared to Tokyo. They most likely will want to make you feel at home.