“Where are you from?”
A man around his 50s with coloured hair speckled with grey asks as I’m drooling over the assortment of colourful sashimi in the cooler.
Being in a Japanese supermarket as a Gaijkokujin, or indeed anywhere that is not a well publicised tourist trap, means that occasionally you get that line thrown at you whilst you’re trying to decipher the kanji on your potential dinner.
As I was already buzzing from the Taiko meeting I had earlier with the ladies at Furui Sato, I decided to engage this time in my terrible Japanese. Besides, it’s great practice for me.
I started with answering his questions about what my plans were tomorrow, visiting the Pot Hole waterfall and returning my rental car. As a local, he kindly offered to show me the island.
It sounded like a good idea.
Seeing the excitement on his face, he proceeded to say “well, you can’t eat at the hostel when you’re in Hachijojima, come for dinner with me tonight!” I was taken aback by the offer, but being polite to elders is a Japanese custom, so I agreed.
“Have you seen an old Japanese house before?”
I started to sweat, this may be a bit too friendly to a lone female traveller… but he welcomed me into his beautiful home, recently built by himself and his friends, complete with traditional tatami flooring and sliding paper screens. I was still sweating, was he going to cook?..
“I shall change, you can sit on my bed, I will put on music, do you like Bruno Mars?”
Having a limited understanding of Japanese makes reading certain situations difficult. I decided to sit on the floor, eyes fixated on the Bruno Mars YouTube video not really knowing what was going to happen next…
Eventually grabbing the keys to the car, I head outside after being told “you should live here in this type of Japanese house!”
Entering Takara-tei 宝亭, a fish restaurant nearby the fishing docks, it is buzzing inside with tables laden with wooden boats full of sashimi. Not ordering a thing, a set menu starts to arrive and it looks incredible.
The fish was red snapper, and the black shrimp next to it was a lobster. Whilst chowing down on the sweet yellow lobster sashimi, I notice the legs attached to emptied shell start to twitch… he points it out…”super fresh!” he says. The legs move a lot now. It’s still alive.
After finishing bekko sushi, fried chicken and the rest of the sashimi, the chef quickly takes the dying carcass away. I felt a little sick, even though it was really tasty, it felt kind of cruel…
A bowl of hot soup came to the table, and I realise that the soup is from the previous lobster. The texture and taste is light, salty and warming. Despite my initial shock, I would really recommend this restaurant if you want to eat fresh island fish.
As we leave, Noboru-san has already paid for my meal, and after gently declining karaoke, walks me to the hostel and takes a taxi. Locals are super nice!
10 am sharp the next morning, Noboru-san shows up at SeaDive. Today we planned to go to Pot Hole waterfalls.
Having bought lunch for us, Bekko sushi from the supermarket (1480¥ for sushi is pretty steep!), he takes me to the Sokotsuki FREE campsite by the beach to eat with a view of the island helicopters practicing their volcano eruption evacuation drills.
Driving on along “Dragon Road”, named after the fact that it is so windy and hilly, around the east coastline of Hachijojima.
This lookout spot is perfect for a view of Mt Nishi (Hachijo-Fuji) and it’s offshore partner on a clear day. Halfway between the ferry port and Pot Holes.
The road to this falls is a windy narrow road. Recommended to drive a Kei or small car up here! Or you could hike which would take you a couple of hours.
There is also a little loop track that takes you up the side of Pot Hole Falls. And further, if you are feeling adventurous. Noboru told me that people will bathe in the pools of cold water in the summer. Try drinking it, it has quite a sweet taste!
We proceeded to drive around the island’s coastal road. Passing the island’s only surf spot where National competitions are held once a year, we caught a glimpse of a few brave autumn surfers testing the waves. There are a couple of inconspicuous free onsens around here also.
The road winds past the onsen collective in Nakanogo with a pretty green golf course tucked away behind the farm houses. It leads to a large white bridge built into the side of the steep mountains, that descends eventually towards a black lava rock beach, which has a great view of Mt Taihei.
Dropping off the rental car after exactly 24 hours, the walk back to this beach is not far from the centre. The sun was setting and the sky transformed into shades of soft pinks, bright reds and fiery oranges. The dragons from Dragon Road are in the sky tonight.
A campground and barbecue area is near to this beach, I took myself for a great romantic sunset beach walk.
On the walk home at dusk, I stumble upon a small shrine, with bottles stacked up in front of it.
Noboru-san had asked insisted I accompanied him to try more of Hachijojimas local cuisine tonight.
He picked me up at SeaDive as I swing in the hammock at exactly 6:30pm and immediately gets out of the car with a gift bag…
Inside the bag were 5 huge green Hachijojima lemons his family had grown in their garden.
Only grown on this island, these lemons are really expensive. Sold in department stores for 1500¥(£10) per lemon! They are fully edible too, even the skin.
Handing me a small tinfoil packet, inside I find two slices of lemon. I was encouraged to try, with the image that they were sweeter and had less of a kick than normal lemons.
Holding back the cheek-suckingly, sour face when you try to eat a huge chunk of lemon, I graciously informed him “oishii!”. They were tasty, and sweeter, marginally…
The Ashitaba Udon noodle shop, a restaurant that my friend Fujiko, the author of Tokyo Islands recommended to me, was closed this evening. Noboru-san drove his car down this pitch dark bumpy alleyway to an unlit car park outside an izakaya.
Ecstatic, he informs me that this Izakaya is this local go to and favourite restaurant to eat Hachijojima cuisine. The name is Kujiraya meaning Whales.
It is set in an old Japanese house around 70 years old, when we walk inside it is well kept and beautifully ambient. With jazz music playing in the background and the staff extremely welcoming, I can see why this would be top of the list for locals.
Hands down, this was the best place I ate at on Hachijojima. The menu (English explanations also) had a range of tasty plates to choose from. We had tomatoes wrapped in bacon, fried flyfish and mushrooms, fresh bekko sushi, mashed island potato, and delicious mussels with garlic and bacon. The mussels are a must!
After being introduced to the owner of the izakaya, a good friend of Noboru-san, she was overwhelmed with joy to hear about my travel writing, and gave me a gift of ukiyo-e patterned chopsticks.
Traditional to the Japanese izakaya experience, we finished our meal with a bowl of Ashitaba Ramen from Renge 蓮華 ramen shop next to the Taxi station in town. The ramen is made with this green leaf so the noodles are actually green as well as the light salt-taste soup.
This ramen shop is more popular with young people as there were groups of teens on holiday here, and the ramen is pretty cheap. Around 700-1000¥ a bowl.
Despite my attempts to pay, I ate for free again, thanks to the kindness of Noboru-san. He even went into the late night bakery across the road and bought me breakfast for the ferry journey.
I feel like I made a good friend, and he really appreciated my spending time with him as I guess for islanders they don’t get to meet new people very often.
The people of hachijojima made my experience on this island an unforgettable one. I highly recommend visiting these spots, and taking time to chat with the locals as you might be shown something you would have otherwise missed.