Mikura Jima, Izu Shoto
Mikura Jima is one of the seven islands in the Izu Shoto group which is just south east of Tokyo and reachable by high speed boat in under 4 hours or by an overnight boat. The conditions vary from island to island, but you can expect warmer, more tropical water conditions with crystal clear blue water.
For personal reasons, our two favorite islands in the group are Mikura jima and Shikine jima, which are probably the least visited of the 7. Shikine jima has beautiful white sand coves all over the island with clear waters and tons of tropical fish swimming and playing through the reefs. Definitely a perfect weekend getaway for two, away from the city.
Mikura jima is somewhat of a special island and people go there for one of two reasons, hiking in the tall mountains of the island or swimming with wild dolphins. Mikura island doesn’t have a beach as the island’s coastline is composed of rock and cliffs and only a few areas are actually accessible besides the port.
What makes Mikura jima so special is that roughly 300 or so wild dolphins call this island home and have been living around this island for centuries. At the middle of the island near a temple is a plaque to remember a foreign ship that grounded off the Mikura coast and the villagers helped rescue the passengers and even stories of dolphins helping.
The island has only one hotel and several dozen Ryokans and Minshukus, so you want to make reservations in advance. You will eat your breakfast and dinners at the place you decide to stay and will have from 2 or 3 restaurants to choose from for lunch. Does the island feel small yet?
Usually the places you stay at have a relationship with a skipper that you can pay to take you out to find dolphin pods to swim with. Rates vary depending who you use, usually the people that are considered dolphin friendly and animal lovers tend to have higher prices (because they supposedly show you a better time?!?! That’s for you to decide if there is any difference really). You won’t be scuba diving with these dolphins, but rather skin diving with just your standard snorkel gear. So you’ll want to practice holding your breath before you go, so you can get as much time under the water to swim with these mammals.
The water is usually warm so a wetsuit isn’t typically needed. So you will want to have the following (renting from the skipper is also available): mask, snorkel, fins, and weight belt. A weight belt is key to having a good time, the reason is that the weight belt will allow you to sink easier which means you waste less energy and oxygen on trying to stay under the water with the dolphins. Especially if you are wearing a wetsuit, it will be almost impossible to stay under the water with a wetsuit and no weight belt. You will float like a cork.
The skipper will drive you around for roughly 2 hours and you will see several pods in the water. The captain will stop the boat to see if the dolphins are in a playful mood and if they are, he will tell you to jump into the water. Depending on the mood of the dolphins, they may just play for a few minutes and take off (then you will have to find the next pod) or they will stick around and play or just swim really slow around you so you can watch them. It truly is an experience that you have never had before, to see something in the wild and in its purest form.
So for a relaxing getaway from Tokyo for a minimal cost and to do something completely amazing, make Mikura Jima your next travel destination!
All of the places to stay on Mikura jima are owned and operated by Japanese, so it can be very difficult to arrange a visit without speaking Japanese fluently. There is a dive shop that specializes in organizing trips to Mikura and even has English speaking guides that can make your visit much more enjoyable.