Sarushima: Welcome to Monkey Island

Sarushima: Welcome to Monkey Island

Located 15 minutes by ferry from Yokosuka, this little island in Tokyo Bay is a way to escape urban life for a day. No monkeys, though
monkey island
Spear fishermen get ready on the gray sand to hit the water and get them some good eats.

For as long as anyone can remember, the rock that guards the entrance to Tokyo Bay has been called Sarushima -- 'Monkey Island' -- even though there's not a simian in sight. But for a day of monkeying around, it may be the perfect location. 

Located 1.7 km off Yokosuka, Monkey Island is the only parcel of land in the bay that does not have cliffs and beaches made of concrete. This makes it a therapeutic day out for anyone who has grown tired of the urban jungle and fancies a bit of the wild. 

monkey islandRocks on the northern point of the island are popular with fishermen.A little history

Covering a mere five hectares, Sarushima controls the shipping lanes at the entrance to the bay. Its strategic importance was recognized as far back as the mid-1800s. Military facilities that were constructed during the Tokugawa Shogunate remain today, including brick-lined tunnels and magazines where ferns now grow out of the walls.

The island's role became more critical during World War II when a series of artillery positions were sited on top of the cliffs at the northern tip of the island. All that remains now, however, are the concrete bases embedded with rusting bolts. Although not a place to shoot guns, the positions still command excellent views over the bay.

Walking around the island: Military ordinances and fishing

Paths through stands of bamboo and heavy undergrowth take visitors the length of the island and up to the highest point -- a mere 35 meters above the waves below -- where the paint on a three-story lookout post is peeling. Signs dotted along the paths warn visitors not to touch anything that might resemble military ordinance and report it to the island office. Point taken.

At the most northerly point, a metal stairway descends the cliff face to a rocky promontory that is a favorite among fishermen. Clambering over the outcrops reveals rock pools and legions of shellfish, but the surfaces can be slippery and the tide can rise quickly, making getting back to dry land sometimes hazardous.

Remains dating from the Jomon era have been excavated on the island, but most people gladly swap the history lessons for the beach.

monkey islandMilitary facilities that were constructed during the Tokugawa Shogunate remain today, including brick-lined passageways.Beach time

At the southern end of the island, looking across the water to the city of Yokosuka and the U.S. naval base, the beach is a sheltered spot for swimming in the summer and barbecues for a greater part of the year. According to legend, it was to this beach that a famous priest was guided by a white monkey, giving the island its name.

The sand may be more gray and grainy than that found in the South Pacific, but it works just as well for sandcastles. And possibly due to the island's position in the currents feeding Tokyo Bay, a lot of interesting flotsam washes up on Sarushima's shores. Dozens of different sea shells mark the high-tide line, along with pieces of wood rubbed smooth by the waves, the remains of small crabs, strands of seaweed and the occasional piece of colored sea glass. 

Just behind the beach is a large wooden deck with tables and parasols, as well as taps where the worst of that sand can be washed off before leaving the island. Sarushima Beer, a tasty pale ale that was first brewed in 1995, may be a blatant effort to cash in on the name, but it's an excellent way to end a day on the island.

getting there

The nearest train station is Yokosuka Chuo Station, on the Keihin Kyuko Line -- a 45-minute journey from Shinagawa Station.

The Sarushima Ferry leaves from the dock beside Mikasa Park and takes 15 minutes to get to the island. The round-trip fare is ¥1,200 for adults and ¥600 for children. For more information on the ferry, contact the Tryangle Mikasa office at 046 825 7144.

For additional information about Monkey Island, the Tourism Division of the Yokosuka City Office is at 046 822 8301 and http://www.sarusima.com

Julian Ryall never expected to still be in Tokyo 18 years after he first arrived, but quickly realised its advantages over his native London. He freelances from Japan and East Asia for publications around the world.
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