Exploring an Abandoned Military Island (Sarushima, Yokosuka)

After a trip down to Kansai for my birthday, I decided that my next excursions would be a little closer to home. After all, I have done a lot of travelling this year and not only did I figure it was time to start saving money again, but there were also a few day trips that I had in mind.

Something I’d been meaning to do for a while is visit the island of Sarushima, just off the coast of Yokosuka.

Despite living in Kanagawa for over a year and a half, with two easily accessible train lines going directly into the city and friends who lived nearby, I’d never actually gone to Yokosuka. That needed to change, and it was the perfect time for it.

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Yokosuka

I spent over a week anticipating my trip, keeping an eye on the weather forecast. The ferries don’t run if there are storms and the last thing I wanted was to arrive there and find out I couldn’t go to the island. I checked every time I had a free day, but for the first few times there were typhoon notices, so I was getting pretty frustrated. Eventually, there was a day where only rain was forecast and I decided that even if it was a little wet, I still wanted to go.

Making a very loose plan for the day, I hopped on the Keikyu line to Yokosuka-Chuo Station.

By the time I arrived it was nearing lunch time because I did not want to wake up early during the summer holiday. This worked out perfectly, because it meant I was right on time for my first destination of the day. 

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Yokosuka-chuo Station

Yokosuka’s most famous food is its curry, which is certainly understandable as it’s considered the birthplace of curry in Japan. The British Navy introduced Indian curry to their Japanese counterparts in the 19th century, and upon some tweaking to adapt it to a new palate, Yokosuka Kaigun Curry was born. 

Nowadays, there are a few restaurants around the city which sell it, and I consulted the powers of Google to figure out which one to choose. Each place had something slightly different, whether it was price, atmosphere, or what was included in the meal set itself, so I went for one of the top recommendations.

Kaigun Curry Honpo is a restaurant which does all three right, in my opinion. I’m no expert, but their meal set is considered the most accurate to what kaigun curry should be; it contains the curry itself, rice, salad, pickles, and a glass of milk. You then have the choice of either coffee or tea to follow. Being the stereotypical Brit I am, I chose the tea… to the surprise of absolutely no-one.  

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Kaigun Curry

The restaurant is apparently fashioned to look like the interior of a navy vessel, making the atmosphere feel very appropriate for the history of the dish. The walls are lined with paintings of ships, with a mini replica of one in the middle of the centre table, where I was sat. 

There are English menus available, which would be useful for any tourists in the area. I was given one automatically so if you’re shy about asking, there’s no problem there. I’m used to ordering in Japanese by now so that’s exactly what I did, earning me a surprised comment from the waitress.

The prices are reasonable too, considering how much is included in a set. Obviously it’s going to be more expensive than your average family restaurant because of that, but for 1,380 yen, I was completely full and I was thankful that I was wearing my elasticated shorts. 

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Let’s go!

Sufficiently well-fed, it was time to head to the harbour so I could catch the ferry. It’s only a 15 minute walk from Yokosuka-Chuo Station and there wasn’t much of a queue when I arrived, so I bought my ticket (1400 yen for transport with an extra 200 yen for the island itself) and went for a wander around. Nearby is the naval ship, the Mikasa, and because it’s been converted into a museum, you can go onboard.

I didn’t have too much time so I opted to just look around the outside, including the statue of Togo Heihachiro (a famous admiral of the Japanese Navy) in front. There still wasn’t much of a queue and I figured it’d be wise to have a bathroom break before getting on the boat, but once I left the public toilets, a crowd had appeared almost like magic.

The ferry has got a good capacity though, so everyone was able to get on with no problem. What I didn’t know until I got there was that the island was doing a collaboration with the perennially popular anime series One Piece. Due to the protagonist’s name (Monkey D. Luffy) it makes sense that they’d partner up with Sarushima, whose name literally translates as ‘Monkey Island’. There aren’t any monkeys on the island though, so I’m not entirely sure where that name came from.

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The view of Sarushima from the ferry

As we crossed the water, the voices of One Piece characters played over the speakers and I watched as the island drew closer. I’ve only seen about two One Piece episodes in my entire life, so I wasn’t focusing on the collaboration too much, instead taking time to film the journey across.

It took less than 20 minutes to get there, and everyone disembarked onto the jetty. I hit the ground running, practically power walking past the beach visitors to explore the rest of the island. 

Sarushima is now uninhabited, but it used to act as a military base from the early 1850s to 1945, when it was claimed by America until 1961. As a result, the old brick buildings remain, but thanks to falling into disuse they’re not as intact anymore. It definitely fits a certain aesthetic, with nature reclaiming its territory from human invasion.  I wandered around for a while, taking as many photos as I could. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s a few of mine…

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After some time, I ended up at one of the highest points on the island. I could look out across Tokyo Bay, and in the distance I could see some very faint and very familiar buildings. Confirming what I already suspected, I zoomed my camera in as close as possible and I was right – I could see Yokohama. 

My eyesight isn’t the greatest and even with glasses, I was actually shocked I could make out the shape of Landmark Tower from that far away, partially because the horizon was hazy in the summer heat. But I’ve realised over the last year that I have become a Yokohama girl at heart so there was part of me that wasn’t surprised at all.

There was a set of steps leading down to the water, and I went down to take a look. There was only a small family there so I could sit on the rocks and appreciate the gentle splash of the sea against them. This was one of my “I’m so happy” moments, because I was able to easily tune out the other people and just enjoy what was in front of me. Having lived in North Wales for a time – and probably thanks to coming from an island nation – I absolutely love the seaside. That side of the island was much quieter than the crowd of people at the sandy area, and I’m certainly used to rocky beaches from the UK. 

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So relaxing

After a while, my butt did start to hurt though, so I continued exploring the rest of Sarushima. 

There was what looked like an old lookout tower further along the trail, and between the chains blocking the entrance and the trees overshadowing the upper platform, it looked kind of beautiful in a strange kind of way. I’m not used to seeing old abandoned places here, because of lot of historical buildings are maintained, rebuilt, or refurbished, so this was a nice change.

Again, I wandered along the path available and there were more remains of military buildings. I was almost all the way back to the start and it was drawing closer to 4pm. The last ferry leaves at five and I desperately wanted some time at the beach before I headed back to the mainland. Despite my love for the seaside, I hadn’t actually been to a beach all summer, which is almost a waste considering I live so close to so many. 

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Oh I do like to be beside the seasiiide~

I’d packed a plastic sheet to put down so my stuff didn’t get all sandy. I purposefully chose a spot close to the tide (relatively speaking, of course) so I was able to keep an eye on things while in the sea. 

After taking off my shoes and socks, I hurried over to the water’s edge while still taking care to gingerly tread over the sharper pieces of shell scattered around. As soon as the waves lapped over my ankles I breathed out a sigh of relaxation. I hadn’t realised how warm I’d become in the last few hours, and even though I’d almost finished my litre bottle of Pocari Sweat, I still needed to cool down. 

The water wasn’t exactly cold but it was enough. I submerged as much of my legs as possible while still being safe enough to hold my camera (whose only insurance policy was the strap around my neck). After I’d taken a few photos I returned it to my bag, seeing as most people had now left the beach and it was easy to see if anyone was moving towards it. Japan is pretty safe in regards to stealing, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I covered my things with my towel so I’d be able to tell if anyone had touched them, then returned to the sea. 

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The beach on Sarushima

I was absolutely boiling, so I continued scooping water onto my exposed skin and running it through my hair. The heat evaporated it pretty quickly, forming my hair into loose waves as it dried. It smelled like summer – reminding me of beach holidays as a child – and it definitely felt better than it looked, but I wasn’t caring too much about appearances. 

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for long because it was almost time for the boat back. If you miss the last one you have to ring an alarm bell to call for help, and I did not want to do that, so I tried to find somewhere to get the sand off before I left (I mean, it does get everywhere). The showers were closed by that point so even if I couldn’t wash my hair, I could rinse my legs off in the foot wash area.   

I’d managed to look around the whole island in the space of a few hours, but if I was going to come back, I’d probably try and visit with some friends and arrive a little earlier so I could enjoy the beach more. Even though it was pretty relaxing hanging out by myself, that way I wouldn’t be worrying about my bag quite so much and it’d be way more social. 

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Back to the mainland

Riding the ferry back to Yokosuka City, I could feel the breeze on my skin and I could smell the salt water in my hair. The sun filtered through the clouds and glittered on the sea’s surface, and it really felt like a mini beach vacation. 

I’d recommend it as a day trip if you’re around the Kanagawa area – maybe pairing it with a look round the Mikasa battleship to make it a whole day – and I’d definitely suggest you don’t skip the curry! (Unless, y’know, you have a dietary restriction or something) 

I got a brief glimpse into Japanese naval history, I got to eat good food, and I got to finish the day with a trip to the beach – a pretty well-rounded trip, I’d say.


In the end I didn’t even have to worry about the weather because it didn’t rain all day! I really enjoyed this outing, and it wasn’t quite as intense as travelling to somewhere completely different.

Which do you prefer: more spontaneous day trips in the local area or carefully planned visits to places further out?

4 thoughts on “Exploring an Abandoned Military Island (Sarushima, Yokosuka)

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