If, when looking at the map above , this flight between two islands well off the main Japanese archipelago puzzles you, then you haven’t read my previous reports in this series. These are my reading suggestions after that of this FR:
My Hachijojima Japanese friend is usually cautious with schedules, and I was even more than him : not only was I even less eager than him to be stuck on this island after missing the return helicopter ride, but I wanted to lose none of the action, for me… and for you, readers !
So it was 8 :37 am when we reach the helipad with an extravagant margin for the 9:45 flight : it was dead quiet at the terminal, where I have ample time to admire the architecture and painstaking outside decoration details of the building,
It is dead quiet on the helipad where there is no soul and no machine.
Vertical stretch of the previous picture to make the marking legible
"Dead quiet" may not be the best expression, because there are strong gusts of wind and the weather degrades : better not linger here.
This is the inside of the terminal, looking right (note that a passenger preceded us)) ,
And looking left : there is enough seating for the nine daily passengers
Entertainment at Aogashima’s lounge is provided by this screen showing the image of a webcam pointed at the harbor where the ferry is once again cancelled.
The schedule is easy : arrival from HAC at 9 :40, departure at 9 :45. With a 7 minute turnaround time, the helicopter left behind schedule the day before.
The check-in counter is of the Spartan kind, with the same scale for the luggage as in HAC, some already checked in items and a fire extinguisher in its red box to the right. The general operation rules (arguably even more boring in Japanese than in English) are posted on the front of the counter.
Turnaround time in Aogashima
9 am sharp : the island’s only policeman in the island’s only police car
He helps a ground staff hold back the cart on the way down. Both of them wear much needed raingear.
The policeman is waiting, and so do I in the cordoned path for the passengers on the right
Looking back, this is the terminal, somewhat warped by the panoramic stitching of two low angle shots. There is a cemetery next to the airfield here too !
Let’s go inside, because it is cold and it rains. Next to the (cathode-ray!) screen, the badly rusted steel cupboard contains the emergency kit (緊急用具 )
The security check consists in using this metal detector on all the passengers like this. The luggage is weighted like on the way in, but the check in staff does not ask for our body weight, presumed to not have changed much overnight.
A remote buzzing sound
It’s the incoming helicopter
She already deployed her landing gear
She then turns into the correct direction, while a ground staff runs to her station
The helicopter now descends slowly
Less than two meters left
Main gear landed
Two ground staff get immediately the cart and mobile stairs into position
Opening the luggage cart
The captain in orange garment goes round the machine
And opens the passenger door. Did I mention that it is windy and rainy?
A second cart of freight arrives
The captain himself loads his machine
We have a Go !
Like on the way in, it is a race to nab the best seats : I get the silver medal at this sport because taking this picture was fatal in the sprint with this passenger in grey, the same who was already there when we arrived at the terminal.
Seat 1A in a helicopter
I get a very good deal though : he takes Seat 1C, I take Seat 1A and my wife the middle seat which is a lot less narrow than that of your ordinary single aisle jet. (This model can carry up to 12 passengers, in a cramped three rows of four seats diagram.) (Panoramic stitching of two pictures)
I actually get best seat because Seat 1A is actually of the emergency exit kind, with a royal seat pitch worthy of a domestic business class
The captain’s seat in front of me. I did not take again the picture of the safety card which did not try to “accidentally fall” from its pocket into my daypack.
There is a fire extinguisher next to my feet
No logo on the safety belts buckles
I took this picture of the cockpit before the captain returned to his seat.
And my wife took numerous pictures from her seat during the flight, many of them botched because of the vibrations and poor lighting conditions.
I still wonder how she managed to get these results, in such adverse vibration and lighting conditions.
Before that, the captain boards and closes the front left door
The helicopter’s doors are little watertight that the captain keeps wiping the rainwater which falls on his armrest during the flight. (Did I forget mentioning that it is raining ?)
Hachijō-kojima ("Little Hachijō Island") is in sight through the rain
Hachijōjima appears next
The ground linking the two volcanoes in the center of the island : HAC’s runway is behind the hinge on the left.
The weather is poor but Hachijō’s Mt Fuji is not in the clouds
The runway appears through the left door window
Nearly in the runway’s axis
Landing Runway 08, if it is meaningful in the case of a helicopter
The helicopter is going to land at the crossing of the runway with the short taxiway leading to the terminal
The terminal in the distance
There it is in full
Landing is just as smooth as in Aogashima, then taxiing to the final stopping point mercifully closer to the terminal. Did I mention that it is raining hard here ?
HAC in rainy weather
The captain gets out and opens the passenger door, on the left side this time
The single jetbridge is of course not used, and unlike in Taiwan, no umbrellas are made available to the passengers
Going down the stairs
Unloading the freight
We meanwhile reach the small luggage delivery room
Like when we arrived in HAC two days earlier, an airport staff straightens the checked luggage emerging on the map, even though there would be at most nine of them, of small size and weighing 5 kg maximum, unless extra luggage fee was paid of course.
This bilingual poster in the background provides the deadlines upon departure: - check in until STD-20’ - going through security until STD-15’ - boarding until STD-10’ Note the left part of the poster which stresses that you must be at the boarding gate at least TEN minutes before departure. European travelers will enjoy comparing with the efficiency of their airports.
Leaving the luggage delivery room : the same staff checks the checked luggage stubs
… which are of the minimal kind, but when departing from Aogashima, you could be heading to any helipad served by TAL, since the helicopter hops from island to island all the way to Ōshima, before flying back in consecutive hops to Hachijōjima which is written in large print: 八丈島.
There is hardly a soul landside, neither on the check in side
Nor on the shop side
A curiosity though : the FIDS cycles between displays in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, and lists a chartered flight from Shizuoka. Note that our flight has been listed 11 minutes late (again, few European airports would bother mentioning such a small delay), and also that the flight from HND is listed as to be confirmed due to the weather (“Weather check”). I’ll have more about this warning in the next report ex-HAC (suspense !)
The flight operated by Fuji Dream Airlines (what a name !) is not exceptional : we spotted another one the day of our departure from the island, but we were too much in the axis of the runway for taking a good shot.
My wife took the least bad picture when she departed
She is an E-175; I checked immediately to avoid public lashing at yet another identification mistake
There was a Dash-8 too that morning. What an intense traffic that day in HAC: three scheduled round trip flights, two chartered round trip flights, plus the four movements of the!
Let’s return to the action in the terminal : the passenger in grey is again heading the race
There is a single taxi in front of the terminal
The central line here is for kiss and drive (with no posted limit on the duration of kisses); the free parking lot is just behind the low hedge.
My friend went to get his car on the parking lot (no need to have all three of us receive some more of the yearly 120 inches of rain), and we drove back to his home, going through the tunnel under the runway which is expectedly superelevated at both ends, because the land area between the two volcanoes has been created by the lava flow from the later one, and the runway is actually at the pass between the two summits.
No is the time to revert to our departure point, with the second bonus that I had promised.
Bonus : Working in Aogashima
Bonus : Click here display hide
What do you live off when you live on this isolated island ? There are public and parapublic sector jobs: the policeman, some part timers handling the services at the helipad, others too at the harbor, weather permitting, teachers at the school which handles children from primary to junior high level. The post office probably uses leftover time slots in the schedule of the part timers. In the private sector, there is a car rental agency where the office displays the friendly mess of a room where the separation between business and home affairs is ill-defined.
A car means a gas station, where my friend topped the tank for a few hundred yen before returning the car. Maybe there was a small grocery store there, too. The most important infrastructure for the visitors is the presence of exactly five minshuku 民宿, i.e. traditional family run hostels, like this one where we stayed.
Ours was at 9,000 JPY per person and per night with two meals plus a picnic provided for the lunch. They are all more or less in the same price range, which is somewhat expensive by rural Japanese standards, or somewhat cheap if you take into consideration the logistics constraints of the place. It was of course to be paid in cash: rural Japan has yet to discover the use of credit cards.
The picnic was to be cooked on the fumaroles in the center of the caldera
Not the ones above, but on this furnace nearby, guaranteed to be zero carbon since it is fed by the said fumaroles.
You only need to lift the covers held in place by stones and place in metallic baskets the eggs held in protective plastic containers
… the sweet potatoes
… the (not very local) sausages,
… and the (very local) flying fish, cut in half lengthwise
Next, open the taps of each natural steam cooker and wait for the prescribed time for each ingredient, the longest being for the sweet potatoes.
The onigiri お握り (rice balls) were the only item in the meal to be eaten cold
All that came with a thermos flask of tea
The hike around the central crater provides nice sights of tree ferns
And smaller but just as beautiful other ferns
Blue canvas in the middle of the vegetation ?
It’s actually plastic netting over a light structure, creating a greenhouse effect without shielding from the rain; there are several of them spread here and there in the caldera. Too bad that the provider of these nettings does not have green ones which would blend in the landscape.
It’s one of Aogashima’s lesser known production : the cultivation of ornemental palm trees which as sold from 30,000 to 90,000 JPY apiece plus transportation to hotels and wealthy home owners..
There is a small shrine dedicated to the volcano’s god at the top of the inside volcano. In olden times, it was out of bounds to women having their periods, or just delivered a baby, or anybody in mourning.
Let’s go back to the location of the picnic, where we realize how the sides of the caldera create an impregnable natural fortress. It could be the setting for the villain’s secret stronghold in a James Bond movie.
There is a long tunnel through the wall to reach the harbor that I described in the bonus of the incoming flight. Better not have heavy traffic because it is much too narrow for two cars to be able to cross each other.
There is a small onsen (hot bath) very close by, using of course the hot spring water. As most often in Japan, it opens at 4 pm.
Only when you are strictly alone can you take pictures in an onsen where all users are always in the nude ; this pictures has been taken by my wife who happened to be the sole user there. It is typical of any onsen in Japan: in the vast majority of cases, the male and female sections are strictly symmetrical. Users clean and rinse themselves at length while being seated on these miniature stools, and then eventually enter the (very) hot bath to unwind. The smaller bath in the background is on the other hand (very) cold.
After a lengthy rest, we waited in this typical onsen lounge, until my wife who had had an even longer rest in her own section arrived.
After the public sector, the services, the agriculture, last comes Aogashima’s industrial zone with the salt production facility installed under the above described onsen. The salt is obtained by evaporation of sea water heated by the natural hot springs.
After this review of the tiny economy sector of this island, and also of its equally tiny territory, it is time to return to the minshuku. I forgot to take a picture of the dinner, but let’s have look at its quintessential offering for breakfast.
From left to right and top to bottom : omelette, cold cooked fish, a bowl for unlimited rice, a bowl of miso and mushroom soup, then some vegetables, nattō, two sausages, a fritter whose nature I forgot, and seaweed sheets for wrapping together rice with other ingredients.
Nattō is fermented soy beans : a very healthy food, but which is for trained customers only due to its taste. Wikipedia’s description (“Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and sticky, slimy texture”) is arguably an understatement – training myself to eating nattō was of my Shikoku pilgrimage achievements last year.
After this healthy breakfast, we only needed to return the rental car and be driven to the helipad, where this report began.
Thanks for reading me !
Toho Air Service
Aogashima - XX1
Hachijojima - HAC
An exit seat with an oversized seat pitch and a window which dwarfs anything that fixed wing aviation can offer, with old-school seats of a vanishing kind (apart from ANA A320s): comfort was at a maximum, if you disregard the noise and vibration (but I quickly adjusted to that, actually). The crew did their job, which included unloading the luggage. Entertainment ? The view outside, of course ! No food or drinks, but would you expect any on a 20’ flight ? Fluidity and access at both departure and arrival were of course optimum. I granted a bonus in services to HAC because of the checked luggage being neatly put on the delivery mat.
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