They are part of Tokyo in name only.

The Izu and Ogasawara islands, under the jurisdiction of the capital, stretch some 1,050 km south from Sagami Bay and are often described as a nature lover’s paradise.

Of the 219 islands, some stretching far enough south to be subtropical, only 10 are now inhabited, as Miyake Island has been evacuated due to volcanic activity, and most are only reached by boat.

But for those not inclined to board a ship or plane, a taste of the islands awaits at a corner of Takeshiba pier, one of six departure points for the islands.

Tokyo Island, jointly run by the islands’ tourist federation and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, opened in 1989 and consists of a cafe, a souvenir shop and a travel information counter.

While sampling an island delicacy, whether it be a tropical fruit juice, cocktail or “soba” buckwheat noodles made with Hachijo Island’s trademark “ashitaba” plant, the shop’s most popular dish, visitors can take time out to think about island life.

One wall of the cafe is adorned with colorful landscape photos of each island, the hues of the sea and the vivid splashes of birds and flowers offering diners a glimpse of what they are like.

A prime example of the attachment many islanders have to the sea can be seen in the former inhabitants of Miyake Island. All 3,800 of its residents were evacuated when the island’s volcano started erupting in June 2000.

Every day, one or two Miyake evacuees visit Tokyo Island in search of familiar tastes and the scent of the sea, shop manager Minoru Kitagawa said.

“When they got over the initial shock, they often said, ‘Miyake is the best’ (of the islands),” Kitagawa said. “But with their evacuation having entered its second year, they come saying they want to eat something from any one of the islands.”

Kitagawa pointed to a difference in lifestyles as a major reason why islanders find it hard to feel comfortable on the mainland.

“There is something we call ‘island time,’ ” said Kitagawa, who frequented the 11 islands during some 30 years working for Tokai Kisen Co., the major ferry operator serving the islands.

“If you say a meeting will start from 10 a.m., 10 a.m. is only a goal. People will gather after having done what they have to do because (islanders) respect an individual’s life.”

But the islands have seen a decline in tourist traffic over the past three decades as people find other destinations, including Okinawa, for their subtropical experience.

The local fishing industry, which gave the Izu Islands the name “Tokyo’s Kitchen” in the 1950s and 1960s, has also been struggling amid smaller catches and competition from other parts of Japan that can now quickly get their products to the capital.

The Izu and Ogasawara chains are now trying to survive by specializing in more high-value products, including lobsters and flowers, as well as by waging a campaign to win back tourists, which Kitagawa said is the raison d’etre of Tokyo Island.

Whenever the ferries arrive back at Takeshiba pier from the islands, dozens of passengers are lured into the shop either to buy a missed souvenir or to dine on local specialties one last time.

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