猿島 Brick Battleship

So I haven’t written this blog for almost a year. I will keep the grovelling short so as to get to the content, but exams, leaving Japan etc. kinda got in the way. Though I now live back in the UK, I have a huge collection of pictures from Japan as well as several blog posts I didn’t write for whatever reason. The mood has taken me to write, and I was surprised to see this blog still gets around 300 hits a month despite my doing absolutely nothing, so I decided I’d write the rest of the posts when I am able.

Today I’d like to take you back to March of last year, where I took a trip to an island called Monkey Island (猿島 Sarushima), which had no monkeys, but lots of history. Part of the reason I decided to write this post is I have exams coming up and this post required a lot of translation work due to all of the signs being in Japanese. I thought that this would be some good practice. It turns out Monkey island is not only pretty but very historically interesting.

Monkey Island is a small island, about 0.055 km, 1.7km off the coast of Yokosuka, a town in the Tokyo bay area. It is also the only natural island in Tokyo bay (there were artificial islands built during the early 1900s) and has been inhabited since the Jomon period (about 12,000 BC). Its position as the only island in the bay has led to its use as a military outpost through the years, making it great place to visit if you like ruined buildings or military history.

We reached the island by ferry from Yokosuka jetties (next to the battleship Mikasa) which took about 15 minutes. The ferry runs until about 6pm, giving people plenty of time to explore the island or just have a BBQ on the beach. It might even be fun to stay on the beach over night in the summer, though an abandoned military fort at night seems a bit too much like a horror setting.

We took the path up from the beach towards the ruins. All the fortifications were cut into the breakwater, effectively making them invisible from outside the island; what appears a small island with some trees and steep cliffs becomes a moss covered maze of fortifications as you walk further in.

The main ruins of the island date back to the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), the period of ‘opening’ for Japan, after the arrival of the American Black Ships in 1853 caused a revolution that overturned the old Shogunate system. Prior to this, in 1847, the Shogunate built three buildings on the island to prevent foreign ships entering the bay (they were not successful in this endeavour). Commodore Perry, as he passed the island, named it Perry Island, though the name didn’t really stick, and it’s still called Monkey Island by both Japanese and the Americans at the nearby base.

The fortifications from the Meiji period consist of a series of rooms and tunnels in the centre of the island. Facilities included barracks, a medical room, command rooms and a gunpowder magazine. The barracks are the rooms with the small windows, while the gunpowder storage rooms have large well-like holes in the ceiling, presumably for transporting the gunpowder up to the guns, which were mounted on the top of the fortifications. You cannot actually enter the rooms (presumably for safety reasons) but you can peer inside and walk through the main tunnels.

Though the island was bristling with men and weapons and ready to fight throughout the Meiji period, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which devastated most of the Tokyo area, caused the collapse of many of the rooms. This, along with the development of fighter planes and long range guns, meant that the island never saw war.

Monkey Island was also used as a military facility during World War II. Guns and surveillance buildings were placed on the island, but the older red-brick buildings were not used, so they survive in the same state as they were in the Meiji period.

Translating the signs has certainly enriched my knowledge of the site; it turns out the red brick tunnel, which looked very clean and almost new, is actually one of the oldest red brick buildings in Japan. Brick buildings, originating in Nagasaki, were popular from the 1860s onwards, but due to earthquakes and disrepair, only 22 red brick buildings dating back to before 1887 remain in Japan.

The red brick section of the fort, built from bricks originating the Aichi prefecture, is an example of what is know in Japanese as ‘French-style’ brick building. In the Meiji period it was commonly known as ‘English-style’. It is in fact known to the rest of the world as the Flemish Bond, as it is thought to have originated in Flanders, Belgium. There are only 4 examples of this style of brick building in the whole of Japan, making Monkey Island’s tunnel pretty special.

Aside from the stunning ruins, Monkey island is also a prime fishing spot for locals, as well as a popular BBQ location. You can rent BBQ equipment from the main reception building when you get off the ferry.

I highly recommend a trip to Monkey Island if you find yourself in the Yokosuka/ Yokohama area, especially if you love exploring overgrown ruins. The signs are all in Japanese, but this blog is basically an entire translation of them, so consider yourself far more informed than any other non-Japanese speaker visiting the island. And no, I have no idea why it’s called Monkey Island.

横浜 Aquarium Island and A Reptilian Tea Party

While in Yokosuka we decided to check out the nearby Aquarium near Yokohama on Hakkeijima (a small island just south of Yokohama). I really enjoy aquariums – I find the ambient music, dim lights and gently swimming fish to be very relaxing. Also in Yokohama was one of Japan’s many animal-themed cafés. Unlike the cat-cafe obsessives, I, being allergic to most fluffy cute things, found a reptile café for us to visit. This will be a post about the two animal adventures we had in Yokohama.

The aquarium we visited was Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, which can be accessed by train or car. It is an entire theme-park island, with roller coasters, an aquarium and several other sea-related attractions. It was a really beautiful day which made it even better.

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On the way into the island were some retro children’s’ rides – a pikachu pokemon game, several mini-rides, and a Gojira (Godzilla) game which we simply had to play. We squished inside Gojira and mashed the buttons as Gojira killed the evil hydra that was attacking Japan (at least we think that’s what was going on), the ride swayed from side-to-side as we played and we eventually won. It was a lot of fun.

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We started with the aquarium, as that’s what I wanted to see the most. It cost around 3,000円 each (£17) and that granted us access to the main aquarium as well as the outdoor aquarium and two other aquarium-esque attractions. The main aquarium covered 3 floors, with a huge variety of animals. There was one rather sad looking polar bear which I wish I could have freed or something – his enclosure was far too small and he looked miserable. Aside from the polar bear the animals seemed to be in good sized enclosures and happy.

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I saw walrus up close for the first time which was really cool. We were looking down on the tank from upstairs during feeding time and the attendant noticed us watching. He gave the walrus some ice and put a long tube in its mouth, the walrus blew out and the ice was fired at us! There was glass in the way so it bounced off, but it was a pretty amazing experience. I didn’t take pictures as I was too surprised and  generally enjoying myself too much to take lots of pictures. The aquarium had a cool escalator through a tunnel in one of the tanks which was surrounded by a hypnotic shoal of fish that acted as if they were one organism. The rays kept swimming through, dividing the shoal into spirals and circles.

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Once we’d made our way through the inside of the aquarium we came out into an outside area which had various fish and ducks, including piranhas in an open tank. Though there were big ‘do not put hand in‘ signs, it seemed a little weird that it was left open in a place where so many children visited. We watched a kaleidoscope of Koi being fed by a kid and bought some feed ourselves to feed the ducks.

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There was an announcement for the aquatic show, so we made our way to the large stands to check it out. There was a whale shark swimming around the big pool, but he didn’t seem bothered by the show going on around him. There were dolphins, sea-lions and a walrus in the show, and it was really spectacular. There were also some weird clowns but I didn’t really find them funny – I probably had to understand all of what they were saying to really get it.

We then made our way to one of the sub-aquariums which was called ‘dolphin paradise’ or something. It had a few dolphins in a big tank with a tunnel through it, but the surprise was at the end of the tunnel. In a large circular floor-to-ceiling tank there was a huge, white, flat, ugly fish. This was a sun fish. I don’t know how I knew the name, I think I owe my knowledge to David Attenborough. It was amazing to see, not sure how ethical it is to keep it in an aquarium though. Apparently it is not safe to keep them in a square tank because they can’t manoeuvre very well and end up rubbing up against the walls, hence the circular tank.


We also visited the outdoor aquarium which had a number of dolphins, beluga whales and seals. We got to stroke a dolphin and a beluga whale, which was really amazing. There was one seal which seemed to have a fascination with eating ice cubes and then spitting them out so that it could eat them again. It was pretty weird behaviour but it seemed to enjoy slurping up the ice. I couldn’t find any information on the internet as to why it would be doing that.


There was also an outdoor area that looked like a series of pontoons connected together. This was a fishing area where you could catch your own fish and the shop in front would cook them for you. We elected not to do this as neither of us enjoy fishing or killing things.

Once we were finished with the aquarium we had a wander around the island and had a go on the roller-coaster, which was really fun if a little scary! The roller-coaster extended over the water and had really low bars over the tracks, so if you put your hands up at some points you’d break your arms. We quickly learned this and kept our arms down. The sun was setting when we rode it, making it even more fun.

As we were leaving the island the sun was setting and we could see Mt Fuji in the distance. It was probably one of the best sunsets I’ve seen in Japan.


Our second animal adventure was a far more low-key affair. We visited Yokohama’s Subtropical Teahouse Reptile Café 横浜亜熱帯茶館. It was on the second floor of a normal building on a normal street and there wasn’t a big sign so we nearly missed it! The café consisted of a large room with tanks and cages around the room containing various reptilian life. There was also a low-walled ‘play area’ with a number of tortoises and some trees with lizards perching on them.

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We arrived at the café at 5, which meant the ‘play area’ was already closed (it shut at 5) but the café was open until 7 so we sat, drank Japanese tea, and watched the animals. The cafe policy was that you had to buy one drink but there was no hourly fee or entrance fee or anything, which was nice (most animal cafés do have a fee on top of the drinks). A lot of the lizards and snakes weren’t doing much, but a few came up to see us when we looked into their tanks. One even nodded his head at us when we nodded at him. The tea was really good, and had refills, so I had around 5 cups. The cafe was empty apart from us and one couple, so we could see all the animals easily. It was a really nice and relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

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I would definitely recommend both the aquarium and the lizard café. The aquarium was impressive and the café fairly low-key, but both fulfilled my wish to see animals. I hope to go to more animal cafés in the future – there are goat, penguin and owl cafés too!