10 Incredible Japanese Islands

by Luke

Any trip to Japan wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of these incredible islands. Each with their own charm or character, wherever you are in Japan, you can enjoy an island of some sorts. Usually packed with attractions or history, why not plan a short visit to one of our top ten Japanese islands:

1. Sensuijima Island

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by ja.wikipedia.org)

It takes 5 minutes by ferry from Tomo-no-Ura. Located in the middle of Setonaikai National Park, the first of its kind in Japan, Sensuijima Island has nature that has not been touched by Man. Aside from the 2 hotels, there is no one else living on the island, and once the final ferry leaves at 9:35 pm, Sensuijima takes on the appearance of a genuine deserted island. It is the habitat of sea fireflies and their blue glow in the water gives that impression of a mysterious island. Between June and September, there are sea firefly tours held at night.

With only 55 sites in the world, Goshikiiwa is the only such site in Japan, located on Sensuijima. Rocks that are colored in blue, red, yellow, white and black continue for up to 1km on the shore going into the island. Called as the place where the spirit of Heaven has gathered, magma from the earth rose up long ago to create a high area of land protruding from the ground. With 4 hiking trails including courses for Senningaoka Observation Point which has been chosen as one of the Top 100 Sunsets in Japan, and Goshikiiwa, you can take a walk on the island as you like.

At the island hotel, Kokokara, there is a sauna in a cave that has recreated the baths from the Edo Era and has become one of the most famous things on the island. There are various open-air baths which include 3 kinds of plants: seaweed, mugwort and loquat leaves, and to get the full effect of an Edo bath, you have to soak for at least an hour. Restricted to people of middle school age and above, the detox effect makes it especially popular with women. Along with a campground and a swimming beach, the whole family can enjoy the island with many participatory events such as the Shio Kobo which has been selected for the Top 100 Salts in Japan where you can take part in salt-making and pottery.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Sensuijima Island
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sensuijima Island
Tours of Sensuijima Island

2. Matsushima

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

North of Sendai, there is Matsushima, beautiful and picturesque scenery located in an inlet along the Pacific coast. Known as one of the Three Views of Japan for centuries, this area which has been designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty has continued to capture the hearts of many travelers. There are islands, big and small, floating on top the blue waters of Matsushima Bay, and the beauty of this wonderful scenery, retained from the wildness of nature such as the brilliant pines growing lushly on the small islands and the white rock walls made from the waves hitting them, has the taste of the real Japan. Full of various expressions throughout the four seasons and the passing of time, the area leaves a special impression on visitors.

The highlights of Matsushima aren’t just the areas of scenic beauty on the islands floating on the sea. There remain many famous temples that were built in the old times and continue to relate a sumptuous history. The first daimyo (feudal lord) of Sendai, Masamune Date, moved a teahouse, Kanran-tei that he had acquired from Hideyoshi Toyotomi to Matsushima to be used by generations of daimyo for enjoying the cool of the evening and moon-viewing. Then, there is Zuigan-ji Temple which was established in the 9th century and later became the family temple for the Date clan; Godai-do Hall in which the statue of Godai Myoo, an image that is rarely displayed to the public, is enshrined; Ojima Island which is reached by a vermilion-lacquered bridge, and is an island of grottos where monks practice their beliefs and the dead are worshiped via memorial services; and many other historic sites which can be enjoyed through a tour of the area.

There are various ways to enjoy Matsushima. If you want to view that perfect sight, the Four Views of Matsushima where you can get that panoramic view of the 260 islands on MatsushimaBay and The Park of the Pine Tree that Sent Saigyo Home where you can enjoy the perfect view of flowers and islands during the season of the cherry blossoms are famous. If you want to get an even closer view of the islands, then enjoy a cruise around the islands. Also, since rental bikes are available, it’s great to ride around the Matsushima shore. And Matsushima is famous too as a moon-viewing spot, but aside from the evenings, the view during sunrises and sunsets are also exceptional. You will want to take your sweet time enjoying the changing expressions of Matsushima hour by hour.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Matsushima
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Matsushima
Tours of Matsushima

3. Dejima 

10 Incredible Japanese Islands(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

From 1550, Nagasaki was developed as a trading port with Portugal. However, the increase in followers of Christianity within the country and their unity was becoming formidable to the shogunate, and in 1634, the fan-shaped artificial island of Dejima was built over 2 years to amass and control the Portuguese in one area so as to prevent the spread of Christianity. Afterwards, the Portuguese were expelled from the country and for 200 years, trade and diplomacy between Japan and the outside world continued to be restricted as a policy of Sakoku. During that time, only Holland showed its loyalty to the shogunate, and gaining its trust, a Danish trading firm was moved to Dejima. During Sakoku, Holland became the only Western trading partner and the island played an instrumental role in the modernization of Japan as an exchange base for finance, culture and art.

Since 1900, the role of Dejima ended and its original form has been lost since the area around the island was filled up, but currently, there is construction to restore its historical legacy. At this time on Dejima, there are 49 buildings representing residences, dining rooms, warehouses, guard houses, etc. and 10 of them have been restored for visits. You can follow the changes in Dejima while viewing the remains over 4 eras such as the original Edo Era stonewall breakwaters where the Portuguese had lived, the closing days of the Tokugawa Shogunate when Ryoma Sakamoto and his followers were rebelling, Dejima’s stone warehouses after the opening of the country and the valuable wooden Western-style buildings during the Meiji Era. Avenues are recreated as if you went back in time, restored buildings have become museums, the history and lifestyle of Dejima are on display, and life at that time has been recreated. Access from within Nagasaki is excellent and there is a dining facility known as Nagasaki Dejima Wharf nearby with a fine view of the seaside where there are many places where you can try fresh seafood in Japanese, Chinese, and Italian establishments and cafes.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 510 / Child: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Dejima 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Dejima 
Tours of Dejima 

4. Sakurajima

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by flickr.com)

Kagoshima’s symbolic Sakurajima is an active volcano on Kinko Bay that stands 1,117m, has an area of 80km² and a circumference of 52km. Since its formation approximately 26,000 years ago, there have been 17 major eruptions and even now, small-scale eruptions continue to occur daily. About 4600 people currently live within the vicinity, and the appearance of smoke coming out ofSakurajima also attracts a lot of tourists. The one-way ferry ride from Kagoshima City takes 15 minutes, and ferries, which can also take on vehicles, depart from port every 15 to 30 minutes. Since smoke is still coming out of the volcano, it is prohibited to enter the 2km zone around the 2 calderas, and the highest point that tourists can enter is limited to the 4th stage of the northern peak known as the Yunohira Observation Deck.

The Yunohira observation deck is face-to-face with the mountain surface of Sakurajima, and it is famous as a scenic viewing spot where you can see Kinko Bay and the city of Kagoshima down below. At the Sakurajima Visitor Center which provides commentary on the eruption history and mechanisms, there are videos which are subtitled in English, Chinese and Korean. With advance reservations, you can also participate in kayaking and guided walks. At Sakurajima Lava Nagisa Park, you can take a break at a 100m-long foot bath using a natural hot spring while viewingSakurajima. The Kurokami Buried Torii Gate is the place where the gate of the Haragosha Shrine was buried in ash over a period of 1 day during the major eruption of 1914. It has remained in that state and is a reminder of the tragedy of that eruption. You can move around withinSakurajima by city bus or tour bus, but for an efficient tour, the Sakurajima Island View (sightseeing bus) is convenient. There are 8 buses per day and one trip takes about an hour with stops at roadside stations, the visitor center, the Torishima Viewpoint, the Akamizu Observation Plaza which has a commemorative plaque for singer Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, and Yunohira Observation Deck.  

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Sakurajima
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sakurajima
Tours of Sakurajima

5. Engetsu Island

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

At Rinkaiura, the ocean by Wakayama’s Shirahama region, sits Engetsu Island. Officially known as Takashima Island, a hole has been carved right in the middle of the island through the effects of waves and wind which has given it the nickname of Engetsu (full moon). The low tide is such that the water recedes enough so that one can walk over to the island. In the surrounding area, tropical fish and coral among other forms of life can be seen in the beautiful clear sea. Engetsu Island which just seems to plop out of the ocean is admired as a symbol of Shirahama. The collaboration of the transparent sea and Engetsu under the blue sky is wonderful, but the most popular feature is seeing the sun set. The hole in Engetsu that seems as if it could swallow the sunset has an exceptional beauty whose scenery has made it one of the Top 100 Sunsets ofWakayama Prefecture.  The best time to take those photographs of the white sands of Shirahama, the clear waters and the setting sun as seen from the sea caves of Engetsu is 6:30 in summer and 4:30 in winter.

In the surrounding area of Shirahama where Engetsu Island is located, there are the Shirahama Aquarium of Kyoto University and the Minakata Kumagusu Museum. At the aquarium, there is a rich collection of invertebrates such as coral, shrimp and crab whose numbers make the aquarium the foremost in Japan. And the Minakata Kumagusu Museum was named after the world-famous mycologist who was born in Wakayama. Kumagusu’s specimens, documents and personal effects are all stored at the museum which is worth a visit. At the beaches of Shirahama which are noted for the beautiful sea water, you can enjoy windsurfing in summer and enjoy a relaxing foot bath in the cold winter for free while viewing Engetsu. As well, just a bit away from Shirahama, there is also Tsubaki Onsen where you can spend a leisurely time at its accommodations.  

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Engetsu Island
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Engetsu Island
Tours of Engetsu Island

6. Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by flickr.com)

During the Golden Age of coal mining, people led a crowded lifestyle with a population density more than 9 times that of Tokyo. The life of those times has remained as it was on a deserted island of abandoned buildings left for 30 years.

Coal was discovered around 1810 on the island of Hashima, some 30 minutes away from Nagasaki Harbor by boat, and some 80 years later in 1890, Mitsubishi bought the rights for the mining areas for the entire island and began coal mining in earnest. The island was called Gunkanjima because its shape resembled that of a battleship. More than half the island was rich in ore, and the remainder was filled with hospitals, schools, temples, shrines, police boxes, movie theaters, barber shops, etc. so it functioned as a complete city.

During the high-growth 1960s, 5,300 people lived there with a population density that was No. 1 in the world and more than 9 times that of Tokyo. Utilizing cutting-edge technology, it was a near-future city channeling modern metropolises with Japan’s first high-rise reinforced concrete apartment buildings, an undersea water supply first invented by Japan, the nation’s first roof gardens, etc. But with the switch of the country’s main source of energy from coal to oil, there was a course of decline. In January 1974, the mine was closed and in April, all of the residents left the island, leaving Gunkanjima a deserted island. Since then, people had been prohibited from going onto the island, but from 2009, tourism and field trips were allowed.

Despite the presence of abandoned buildings, household appliances starting with TV sets and other traces of life have been left there as they were, with the island as a whole being left as it was during its prosperity, and one can feel what Japan was like during the period of high growth. There are some tour companies, and high-speed ships leave from Nagasaki Harbor. Due to the extreme danger from the concentration of decrepit reinforced concrete buildings on Gunkanjima, visits are performed by going around the island once by ship. Then, tourists go onto the island and with a guide, they can tour for about 1 hour. Since there are guides who can speak English, inquiry is necessary beforehand.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 3,600 / Child: ¥ 1,700

Guidebook from Planetyze about Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)
Tours of Gunkanjima (Battleship Island)

7. Nokono Island

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by flickr.com)

An island floating on Hakata Bay with a circumference of 12km, Nokono Island is a refuge for the citizens of Fukuoka City which can be reached by ferry in 10 minutes from the city’s Meihama area. The island’s tourist spot of Nokono Island Park is a 15000 ㎡natural park which spreads out at the northern tip of the island. Also known as Fukuoka’s best place for flowers, the large site boasts beautiful blossoms all year round and the view from the flower-covered hill of Hakata Bay is breathtaking. Bright flower gardens spread out over the slope throughout the seasons with rape blossoms in the spring and cosmos in the fall. Also, at the Nokono Island Camp Village you can enjoy swimming between May and September. Day trips are also plenty of fun with activities such as barbequing and banana boating on the beach. For people who have the time, how about taking that dip into the sea?

Animals such as goats and rabbits reside within Island Park where you can feed them. You can also enjoy a variety of sports at the park without having to bring anything, and everyone from kids to grownups can have relaxing fun with golf, swings, athletic equipment and other facilities. Rental of volleyballs, soccer balls, badminton equipment and other items is possible, and families can all enjoy themselves on soccer pitches and volleyball courts. Also for those people who prefer indoor pursuits, there are pottery workshops where you can make your own tea cups and mugs on the potter’s wheel. For Raku ware which is even popular with the kids, items such as plates and piggy banks can be painted. Spend a relaxing time on the island with the whole family

Admission: Adult: ¥ 230 / Child: ¥ 120 

Guidebook from Planetyze about Nokono Island
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nokono Island
Tours of Nokono Island

8. Enoshima

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by flickr.com)

The Iwaya caves of Enoshima, formed through wave erosion from ancient times, had been places of Buddhist training for the monks. Afterwards, the first shogun of the Kamakura Era, Yoritomo Minamoto, established Enoshima Shrine so that generations of shogun would visit it to pray. The enshrined god of water was also made to be the guardian deity for kabuki, so people of culture also visited the shrine, and gradually it developed into a resort area for the common people. Currently, not just Enoshima but the surrounding beaches and aquarium have made the area into a huge tourist spot.

There is a tourist information office once you get off at Katase-Enoshima Station on the Odakyu Express Line and cross over the bridge in front of the station. Stopping off there before walking over to Enoshima, you can obtain some useful pamphlets. When you cross over to the island via the Bentenbashi Bridge, you will encounter a bronze torii gate at the entrance. Beyond the gate, there is the path going toward Enoshima Shrine. On either side, there are souvenir shops lined up. Going up the sloped path toward the shrine and through the red torii, you will see Zuishinmon Gate which is said to resemble Ryugu-jo Castle. Enoshima Shrine is one of The Three Great Shrines of Benzaiten in Japan which have enshrined three sister goddesses. There are three shrines which are located on the island. At the very back of the island where Okutsumiya Shrine is located, walking from there for 10 minutes will bring you to the Iwaya caves. There are the First Cave (length 152m) and the Second Cave (length 56m), and with a purchase of a ticket, you can enter them by candlelight. A group of stone formations and a dragon god among other things are enshrined there. There is a mystic atmosphere to go along with the naturally-created scenery.

Admission: ¥ 1,470 

Guidebook from Planetyze about Enoshima
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Enoshima
Tours of Enoshima

9. Naoshima

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by flickr.com)

Naoshima is a small island floating on top of the Seto Inland Sea north of Kagawa Prefecture. Everywhere within the lush green interior of the island, there is the unique presence of art scattered about. Naoshima can be reached by boat from the Port of Takamatsu within about 50 minutes or from Uno Port in Okayama Precture within 15 minutes. The area can be toured within half a day to a full day. You can easily navigate on the island on foot, rental bikes or bus. The island is separated into 3 areas and at the Miyanoura area around the harbor, there is Umi-no-Eki with a tourist information center and a souvenir shop, and the objet d’art of the world-famous Yayoi Kusama, the Red Pumpkin. 40 minutes’ walk away in the Gotanji area, there is the Chichu Museum which includes an exhibit of Monet’s “Water Lilies”, the museum/hotel of Benesse House & Museum, and Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin. Another 30 minutes’ walk away in Honmura Ward, there are facilities such as the Art House Project with its converted old houses as contemporary art and ANDO MUSEUM which profiles the world-famous architect, Tadao Ando.

While enjoying fishing and swimming at the beautiful beach, there is the nearby Tsutsuji-so Beach House which is a popular accommodation where you can stay at a Mongolian yurt, camping trailers or even cottage-style Japanese rooms. You will want to spend a full day leisurely enjoying the beautiful natural landscapes along the Seto Inland Sea. Also, Naoshima is proceeding with its initiatives as an eco-friendly island, and so you can visit interesting facilities such as the KagawaNaoshima Environmental Center which recycles waste with the latest technology and the Valuable Metal Recycling Facility. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes on the island so you will want to partake in the fresh seafood from the Seto Inland Sea.

Admission: Various

Guidebook from Planetyze about Naoshima
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Naoshima
Tours of Naoshima

10. Sado

10 Incredible Japanese Islands

(image by flickr.com)

The lush natural island of Sado, surrounded by the sea and with a wide plain of large rice paddies squeezed in by the mountains, has plenty of tourist attractions such as hiking, spending time on the beach and touring the historic sites. It used to be infamous as an island for exiles but since the majority of those people were aristocrats who lost political battles, political heretics or cultural scholars, aristocratic and samurai culture were added to the simple beauty of the landscape to create the unique culture for Sado.

Untouched nature remains on Sado where you can have fun doing outdoor sports within the lush nature of a beautiful sea, mountains and forests. There is the forest trekking where you can appreciate the mystical and ancient cedar trees, hiking on Mt. Donden with its grand panorama as you view cows on the grasslands, marine sports such as kayaking and diving in the ocean, and sunbathing on the beach. There are also many campgrounds and the holidays spent in the middle of all this freedom are exceptional. Annually in September, there is plenty of excitement as an international triathlon is held.

Due to a fertile ground born of the aristocrats and artists who had been exiled to Sado, a very distinct Sado culture was nurtured through the different cultures that had been brought over by the exiles. Sado Island is also famous as the land where the genius playwright Zeami was exiled, and during the time when gold mining was at its peak during the Edo Era, a visit of a close associate to the Tokugawa shogun and a Noh actor due to a development of a gold mine led to Noh culture taking root on Sado, and now one-third of the country’s Noh theaters are located there leading to an unparalleled Noh culture. In addition, Sado is an attractive island due to the continued rich presence of nature, culture and history with the beautiful historic sites, shrines and temples in the middle of Mother Nature, and the remains of the gold mines.

Admission: Various

Guidebook from Planetyze about Sado
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sado
Tours of Sado

27 Sep 2015

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