Okinoshima 隠岐の島

There are idyllic islands aplenty in Japan: Okinawa with its sun-kissed beaches, Niijima and its playful surf, Miyajima’s unspoiled forests above the shrine, Sado with its tub-boats and demon drums. But if you truly want to get away from it all, we suggest you loosen your gait, let down your hair, and head to Okinoshima.

The Oki archipelago off the coast of Shimane Prefecture comprises 184 islands in total, only four of which are inhabited: Dogo, Nishinoshima, Chiburishima and Nakanoshima. In the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, two emperors, Go-Toba and Go-Daigo respectively, were banished to this remote place. Were the same to happen today, it might seem an act of kindness, not a punishment. Despite their historical association with exile, today the Oki islands are anything but inhospitable. Passing motorists roll down their windows to ask roadside hikers if they need assistance, ramen shop chefs wax on happily about the islands’ history, rice farmers wave from their fields, and squid boat captains gladly explain the workings of their lamps, whose incandescent light attracts their tentacled prey to the surface for easy capture. Oki islanders are justly proud of their seafood, which in addition to squid also includes oysters, crabs, and chewy but delicious turban shellfish.

There is a modest collection of temples and shrines on the islands, including the Tamawakasu Shrine on Dogo, which boasts unique Oki-style architecture and a beautiful millennium-old cedar tree. There is also a scattering of faded and forlorn historical sites. A small monument marking the site of Go-Daigo’s imperial palace, for example, is just a short stroll from the Beppu ferry dock.

Frankly, travelers to Oki come not for the history but for the scenery: gorgeous seaside vistas are the real draw here. Among the highlights on Dogo are the white cliffs of the Shirashima seashore and the surreally beautiful rock islets at Jyoudogaura. The sunsets at Candle Rock, Cape Nagu, and Shionohama are flat-out spectacular in any season. On Nishinoshima, the hiker-friendly Kuniga coastline is a stunner: morning mists part to reveal jaw-dropping views of towering cliffs and filigree rock formations. The Matengai lookout offers westward ocean views from atop the tallest sea cliff in Japan (257m), while horses and bulls graze on the lush greenery.

Bulls are ubiquitous in Oki, where the unique cultural traditions include bullfighting (bull vs. bull) competitions during the summer months. Nara and Heian-era dance performances take place in April, and a cooperative festival between a sun shrine and a moon shrine is held during October of odd-numbered years.

Although rental car services and taxi-based tours are available in Oki, the islands offer far greater visual rewards to hikers who can traverse cliffs and coastal areas beyond the roads. More active visitors can indulge in wakeboarding, windsurfing, sailing, and diving, especially around Nishinoshima.

The ferry terminals in both Dogo and Dozen have a wealth of English-language brochures and helpful staff who can offer sightseeing suggestions and help you sort out your accommodation. (For travelers to Nishinoshima, I recommend the friendly Takenami Minshuku, just a short walk down the road from Beppu harbor. Rates are about ¥7,000 per night per person and include two meals.) Meal service outside the hotels and minshuku is limited, since local cafes and restaurants are open only a few hours each day and only near the major ports.

Access to Oki is via plane (flights depart from Izumo and Osaka airports) or a 2.5-hour ferry ride from Sakaiminato or Shichirui on the Shimane peninsula. Note that the rough seas around Oki can affect the frequency of ferry services, particularly during the stormy winter months, so leave some leeway in your schedule for possible delays.












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