After visiting Koyasan and Kumano Shrines in Wakayama Prefecture to see historical sites, I made my way to Tsushima and Iki Islands to enjoy their abundant nature and to try to understand Japanese geography. Tsushima is the nearest island to the Eurasian continent and the Korean Peninsula where cultural exchange flourished. The distance from Tsushima to the Korean Peninsula is 49.5km and to Japan’s mainland is 132 km. We could see the Korean Peninsula from the observatory in the north of Tsushima. In the past, Tsushima played an important role, due to its geographical location, in receiving cultural influences from the Korean Peninsula and mainland China.
A Quick History
Korean earthenware was found in the unearthed remains dating back 7000-8000 years ago. People struggled against rough seas and high waves to come and go in small boats. Tumults built in the 4th century was excavated. In the early 7th century, Tsushima Island was used as a port for important Japanese envoys going to China. After the battle of Hakusukinoe, beacons were constructed and border guards were requisitioned from the eastern part of Japan. The border guards, called Sakimori, had to come by themselves on foot to protect the border for three years apart from their family. When I was a student, I learned lots of tanka, Japanese poems of thirty-one syllables, by Sakimori. When I saw the circumstances and felt the distance from Tokyo to Tsushima, I could finally touch the essential of the poem. In the Medieval ages, the So clan, who had been residing since the 12th century, governed Tsushima Island and prospered through trade with Korea. In 1274, the Mongol invasion occurred and the Mongol army with about 30,000 men arrived at Komoda Beach. The Komoda Beach is now very calm with a small shrine dedicated to the memory of all soldiers. I had known the history for a long time since childhood, but it was so moving to be on the battlefield by myself. I was the only person walking around the Komoda Beach at that time and I was sure that in 1274 the atmosphere would not have been any different from today.After the Mongol invasion, controversially Japanese pirates became active from the 13th to 16th centuries. In order to suppress the activity, Japan and Korea established a trade agreement. Tsushima Island prospered as a port for merchants under the national isolation policy of the Edo era. The So clan flourished through this trade and silver mining in the late 17th century. In the Modern ages, the Japanese government fortified Tsushima Island for defense.
Climate and Geography
The first scenery to hit you on Tsushima Island will be an overwhelming rocky atmosphere.Tsushima measures 82 km from north to south and 18 km from east to west. Seen from an airplane, the island looks rocky with deep green flourishing forests. The scenery at the airport makes it seem like it’s located on top of a rocky cliff.
Tsushima has a marine subtropical climate and the precipitation is high. Tsushima rarely suffers direct hits by typhoons. Unlike other islands, water retention capacity is low and there are less flat areas, so Tsushima Island is not suitable for rice farming. Forestry and fishing are Tsuhima’s main industries.
What to See
When I met a person who had migrated from Tokyo and was engaged in the tourist industry to promote Tsushima, she expressed the difficulty of how to spread the charms of the island. Historical sites such as Mogoya and Iwayane goya are unique and aesthetic. However, compared to Kyoto and Tokyo, it is a little bit difficult to understand the beauty of Tsushima.I liked Tsushima Island very much from the first day and I believe it is the best island for outdoor lovers. For amateur mountaineers like me, Tsushima Island is one of the destinations which lets us explore new fields in Japan. It is also a mecca for anglers due to its rich sea resources. There is always something fun to do and see on Tsushima Island for nature lovers or historical buffs. Tsushima is not a flashy tourist destination, but you can enjoy deep greens and beauty of the countryside. It has a natural atmosphere, fishing village and people living comfortably with nature.Tsushima and Iki Islands were often combined as a tourist destination, but actually they have different historical backgrounds, climates, cultures and atmosphere. It is fun to compare as you travel through the islands.
A big question is whether to go Goto Islands or Iki and Tsushima Islands, when you visit Nagasaki Prefecture. I’m still considering it too. My recommendation would be that if you are a historical buff, visit to Tsushima and Iki Islands, but if you love modern architecture, Goto Island offers various kinds of sceneries.
When to Visit
Annual precipitation is high, but annual snowfall is lower than any other Sea of Japan islands. In Japan, the Sea of Japan side has a huge amount of snowfall every winter, but in Tsushima, it is rare to have such snowfall. If you wish to climb mountains, avoiding June and September is the best.
How to Travel
It takes 30 mins from Tsushima airport to Nagasaki and Fukuoka airports. Tsushima airport is situated in the center of Iki between the northern and southern parts, so it is easy to access both sides of the island. It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes from Fukuoka to Izuhara Port by high-speed boat.
If your schedule is tight, Izuhara Port, in southern Tsushima would be the first priority to visit to see old temples and historic sites of the So clan. Izuhara Port also gives easy access to several mountains which can be climbed around Izuhara Port.
The road is well-established, but Tsushima is huge, being 82 km in length from south to north. If you also want to visit coastal areas away from main prefecture road, the road becomes narrower with many curves so it takes lots of time to visit. A public bus is available, but joining a guided tour or renting a car are the best ways to see around Tsushima.
Basic Traffic Rules in Japan
There are several important traffic rules in Japan.
- Drive on the left hand side of the road
- Red traffic light means STOP. You can not go straight or turn right obviously. Additionally, it is forbidden to turn left while the traffic light is red, even though the traffic is less than in other big cities.
It was also hard for me to drive in the U.S. as I needed to drive on the opposite side. Which means, the driver’s seat is opposite and indicators and wipers are also on the opposite side. When I returned from the US, I always confused the location of the indicator and wiper and it irritated my passengers a lot.
Where to Stay
I recommend to stay one night at Hitakatsu Port in the northern part of Tsushima and one night at Izuhara Port in the southern part of Tsushima. There are reasonable hotels and minshuku inns near both ports.