Tsushima Island is located between the Korean Peninsula (49.5 km) and Japan’s mainland (132 km). Tsushima Island has prospered commercially with Korea and China as a trading hub and I wanted to visit it to better understand how it became such an important entrance point and meeting place for different cultures. Here is a summary of key cultural delights and essential experiences that you must know before visiting the fascinating Southern Tsushima (Shimo-Tsushima).
Walk around Izuhara Port Area
Those who have had the pleasure of visiting historical sites would like the Izuhara Port area, with its extraordinary well-preserved old town and streets. The historical harbor of Tsushima is as solemn as an old Japanese town. Classical neighborhoods come and go in Izuhara and it takes two hours to see around.The So clan played an important role for the trading business in Tsushima and they constructed castles in Izuhara. Izuhara becomes the cultural heart of Tsushima and has been the city’s top tourist draw for centuries. If you chance a visit before the crowds arrive before 9:00am, you will have a great opportunity to experience what life must have been like centuries ago.
Visit to Banshoin Temple
Banshoin Temple was built in 1615 to enshrine the heads of the So clan for future generations. The most beautiful part of Banshoin are the Hyakugangi stairs with 132 stone steps to the place with the enshrined heads of the So clan.
My most favorite part of old temples and shrines are the sacred trees, Goshinboku, which locals never cut down. So, the trees grow and grow and you can see very natural native trees there. Especially in Tsushima’s marine climate, moisture is good for growing tall trees. At the foot of Banshoin, there is the ruins of Kaneishi Castle and Yagura-mon gate that was renovated in 1990.
Explore Ofunee Dock
Ofunee Dock is located 5 minutes drive from the center of Izuhara Port. You can see the old shipbuilding dock constructed in 1663 in the Edo era. The way of construction was to pile stones on top of each other and it seems very firm with the latest technology having been used at that time. The original appearance still remains. During the storage of ships, the bottom of the ship appeared at low tide and it this made it practical to carry out repairs.
Hike in Mount Tatera
Shimo-Tsushima’s highlight was hiking Mount Tatera, 558.45 m above sea level. If the weather permits, hiking the mountain is the best activity on Tsushima Island. The green forest on the rocky mountain makes it attractive for me to hike. Tsushima is warmish and rainy by the effect of the Tsushima current. Compared to Yakushima Island and several mountains in northern Japan, Tsushima’s big trees have unique shapes and look like guardians for hikers. One of my favorite trees is the Sudajii tree and it appears to be saying welcome to us.Mount Tatera is a sacred place for sun worship and locals keep it as a holy area which is forbidden to enter, so we could see huge trees that have been protected long time. It is a better idea to join a tour or ask a guide to hike Mount Tatera due to the complexity of the route. When I visited, some trees had fallen down in typhoons and the path had disappeared.
Drive to Stone Roof Warehouses at Shiine Area
After visiting fascinating scenery of Mogoya in northern Tsushima, I really wanted to see the stone roof warehouses in the Shiine area. Compared to historical sites in Izuhara area, the Shiine area has a distinct country appeal.The Stone Roof Warehouse is constructed with plank-shaped stones which can easily be reshaped and carried from the nearby mountain. They don’t need to use a scraper at all due to its natural pliability. The warehouse was built without any nails but instead by assembling wooden interlocking pieces. They separated the warehouse into two or three rooms to store and preserve rice, seaweeds, foods and clothes separately.
In Tsushima, the wind is strong enough to spread a fire quickly and burn down the village, so people built the Stone Roof Warehouses lining the river to protect their belongings from the fire. Earthquakes are rare in Tsushima, so it is possible to build warehouses with a stone roof. As I had experienced the strong wind at northern observatories, I could easily imagine that the wind could spread the fire all over the area very rapidly.
Stroll Komodahama Beach
10 minutes drive away from the Shiina area, Komodahama Beach is located. The beach is now very calm and peaceful, but it was the first battlefield of the Mongolian Invasion in 1274. In 1274, the Mongolian army attacked the west coast of Tsushima with 30,000 soldiers. The Japanese Sukekuni So with 80 horse soldiers tried to fight back but couldn’t survive. The Komodahama shrine is located right near the entrance to Komodahama Beach and it enshrines the Sukekuni So and his soldiers. The impressive contrast of a solemn small shrine and the modern beach is definitely worth a visit.
Things to eat in Tsushima
Rokube Noodle: I love to eat soft and chewy textured foods and my goal in Tsushima was to eat Rokube which is cooked with sweet potato starch. I had Rokube noodles with salty-sweet broth. The texture is similar to Kudzu, arrowroot starch, but the chewiness continues until the end of eating. it has a slightly jelly–like texture too. I couldn’t stop eating it. Some restaurants serve Rokube dumpling, but my recommendation is Rokube noodle.Sweet potato adapted to poor soil in Tsushima and it prevented several famines there. However, sweet potato can easily go bad and it is difficult to be preserved. People tried to extract starch from sweet potato by exposing it to water several times. Rokube is such simple food, but I could feel the ancient wisdom to live on Tsushima Island. Taishu Soba Noodle: Another regional specialty is Taishu soba (buckwheat noodles). Tsushima Island is mountainous and land transport was not well developed until modern ages, so culture, foods and traditions are well preserved. It is said that Taishu soba was introduced to Japan through the Korean Peninsula from China in the latter part of the Jomon period, over 2500 years ago. Buckwheat was suitable for the harvest on the sterile mountainous Tsushima Island.On the way to Komoda Beach, I visited Takumi noodle shop which is a local spot that serves up the regional cuisine.
Yasuragi cafe: When I started to drive on Tsushima Island from Tsushima Airport, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find any cafes or restaurants to have lunch on the way. So, I had lunch at Yasuragi cafe which was the first cafe I found at the beginning of my drive. It was full of locals having lunch and it provided a nice view of the port. I thought I might have just a sandwich or toast, but they served several kinds of platter with rice, soup and vegetables so I ordered the grilled meat lunch set and the volume was satisfying.
What to Shop for
In the Izuhara area, you will find many souvenir shops, local handcrafts and sweet shops. If you want to buy local produce, the souvenir shop next to Tsushima Tourist Office is the best place to go.When I climbed Mount Tatera, my field guide told me the number of Tsushima deer had increased and were harming the environment by eating under-grass and changing the scenery from what it was 50 years ago. Currently, Tsushima deer are being used as souvenirs in the form of processed food and leather products and you can find them at the souvenir shop.
If you want to buy various kinds of Japanese souvenirs, the shopping center located right across from the Tourist Center is the place to find something special to remember your trip by. You might find things from Hokkaido, in northern Japan, to Okinawa, in southern Japan. I think this is the only island where this variety of souvenirs can be seen in Japan.