After visiting Yakushima, Tsushima and Iki Islands, I totally became addicted to island journeys and wanted to explore more. So, I decided to venture to Oki Islands in Shimane Prefecture which is 3 hours away from Tokyo and 1 hour away from Osaka by air. With its seaside location and west-facing ocean views, the sunsets on offer on Oki Islands are some of the most memorable ones I’ve experienced in Japan. Here is a quick guide to both the old and new Oki Islands.
A little bit of History
Oki Islands have been an important port for ships trading around Japan, and en route to Asia since ancient times. The islands flourished during the period of the Kita-mae-bune trading route from Hokkaido to Osaka via Yamaguchi, established in the 17th century. It has also gotten a lot of fame as a place of exile for nobles because it has bountiful nature, clean drinkable water and farmland fields. During the postwar period, as is the same in many other local areas, Oki Islands suffered an excessive decline in population. Since 2005, the local government has tried to reinvigorate the town by promoting its local production and culture. The local government and residents began to produce branded oysters, high quality Oki beef and accepted high school students from other regions. In 2011, Oki Islands created a slogan “Nai mono wa Nai” which means “there is nothing that doesn’t exist” or “I can’t give you what I don’t have”, but there is plenty of nature and local kindness.
It’s ironic here, but I’m sure there have been many opportunities to revitalize the islands by the arrival of new comers. People have migrated to Oki Islands from other regions and young families are now inhabiting the neighborhoods. One of the factors behind Oki Islands success is the collaboration that has been built up between locals and the recent arrivals.
UNESCO Global Geopark Oki Islands
Oki Islands are a group of over 180 islands located 40–80 kilometers off the coast of Shimane Prefecture in the Sea of Japan. Oki Islands were once part of the Eurasian Continent. It later sank to the bottom of a lake, and then to the bottom of the sea. Finally, volcanic activity formed islands in the south-west of mainland Japan and mountains with over 500 meters peaks were created. Only four of the islands are permanently inhabited and are split into two groups: Dogo Island (Okinoshima) and the Dozen Islands (Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima). The latter three islands with their inner sea compose a caldera landform which formed 6 million years ago. Due to its rich geological heritage and geographical isolation, the area boasts unique landscapes and traditional customs separate from mainland Japan and the region has been designated a UNESCO Global Geopark.
On the Japan Sea side, the weather in winter is windy and snowy due to seasonal winds from the Eurasia Continent picking up water from the sea. It hits Japan’s mountain range and brings heavy snow, but Oki Islands have less snow than mainland Japan due to the effect of the Tsushima current which is one of Japan’s biggest and warmest currents.
Dogo Island – Town name: Okinoshima Town, Population: 15,000, Size: 243 km2
Dogo Island’s shape is beautifully round. It has the highest peak, Mount Daimanji (608 m) and mountain ranges with peaks over 500 meters and several rivers running on the island. The mountains divide the island into five districts and each district has its own culture and atmosphere. Dogo Island is the largest of the four main inhabited islands and boasts many shrines, both large and small.Gateways to Oki Islands are Saigo Port and Oki airport located on Dogo Island and there are many choices of restaurants, places to stay, water activities, fishing spots, sea kayaking, diving and be sure to join a sunset tour.
The best place to start your adventure on the Oki Islands is to visit the Oki Nature Museum, where they have a lot of information and a display about what you can see in these unique islands. It is located next to Saigo Port, and it takes only 30 minutes to see all around.
Nakanoshima Island – Town name: Ama Town, Population: 2,400, Size: 33 km2
Nakanoshima Island is known as a place of exile for Emperor Gotoba in the 13th century. I imagined it should be a dark, cold and lonely place, but there are fresh local delicacies, beautiful nature and very supportive warm-hearted local islanders. In the 13th century, news from mainland Japan was delivered after a two-month delay, and modern communication like internet, telephone or even telegram were still a long way from being invented. It was obvious Emperor Gotoba would have enjoyed his life here on Nakanoshima Island.
Nishinoshima Island – Town name: Nishinoshima Town, Population: 3,000, Size: 56 km2
Literally named “the western island”, Nishinoshima boasts vast open landscapes. Nishinoshima Island is the largest of the three Dozen Islands. This rich geological island is one of the most well-preserved with the central volcanic cone of the caldera. When you arrive at Beppu Port on Nishinoshima Island, imagine you are standing on the edge of the old caldera. There are two main ports, Beppu and Urago. Shops, cafes and accommodations are located near Beppu Port.The Kuniga coast (7 km), located on the westside of Nishinoshima Island, has a superb view and this should be one of the highlights of Oki Islands. If you plan in advance, Nishinoshima Island is a great spot for fishing. You can rent fishing rods and see many anglers who are dropping a line around the ferry port and literally anywhere.
Chiburijima Island – Town name: Chibu Village, Population: 600, Size: 13 km2
Chiburijima has become a unique island and its long history and traditions have remained. One of the traditions is Makihata is a system of rotational grazing and field crops, and you can see the remains of stone walls as the evidence of this farming method.
When is the best season
The best time to go to Oki Islands is in summer (July-August) or late spring (April-May) as there are no typhoons in these seasons. Typhoons sometimes directly hit Oki Islands. The weather has a strong impact on the ocean’s condition, so even a small scale typhoon can affect the small islands.
In autumn (September-October) the temperatures are still warm but it gets gloomy. From the end of September to April, make sure to bring your long sleeves due to its cloudy and rainy weather. Recently, the amount of snowfall has increased and sometimes shipping is cancelled due to the rough weather.
How to get there
Getting to Oki Islands is a journey in itself, but the easiest and most time-friendly way to arrive is by air from Tokyo or Osaka and Kyoto.
Via Haneda Airport (Tokyo) – Fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Izumo Airport in Shimane Prefecture and transit to Oki Airport on Oki Islands. The trip takes a total of about 3 hours.
Via Itami Airport (Osaka and Kyoto) – Itami Airport has direct flights to Oki Islands so may be the easiest way to fly in to from Osaka and Kyoto, if you planning to travel to the western part of Japan. From Itami Airport to Oki Airport takes about one hour.
By boat – Ferries depart from Sakai-Minato Ferry Terminal in Tottori Prefecture and Shichirui Port in Shimane Prefecture multiple times daily. There are buses from Matsue Station, Yonego Station and Sakaiura Station to Sakai-Minato Ferry Terminal.
Getting Around: Rent a car!
A rental car is essential to get around Oki Islands, as you will need at least a few days here to explore at length. There are also inter-island ferries for travel with a car between the islands.