The Oki Islands

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Bathing in the Sea of Japan, and noted for their unique culture, distinctive nature, and spectacular scenery, the Oki Islands are a designated National Geopark of Japan… And yes, JETs get to live and work here!

The Oki archipelago is spread between 40 and 80 kilometers north-west of Shimane. Of about 180 islands, the four largest are inhabited. These islands are the creation of volcanic activity. Don’t worry, though. The volcanoes are long a thing of the past and this area is now one of the least prone to natural disasters in Japan. This dramatic landscape has also played host to a great human story of ancient settlement, exiled emperors, and a brief stint of independence. With at least 40,000 years of human life, the islands have no lack of tales and traditions stretching far back into the mists of history. The landscape remains very much unchanged, and the traditional, rural life has helped to preserve some very old customs and culture.

Today, the Oki islands have a combined population of about 21,000. The main industry is fishing, with agriculture playing a central role too. There is plenty of fresh produce to be found in the shops and restaurants, and Oki’s seafood is second to none. Oki beef is also famed for its quality, and while mostly shipped off for sale in the big cities, we can get it here at one restaurant on Ama Island. Across all the islands, there is no lack of adventure to be had with Oki being home to some of the finest scenery in Shimane, and a breathtakingly beautiful, aqua-blue sea which is home to some unique marine life. The sea also helps by keeping us about 3°C cooler in summer and 3°C warmer in winter. While there is some snow during the winter months, Oki does not get as much snow as our mainland friends.

The four inhabited Oki Islands form the Oki Geopark, a member of the Global Geoparks Network. The geopark network is supported by UNESCO and recognizes places of geological significance and outstanding natural and cultural landscapes. Oki is a place where you can discover the unique geo-history, ecosystem, culture and history of the islands –you will love exploring Oki.

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The four inhabited islands are generally split into two areas. The largest island stands out alone and is known as Oki Dogo, whereas the three smaller islands huddle together to make Oki Dozen. 5 JETs are placed on Dogo, 3 on Nishinoshima and one each on Ama, and Chibu.

The place-names of the Oki Islands can be a little confusing and it depends on whether you are talking about an island, the township of the island, or (in the case of travelling to the islands by ferry) the port name in the township on the island. The only names you generally need know are Dogo, Nishinoshima, Ama, and Chibu – though it is useful to know the names of the ports when wanting to travel to/from and around the islands by ferry. Here is a brief guide to understanding the names.

Okinoshima-cho – 隠岐の島町
  • Island name: Dogo – 島後
  • Ferry Port: Saigo – 西郷
Nishinoshima-cho – 西ノ島町
  • Island name: Nishinoshima-西ノ島
  • Ferry Port: Beppu – 別府
Ama – 海士町
  • Island name: Nakanoshima – 中ノ島
  • Ferry Port: Hishiura – 菱浦
Chibu – 知夫
  • Island name: Chiburijima- 知夫里島
  • Ferry Port: Kurii – 来居

The islands can be reached by ferries from the ports of Sakaiminato 境港 and Shichirui 七類. You can check the ferry website (Japanese).

Access

From Matsue

Bus: JR Matsue Station/Rainbow Plaza (near Shimane University) to either Shichirui Port (Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (Sakaiminato) = 40 – 50 minutes

Ferry: Shichirui Port (Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (Sakaiminato) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima) or Saigo(Dogo) = 2 – 2.5 hours

High-Speed Ferry: 1 – 2 hours (twice the price of the ferry)

From Yonago

Bus: JR Yonago Station/JR Sakaiminato Station/Yonago Airport to either Shichirui Port (Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (Sakaiminato)

Ferry: Shichirui Port (Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (Sakaiminato) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima) = 2 – 2.5 hours

High-Speed Ferry: 1 – 2 hours (twice the price of the ferry)

From Osaka

Plane (JAL): Itami Airport – Oki Airport (Dogo Island) = 45 minutes

Ferry: Saigo Port (Dogo Island) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima Island) = 1 – 1.5 hours

Fast Ferry: Saigo Port (Dogo Island) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima Island) = 30 – 45 minutes

From Tokyo

Plane (JAL): Haneda Airport – Itami Airport – Oki Airport (Dogo Island) = 45 minutes

Ferry: Saigo Port (Dogo Island) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima Island) = 1 – 1.5 hours

Fast Ferry: Saigo Port (Dogo Island) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima Island) = 30 – 45 minutes

OR

Plane (JAL): Haneda Airport – Yonago Airport (1 hour 15 minutes)

Bus: Yonago Airport to Shichirui Port (Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (Sakaiminato)

Ferry: Shichirui Port (Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (Sakaiminato) to Beppu Port (Nishinoshima) = 2 – 2.5 hours

High-Speed Ferry: 1 – 2 hours (twice the price of the ferry)

Travel Tips

Dogo Island also has an airport (OKI) just outside the town of Saigo which provides service to Osaka International Airport (Itami, “ITM”) and Izumo Airport (“IZO”). These flights are operated by JAL.

The ferry service in winter is limited, so it is easier to plan short trips away during spring – autumn.

The fast-ferry Rainbow is very convenient in the summer-autumn as there is a quick one hour service from both Saigo and Beppu to Shichirui. It is about twice the price of the ferry, but if time is money, then use this to get to the mainland quickly.

Buy a return ferry ticket (pink form, only available at a port in Oki) when you leave the island. Since 2017, island residents get a subsidy of around half of the fare from the Shimane government, so a return ferry fare is around 2,650 yen. If you have family or friends coming to visit (and it is a group of eight people or more), they can get a 10% discount on their ferry ticket.

Be sure to check the weather and marine forecasts before you leave the island, and when you are away. Occasionally the boat is cancelled especially in the winter months or typhoon periods (Rainbow 3m+ swells, Ferry 5m+ swells) so always have a Plan B, just in case.

Make sure to check the ferry website, http://www.okikisen.co.jp for information on the waves the day before you are due to depart.  When you are in Oki, they will announce this over the loud speaker system early in the morning. For those living in Dogo that have an important travel connection the next day, booking a flight is a safer option.

When you want to travel between Chibu, Ama and Nishinoshima, use the Isokaze or Ferry Dozen. If you want to take your car too, use Ferry Dozen. Be careful as there are only two return trips to Chibu each day (morning and afternoon). When the NW or N winds are strong, the Ferry Dozen service to Chibu is cancelled. Both Isokaze and Ferry Dozen are 300yen one way. You should buy a discounted 11 Trip ticket (3000yen) if you use the local ferry service regularly. If the weather is very bad, this service may get cancelled. This will be broadcast over the town loud speaker system.

Okinoshima-cho (Dogo)

Okinoshima-cho is the town on Dogo Island(島後, or ‘after islands’ means the islands after Dozen while travelling from the mainland) and has a population of around 15,000. It encompasses all town and villages on the island, and its centre is in Saigo. Saigo is by far the largest town of the Oki islands has a population of roughly 10,000,(half of the Oki Islands, and two-thirds of Dogo) with a large proportion of those being over the age of 65.

“Saigo was a great surprise. Instead of the big fishing village I had
expected to see, I found a city much larger and handsomer and in all
respects more modernized than Sakai; a city of long streets full of good
shops; a city with excellent public buildings; a city of which the whole
appearance indicated commercial prosperity. Most of the edifices were
roomy two story dwellings of merchants, and everything had a bright, new
look.
”-Lafcadio Hearn, Island Voyages

Although Hearn’s writings are from over hundred years ago, his words are almost as true today as they were then. Although many of the buildings are starting to show their age, Oki today has facilities unrivaled in similar-sized mainland counterparts. The JETs in Dogo enjoy the availability of a range of food/clothing/homeware shops, as well as three supermarkets and a large hardware/homeware store. Saigo has nearly everything you need to live comfortably.

Arriving by sea to the Southern side of Dogo, the town’s vista is dominated by the large hotels (one of which is in built to resemble a cow) at the waterfront, with a huge red bridge to the left stretching across the mouth of the harbour. It all looks very modern but in reality, the real heart of Saigo town is below and around those large buildings. You find Oki in the small shops, bars and restaurants that line the old, narrow streets that hide away off the main roads. There are numerous sights to behold around Dogo, and it is also home to some unique plant and animal species, as well as unique cultural traditions like Oki Sumo and Bull Sumo!

Sightseeing

The sights of Okinoshima-cho are mostly the work of the amazing nature, but there are some notable shrines and buildings well worth a look at.

Shrines:

  • Tamawakasu-mikoto Shrine (Saigo Town)

This is the largest shrine on the island. It is guarded by a great cedar that has stood in front of the shrine for 1,000 years.

  • Dangyo-no-taki Waterfall (near Tsuma Village)

Dangyo is special because of it’s surroundings rather than the shrine building. It sits at the foot of two small waterfalls. Raining down on the left is the female, and on the right is the male. They meet at the foot of the steps up to the shrine and trickle down the rocky riverbed together. The water has been designated as one of the 100 Top Waters of Shimane Prefecture and is regarded as sacred ‘winning water’ by the people of Dogo.

  • Mizuwakasu Jinja (Goka Village)

This shrine is set in very scenic grounds and although it is not the biggest shrine here, it is the Ichinomiya Shrine of Dogo, which means it is the most-highest ranking in the Shinto system. You can also see a Sumo ring on the shrine grounds where religious Sumo matches take place.

  • Iwakura Shrine

There are also a number of very ancient shrines on the islands that can be considered the prototype of the Shinto shrine. These shrines worship great trees and other awe-inspiring natural objects and are a sight behold.

  • Mt. Daimanji/Chichi Sugi

The tallest mountain in the Oki Islands at, 608m  offers stunning views over Saigo, Dozen and even on a rare occasion of Hondo, the mainland. Nearby, is the ancient cedar, Chichi Sugi said to contain a maternal deity.

Museums and buildings:

  • The Oki Nature Museum

Introduces the geology and unique eco-system of Oki.

  • The Oki Ethnographic Museum

Introduces the history and culture of Oki.

  • Goka Museum

Introduces the history of bull-fighting in Oki.

  • Misaki Lighthouse

It is, literally, just a lighthouse. However, it is also the first Japanese-built lighthouse in Japan. Before it, all lighthouses in Japan were imported from Europe. With the amazing view of the coast and the sea with it, it is always worth a visit.

Nature:

  • Coastlines

Any part of the coastline is beautiful here, but noted areas are the Shirashima coast (near Nakamura village in the north), the Tsuma coast (around Tsuma village in the south-west), and the Fuse coast (around Fuse village in the north east). These coasts offer spectacular views of the Dozen islands with a dramatic scenery of ocean-sculpted rocks and cliffs.

  • Candle Rock

Off the north-eastern shores stands a tall, slender sea stack with a pointy top. During summer evenings, boat tours head out to catch the sunset, and at the right angle, the orange sun will come down and sit on the top of the sea stack. The pointy top of the stack looks like a wick and silhouetted by the sun, the rock looks like a candle lighting in the sea.

  • Lizard Rock

This is a nature sculpted, lizard shaped rock (though many argue it looks more like a bird), clinging to the side of a larger rock. It is very high itself and is located high in the mountains, so it can only be viewed from far away. It is interesting to see, not least to determine for yourself whether it’s a lizard or a bird.

  • Unique Trees

Dogo has a number of unique trees. They are noted for their age and shape. Three trees are recommended for sightseeing: Chichi-sugi (800 years old), Yao-sugi (over 1000 years old), and Kaburasugi (600 years old).

  • Amenities

Although, Oki is infamous for it’s lack of a convenience store, Okinoshima-cho has nearly everything you expect to find in a town. Whether you are wanting to keep fit, or indulge in the delicious local grub with a glass of beer or sake (or wine), there is more variety in the town than one might expect for a small island. Dogo also has its own sake brewery which utilizes the island’s delicious rice and spring water. You can try Oki Homare Sake in any of the bars or restaurants on the island.

Around the town:

Okinoshima-cho has several hotels, and a good number of ryokan and guesthouses too. These are located all around the island. There are also some camping locations with facilities as well as log cabins, which are ideal for relaxing in nature during the summer months.

There is one doctor’s clinic in Saigo (across the street from the swimming pool), and there is a hospital too. The hospital is quite large for a town of this size, and is equipped to handle many injuries and illnesses. On occasion, people must go to a hospital on the mainland for more serious matters.

Shopping:

There are many small shops for all your needs down around the Saigo Port.

There are 3 supermarkets in Saigo:

  • Wellness– Near Tamawakasu-mikoto Shrine, on the way to Tsuma. No fresh goods, but a good variety of tinned/packaged goods as well as a large range of medical and cosmetic products.
  • Sun Terrace – Toward the north of Saigo, across from the hospital. Contains Seria- a 100-yen shop, and numerous clothing/home ware items. Has a wider range of products(including quite a large range of imported foods) than Himari.
  • Himari – A few rice fields to the north of Sun Terrace contains a cheap clothing store and alcohol store, too.

All 3 supermarkets have food stores as well as some homeware/clothing sections.
As well as Sun Terrace and Himari, the same area also has:

  • Hattori – Books/Magazines/Stationery
  • Jintendo – Homeware/Hardware/Gardening store
  • Yamada Denki– Electronics store next to Sun Terrace.
  • ED-ON- Electronics store next to Himari
  • Daiso- 100yen store next to Jintendo.

Restaurants

There are many restaurants located around the town. Most are Japanese cuisine but some are foreign food restaurants.

The types of Japanese restaurants include sushi, ramen, yakiniku (fried meat), and okonomiyaki (noodle pancake). There are also other restaurants of fusion Japanese cuisine.

Non-Traditional Japanese restaurants:

  • Ryoba (Japanese/French influence) – Saigo, near the port.
  • Seano (Asian cuisine, unique to the chef and and very, very popular among former JETs) – Saigo, near the port.

Traditional Japanese restaurants:

  • Ajinokura (A range of Japanese sea-food meals, as well as some meat dishes) – Saigo, near the port.
  • Suisen Yakiniku – Saigo, near the port.
  • Tecchan Okonomiyaki – Saigo, near the port.
  • Doji (Izakaya -Japanese restaurant/bar. Intended for drinking and snacking) – Saigo, near the port.
  • Anzu (Izakaya) – Saigo, near the port.
  • Rin 2nd floor (Izakaya) – Saigo, near the port.
  • Yaosugi (sushi) – Saigo, near the port.
  • Yuukari Yakiniku – Saigo, across from the fire station
  • Yuki Yakiniku – Saigo, across from the fire station.
  • Suisha (udon noodles) – in front of Sun Terrace.
  • Kaiho (rotating sushi bar) – Saigo – behind the hospital, across the river.
  • Ajitomi Yakiniku – Goka village.

Foreign food restaurants:

  • Ryuho (Chinese)
  • Hassenro (Chinese)
  • Pomodoro (Italian)
  • La Cigale (Italian and Japanese food restaurant and café in Goka)
  • Sun Café ( Japanese style western food)

Bars

Just like the restaurants, there are bars scattered all about the port area. Many are snack bars (includes karaoke, snacks, female service staff who make sure your drinks keep topped up). Snack bars are the more ‘traditional ’ type of bars. They are the most common and cater mostly for work parties.

Two bars that may be more familiar to westerners are:

  • Yula Yula – Run by Kozawa-san, a long-time friend of JETs through the years, Yula Yula is always an inviting place for foreigners. It is a DJ bar with lots of great western music, and offers tofu snacks from the Kozawa family tofu-making business, as well as fries, fried chicken, etc. The bar often has DJ events.
  • Side Show Darts Bar – a bar that is popular among the young people of Dogo where you can play darts.

Sports

  • Swimming Pool and Gym. (Saigo)

This facility is as good as it gets for a town of this size. The pool is 25 meters. Upstairs there is a gym with some treadmills, exercise bikes, and weight equipment. It is quite a small gym and the equipment is limited.

  • Rainbow arena running track. (Saigo)

This is more of a dirt-track around a baseball field, but it is popular with the locals to get some exercise by walking or running around it. And it’s free!

  • Tennis Courts (Tsuma)

There is a tennis court facility between Saigo and Tsuma. There are about three astroturf tennis courts.

  • Sea sports

There are several places around the island where you can enjoy sea sports, such as scuba diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking and jet-skiing.

  • Goka-Onsen

The only Onsen on Dogo is located in Goka village, in the North-East end of the island. There are traditional gender-segregated baths, as well as a large mixed bath(swim-wear compulsory).

DOZEN

Nishinoshima

Nishinoshima (西ノ島 “The Western Island”) is the largest of the three “Dozen” Islands (島前, or ‘before islands’ meaning the first islands from the mainland), and the second largest in the Oki Archipelago.

Nishinoshima has a population of about 3,000 with about 39% over the age of 65. The island has one combined elementary and junior high school, but no high school or college. This has led to a smaller percentage of residents in the 16-23 year old age bracket. High school students go to schools on other islands(most commonly the neighbouring, Dozen High School on Ama taking the izokaze every day), or to the mainland. The elderly people are very active and healthy, and many are in the 80 – 100 year age group.

The islands offer a “hidden paradise” quality as the breathtaking scenery and crystal clear waters on the beaches can be enjoyed without the constant crowds that you would find in larger cities.

The small community atmosphere offers wonderful opportunities to meet local residents and get involved in community events so ask around or check the posters in the town. Many residents exchange enthusiastic greetings while walking down the streets and are eager to greet new guests by opening their homes or sharing their favorite sightseeing locations or stories about the island and its history.

Historically, Oki is famous for being a place of exile for emperors and major political figures. Emperor Godaigo was temporarily exiled to Nishinoshima from 1332 to 1333 and evidence of his residence can still be seen throughout the island. Other remaining historical artifacts include stone walls build over 500 years ago to section off fields for rotational crop farming, a system called Makihata, set up to most efficiently use the limited space on the island. These walls can be seen in several locations throughout the island and are currently maintained by local residents.

Fishing, farming and tourism are the main industries in the island, and throughout Oki. Nishinoshima is famous for delicacies from the sea (squid, fish, rock oysters, rainbow-colored scallops, seaweed etc.) and amazing scenery anywhere you go on the island. Your eyes and stomach will not be disappointed on Nishinoshima.

Living on an isolated island can have its challenges (especially in winter when the ferry service is limited). Being in a small town means very limited information in English, but you do have  two other JET participants in Nishi itself, and other JET participants living nearby (Ama Town, Chibu Village and Okinoshima Town) and caring staff who will try their best to speak with you, so you can always have someone to talk to or spend time with. Living in Oki is an opportunity few JET participants have, so make the most of it, and enjoy travelling to the mainland once in a while.

Town Highlights

  • Kuniga Coast – Hiking course along the cliff top, sightseeing boat course.
  • Matengai Cliff – Cows and horses grazing, amazing views of Kuniga Coast.
  • Kannon-iwa Rock (Candle Rock) – Amazing views of Kuniga Coast, great sunsets.
  • Akao Lookout – Views of Kuniga Coast, great sunsets, cows and horses.
  • Akekure-no-iwaya Sea Cavern – A 250m long sea cave, go through on a sightseeing boat!
  • Onimai Lookout – Views of Dozen Islands, great sunsets, cows and horses.
  • Mt. Takuhi – Views of Dozen Islands, special forest, impressive shrine.
  • Takuhi Shrine – Great history, kind Shinto priest.
  • Funabiki Canal – Dug by hand by local people 100 years ago, go through on a boat.
  • Mt. Takasaki – Special forest, nice views.
  • Kurogi Imperial Palace – Where exiled Emperor Godaigo once lived.
  • Nishinoshima Furusato-kan Museum – Discover some of the island’s history and culture.
  • Yurahime Shrine – Interesting shrine, squid harbor, Japanese mythology.
  • Sotohama Beach – Great for swimming, water slide, summer fun.
  • Mimiura Beach – Nice place to snorkel and dive for shellfish.

Amenities

  • Sports Gym, Mita – fitness center, swimming pool, spa pool, table tennis etc.
  • Town Gymnasium, Mita – basketball, volleyball, badminton etc.
  • Tennis courts, Mita – small golf course, gate-ball/ground-golf course, baseball ground etc.
  • Kanko Koryu Center, Urago – music room, craft room etc.
  • Fishing Center, Hashi
  • Camping Sites: Mimiura Beach and Shimane-bana Auto-Campground
  • Club Noah Diving Center, D-Style – diving, sea kayaking, snorkeling, wakeboarding etc.
  • Swimming Beaches: Sotohama Beach and Mimiura Beach (you can also swim in other places)

Shopping

  • Matsunoya, Beppu – Medium-sized grocery and daily goods store (open until 7pm everyday)
  • Your’s, Mita – Supermarket (open until 7pm everyday)
  • TOP, Mita – Daily goods, clothing, and 100 yen store (open until 7pm everyday)
  • Darumaya – Grocery store (open until 11pm Monday-Saturday, 9pm Sunday)
  • JA, Beppu – Green Corner (locally grown) fruit and vegetables, household supplies
  • There are smaller grocery stores in Urago, Funakoshi, Yura, Shakunoe and Otsu that stock most things.
  • If you want to buy more international foods, then visit Lapin supermarket in Matsue or order online.

Japanese Cultural Activities JETs join or have joined in the past

  • Mikado Matsuri (Emperor Godaigo Festival)
  • Yurahime Shrine Festival
  • Funakoshi Town Festival (Takada Shrine)
  • Takuhi Shrine Festival
  • Hatsumairi (Takuhi Shrine – New Year)
  • Makihata Stone Wall Cleaning (community project)
  • Cooking Classes
  • Craft Classes (indigo dyeing, ikebana, painting, shell craft etc.)
  • Oki Minyo (Traditional Song and Dance)
  • Oki Dozen Kagura (Traditional Shinto Music and Dance)
  • Nature Walks – learning about the island’s plants, animals, history, culture
  • Oki Three Day Walk

Festivals and Events

  • Takuhi Shrine Festival

This takes place on the 23rd July (every two years). Takuhi Shrine is located mid-way up Mt. Takuhi. Here kagura is performed throughout the night and a feast is prepared for those who attend. You need to inform the priest that you are attending. It is a great event to be a part of.

  • Yurahime Shrine Festival

This takes place during the last weekend of July (every two years). On Saturday there is a ceremony at the shrine and then the mikoshi (portable shrine) is taken out and carried by many of the local men (who get very drunk). The mikoshi is put on a large boat and taken out to sea, with many people riding the boat also to watch kagura (traditional dance and music) and enjoy a fireworks display. There are stalls selling snacks nearby, and the people of Urago open their homes to neighbors, friends and family. This excitement is repeated on Sunday.

  • Nishinoshima Minyo-no-Yube (Performance Night)

This is held at the beginning of August, during summer vacation. Local traditional performing artists take the stage to show off their music and dance skills. Both locals and visitors enjoy this evening.

  • Sharabune Boat Festival

This is held at the end of the Obon Festival (16th August early morning). These boats are used to help usher the spirits back to the other world. The junior high school students in each community help make these boats by hand from straw. Some are large enough to hold at least 10 people. Along the rope sails are hundreds of colorful strips of paper, all messages from families with deceased relatives. On the day of the festival each boat is pushed into the harbor by residents of each town and pulled out into the open sea.

  • Mikado (Emperor Godiago) Festival

This festival is held every two years to commemorate Emperor Godaigo (an exiled political figure) having lived in Nishinoshima. This historical tale is important to the people of Nishinoshima. It is now depicted through a warrior parade, music, dance, local delicacies, stage events, raffles etc. It is held at Kurogi Imperial Palace near Beppu Port.

  • Tenyawazu Festival

Takes place every year in autumn at the B&G Marine Sports Center. Activities include live stage performances, mini-golf, water sumo, floating bridge biking challenge, fishing contest, and more. You can enjoy some homemade Nishinoshima delicacies from the food stands.

  • Shuhaira/Niwanomai/Kami-sumo Ceremony

This is held in October at Mita-Hachimangu Shrine (near Beppu Port) in odd numbered years and at Hiyoshi Shrine (in Urago) in even numbered years. Traditional dances and historical songs are performed at these shrines for religious purposes and to ask for a bountiful autumn harvest. These dances are listed as National Cultural Treasures.

  • Squid and Tuna Festival

This is held in autumn at the Kanko-Koryu Center in Urago. There are events for everyone to enjoy including a fishing contest, stage events, tuna sushi feast, music, squid bbq etc. Both locals and visitors enjoy this fun day.

  • Local Industry and Culture Fair

Held once every two years, this is a chance for locals to put their talents on display. There are several arts and crafts galleries, food stands, small stalls and talent performances featuring taiko drumming and traditional dance groups.

  • Kuniga Festival

This is held at the beginning of April to commemorate the start of the tourist season. It is now being held in conjunction with the Fishing Festival (season starts in April). The festival is held at either Kuniga Coast (Kuniga Beach) or Yurahime Shrine. There is always an array of stalls selling local delicacies, stage events, raffles and traditional music and dance.

  • Oki Three Day Walk

This annual walking festival is held during the first weekend of June. Each day offers various walking courses on one or two of the main Islands in Oki. It is a great way to tour these beautiful islands and make friends with visitors from all over Japan, as well.

  • Oki Dozen Kagura

This is practiced and performed by elementary and junior high school students. These kids are incredibly dedicated to their performances and put in many summer hours preparing and performing for touring groups. They can be seen at the local community center and various events and festivals throughout the year.

  • Oki Minyo (Traditional Songs and Dance)

The music of Oki is very distinctive. There are songs from each island, dances that use kitchen utensils (Kinnyamonya – rice spoons, Shigesa – pot lids etc.), and music that sailors and traders brought to Oki from around Japan and across Asia. Try and learn at least one of the songs or dances while you are here.

Things to Do in your Spare Time

In the spring and summer, outdoor activities including biking and hiking are popular for both residents and tourists. Many offices arrange outdoor classes and nature hikes to teach about plant life and offer hands-on experience with traditional activities. In June, all four main Oki Islands host the “Three Day Walk” which brings avid trekkers from all over Japan. In this event, each day is dedicated to one or two of the islands with trails planned to show you the best of what Oki has to offer. It is a great way to see Oki either as a resident or as a first time visitor.

With its crystal clear waters and warm temperature in the summers, the sea surrounding Nishinoshima is fantastic for snorkeling and scuba diving. Many residents have their own boats and often go diving for shellfish and octopus during the summer season.  For those without their own boats, the company Club Noah Oki offers instruction for various types of marine sports, such as scuba, wakeboarding, and inner-tubing, and is a great way to enjoy the water in the summer. If you want to enjoy the water on your own, Sotohama Beach is equipped for summer use with water slides, restrooms, showers, and a privately run snack stand up the road from the beach.

Fishing is popular all year round and can be done from almost anywhere on the island! If you become friends with any of the local fishermen, they will take you out on their boat during the day (snapper, mackerel etc.) or night (squid).

Handicrafts are a popular pastime for many Nishinoshima residents and there are several clubs and classes available. Sometimes groups are not advertised, so it helps to ask around. Some popular activities include shell and rock art (available at the tourism center in Urago), pottery and flower pressing. Special classes like felt making and indigo dyeing are also offered several times throughout the year.

Sports are another popular past time for young and old alike with many weekly clubs available. These include basketball, tennis, target bird golf (short range golf), tennis, badminton, basketball and futsal, plus many other monthly and bi-monthly activities. Nishinoshima has a community gym and a pool as well as many school gyms that can be rented out for group activities. The schools have after-school clubs which you can also join.

During the winter you can enjoy home parties with friends and neighbors, making snowmen with the local children (if it snows), gathering seaweed, star gazing, enjoying the winter sunsets, watching TV, playing computer games, visiting people in Ama Town, Chibu Village or Okinoshima Town etc.

Night Life

There are a number of snack bars that locals visit as well as a few izakaya (drinking bars). The owner of Miyako (in Urago) is a friendly lady who welcomes foreigners and locals alike. She has an extensive menu of food and drinks. Most other places serve beer, shochu, sake and other simple alcoholic drinks, as well as ramen and simple Japanese-style pub food. Almost all of the drinking establishments in Nishinoshima have karaoke machines, so you can be sure to find a local who will appreciate your singing! There is one karaoke box/room called Shima (in Funakoshi). You can take your own food and drink into the karaoke boxes, as long as you tidy up the room and take home any rubbish with you. Nagato (in Beppu) has an English menu. The lady is very friendly and is a good cook.

Sightseeing

One popular sightseeing location on Nishinoshima is Matengai Cliff along the Kuniga Coast. Matengai is one of the tallest sea cliffs in Japan and offers a breathtaking view of the Dozen Islands along with interesting natural rock formations along the coast.  There is a hiking trail going from the top of the cliff down to the coast that brings you along a grassy plain, past grazing horses and cows, and gradually reveals the beauty of the cliff as you make your way down the slope. Although it is possible to hike all year round, the fresh green of the new growth in spring in contrast with the bright blue water makes for a spectacular sight. The bottom of this trail is also the most popular location to view the sunset and often draws both residents and visitors alike.

Another popular location, Mt. Takuhi, is believed to be the original cone of the Dozen Caldera (collapsed volcano) and is the highest point on Nishinoshima. Starting at the trailhead partway up the mountain, it takes about 15-20 minutes to reach Takuhi Shrine, a shrine built partway into a natural cave in the rock face. Caretakers sometimes stay in the lodge next to the shrine, so you may get a chance to have tea with one of the priests and learn more about the area.

Further up the trail is one of the highest lookout points on Dozen and has a wonderful 360 degree view of the three islands and, if the weather is clear, Dogo (the largest island) and mainland Japan as well. This area, however, is known for having Mamushi (Japanese diamond viper) so you should exercise caution when climbing during summer.

Onimai Lookout is a popular place to view the calm inner sea and the rough Sea of Japan. Horses and cows graze peacefully around the lookout, and the sunset over the sea is breathtaking. You will need a car to get here as it is quite far from the town center.

There is a sightseeing boat which operates daily from April – November that takes passengers along the spectacular Kuniga Coast, and weather permitting, through the many caves and interesting rock structures along the coastline. Board the boat at either Beppu Port or Urago Port.

You can rent a bicycle (standard or electric-assist) at the Nishinoshima Tourism Association (Beppu Port) and explore the island. You can go to the Kuniga Coast, Sotohama Beach, Mt. Takuhi etc. Renting a bicycle is a great way to get around, but be aware that Nishinoshima is a mountainous island and even with the electric-assist bicycle you might find it hard to climb up the highest points on the island.

There are other options for sightseeing in Nishinoshima which include sightseeing bus and sightseeing taxi. For more information, contact the Nishinoshima Tourism Association (Beppu Port) TEL: 08514-7-8888. There is an English speaking staff member available. http://www.nkk-oki.com

Accommodation
Nishinoshima has three large hotels and many minshuku and ryokan that all offer great food and good service. Rooms can be booked directly or through the Nishinoshima Tourism Association. Lodgings fill up fast during peak travel seasons, so be sure to make your bookings in advance.

Ama

Ama, is the rural island success story other islands are trying to replicate all over Japan. Facing a declining population, and the risk of the closure of Dozen High School, the people of Ama have put a lot of effort into attracting ‘U-Turns’(Returnees) and ‘I-turns’(Mainly young migrants from elsewhere in Japan). Consequently, Ama has a diverse population of well travelled people.

The population is around 2,500 residents. There is a single JET on Ama, but Nishinoshima and Chibu are a short ferry ride away, and Dogo or the Mainland are very doable for a weekend.  The locals like everywhere in Oki are incredibly friendly, and due to the slightly more transient population a few are very well traveled. 

Ama-Cho also has the only High School in the Dozen Islands, Dozen High School (attended by the SHS Oki-Dogo ALT). The high school, like the island is a success story with approximately half of the students dormitory students attending from all over Japan.

Amenities

Although there are no supermarkets on Ama, there are many Mom and Pop type stores, as well as a supermarket on neighbouring Nishinoshima. 

Okigyuten- A Yaki-Niku(BBQ) restaurant has the much prized Oki Beef-premium beef that competes with the likes of Kobe.

Sentorutei- On the south side of the island, this restaurant has a great view over the harbour and has a good range of Western-fusion dishes.

Sights

Ama might not be as well known as the other islands in terms of its dramatic coasts but it still has them! The heart-shaped Akiya rock is a place for the romantics and the nearby campsite is a great spot in summer.

Rainbow beach(close to Hishirua Port) is popular among locals and visitors alike in the summer months and has a great view looking over towards Nishinoshima.

Oki Shrine which was built to enshrine Emperor Gotoba is also an important part of Japanese history.

Chibu

Chibu is a small village on the island of Chiburi. It currently has a population of 605 people, 45% of whom are over 65 years old. It is also home to over 2,000 tanuki (raccoons). Yes, 605 people; 2,000 tanuki.

Don’t be afraid of this place. It is filled with the kindest, friendliest, and most interesting people you will ever meet. When out on a walk, you will always be greeted with a bow or “こんにちは.” You will always be welcome at any event and you will get to know not only your students’ names, but their likes, dislikes, and personalities as well. What Chibu lacks in population and stores, it makes up for in wonderful people and breathtaking views. It is no coincidence that Chibu has one of the highest renewal rates of any JET position in Shimane.

Chibu’s claim to fame is Akahage, the tallest point on the island where you can enjoy views of the neighboring islands and, on a clear day, the mainland. Sekiheki (the red cliff) comes in at a close second for notable sightseeing spots. The burnt red cliff and unbelievably turquoise-blue water will leave you speechless.

For more information on Chibu, check out the Wikipedia page or the Japanese site Chibu Village.

Amenities

There is one hotel in Chibu and two ryokan (guesthouses). There are no restaurants with normal evening hours on the island, but you can enjoy lunch on the weekends from 11:00 to 1:30 at the hotel. New Port is a restaurant located at Kurii Port which is open every day at lunch time. Asahiya is a yakiniku and karaoke joint that is located above the general store bearing the same name. It doesn’t have regular hours, but if you see the stairwell lit up, it’s time for some meat and singing (luckily,you can see Asahiya across the bay from the ALT housing).

As for other amenities… there’s the school grounds where most events are held.

…Chibu has a lot of beautiful scenery. Don’t panic though, Ama and Nishinoshima are a 15 minute, 300 yen ferry ride away. Very doable for a day trip, or even just a night out for dinner.

Japanese Cultural activities JETs join or have joined in the past

There is a taiko group in the Ama that has welcomed JETs in the past. In addition, since the island is a very small, tight-knit community, there are many opportunities for JETs to participate in local events.

Things JETs do in their spare time (not Japanese culture)

Chibu, and all of Oki for that matter, comes alive in the summer. You can enjoy snorkeling, scuba, fishing, sea kayaking, and swimming. Many Oki JETs go swimming after work every day in the summer. You can also dive for sazae (sea snails, a local delicacy) and abalone. Every year, many tourists flock to Oki to take a break from their busy lives and relax on island time. You can also enjoy fishing all year round.

Festivals

Chibu is a small island with a long history. Its people value the preservation of ancient festivals and events that have almost completely disappeared from Japan. At the same time, they are very welcome to foreigners participating in these events. In fact, one of the ALTs was the first woman and foreigner to ever participate in minna Ichi daiko.

From Wikipedia:

  • Amasashi hiko no mikoto jinja reisai: This is a festival held bi-annually, usually at the end of July. This festival is common throughout Japan, and the main event is carrying a mikoshi through the town. The home temple for this is Chibu’s Ikū Shrine (一宮神社 Ikū-jinja?). Another common event during this festival is kodomo kabuki, or children’s kabuki. Chibu’s tradition has it that there was once a serious sickness on Chibu, and, after it passed, dances and kabuki were performed by children in celebration.
  • Odaishi-san mawari: This is a festival that was celebrated commonly across Japan in the past, but is recently becoming rarer. In the past, a famous monk namedKōbō-Daishi traveled throughout Japan and founded many temples. The festival started as a way for people to “copy” him by visiting various small temples in their town. Usually food is available at each location for visitors. The food is made by married women who often start preparing the food early in the morning. In Chibu, this festival is usually held in April.
  • Jyamaki: This is an event that, like Odaishi-san mawari, was more common in the past, but is less common now. A rope (or “snake”) is braided from dried rice-straw, and wrapped around a tree. This for good luck in the year’s harvest, and usually is done in the fall.
  • Nodaikon matsuri: This is a festival held in April for a beef-cattle show and to kick off the tourist season. Typical events in the festival are a cow show, karaoke contest, performances by elementary and kindergarten children, local folk songs called min’yō (民謡?), and occasionally hired music talent. Festival food is also sold such as Oki beef, oysters, and yakisoba.
  • Minna ichi taiko: This is a small traditional festival not unique to Chibu held in October for good luck in the harvest and safety for marine vessels. Drums are played and a dance is performed to send luck to the town.
  • Bunkasai (Sports Festival) and Undō no hi (Sports Day) are common events throughout Japan usually held in November and October, respectively. In many other places, towns and schools may hold their own separate events. However, on Chibu the village and school combine because of the small population.

Night life

Tanuki hunting.

Have you been to Oki? Did we leave anything out? Use the reply form below to contact us and keep this info current.

Why not check out some of the other towns:

Yasugi • Matsue • The Oki Islands • Izumo • Unnan • Okuizumo • Oda • Iinan

Misato • Kawamoto • Gotsu • Ohnan • Hamada • Masuda • Tsuwano • Yoshika

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