In Japan, the Oki islands of Shimane Prefecture are not as famous as Okinawa but they still pack a punch.
Located only a two or three-hour ferry ride from Matsue or Sakaiminato, Oki’s four inhabited and 180 uninhabited islands are so geologically unique that they became a UNESCO supported Geopark in 2013. These islands are awash with a rugged natural beauty, created over years of volcanic activity, erosion, and weathering. Of the four large islands, there’s Dogo and three Dozen islands: Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima, and Chiburijima.
The Oki Kisen ferry from Shichirui Port is an experience in itself. There are no seats, only large, carpeted sections. In true Japanese fashion, you must take off your shoes and sit on the floor.
For some of the best Oki beef on the islands, head to Oki Gyu Ten on Nakanoshima. Oki cattle are raised on the islands. The beef is tender and delicious. Bet you didn’t know that Oki calves are sent to Kobe where they eventually become the famous Kobe beef.
You can rent bikes from the tourism office in Ama to explore the island. Cycle to Rainbow beach which is very close to the town’s port. Further inland is Oki Shrine, which was built to honor Emperor Gotoba, who was exiled to the Oki islands during the Middle Ages.
Back at the port, climb aboard the Amanbow underwater viewing boat. Here, you can see under the sea from square portholes cut in the boat’s sides. It’s like looking into a giant aquarium.
Nishinoshima is the most popular of the Oki islands. Its mountainous landscape is dotted with hundreds of Oki cattle and horses. Head to Kuniga lookout for sunset to see Kannon Iwa or Candle Rock. The dying sun drops directly above the rock so that it looks like a flame atop a candle.
The coastline here, one of the top 100 walking tracks in Japan, is perfect for gentle ambling and dipping your toes into the ocean. One of the highlights of the coastal walk is Tsutenkyo Arch. Here, the wind and waves have stripped the land into a dramatic, multi-colored arch through which the ocean flows.
Stay at the retro-feel, family-run hotel, Kuniga-so on Nishinoshima. Dinner includes everything imaginable: Iwagaki oysters, white squid, scallops, pickled abalone, sashimi, fish stew, soba salad, and Oki beef slices. Some of the rooms overlook Urago Port. If you go in the summer, you can watch the fireworks over the bay from your room!
Near Urago, visit Yurahime Shrine which honors Suserihime or Yurahime no mikoto, the goddess of fishing and maritime safety. Every autumn and winter, thousands of squid flood the inlet in front of this shrine. According to local legend, when the goddess was returning to Oki by boat, some squid in the inlet nibbled her fingers. She was quite offended so every year, several squid return to the same spot to apologize for their terrible behavior. P.S. Lots of restaurants in the area, like Asuka, serve squid dishes like ika don (bowl of rice topped with cooked squid) and ika kare (squid curry).
Also, check out Matengai Cliff. To get there, you should rent a car or bikes (if you’re feeling fit enough) to climb the winding road uphill. There are wild horses and cows here, nibbling the grass all day. If any of the animals seem menacing, grab on of the free bamboo walking sticks provided to defend yourself. Also, if you go in summer, wear sunscreen! The coastline here is surreally beautiful: large masses of grassy headland jutting out into the cobalt sea.
There are also great beaches on Nishinoshima, particularly Sotohama and Mimiura. Sotohama has a wide sandy beach and clear water for swimming. Mimiura is a bit more tricky to find because it’s hidden behind a dense pine forest. The cove is small but perfect for camping, kayaking, and snorkeling.
Still want more? Here are the top 10 things to see and do on the Oki Islands.
Full disclosure: This trip (transport and accommodation costs) was made possible by the generosity of Nishinoshima Tourism Association. The post and photos, however, are entirely the products of Hot Foot Trini and Live Lyfe Photography.
Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography
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