Island life is always serene and stress free. There’s that come hither idea of jumping on a boat and going on an adventure in a place where time is barely moving and life is stripped to its bare essentials. What better way to spend a relaxing weekend on an island with that atmosphere not too far from the city yet having the most magical views and down to earth local charm.
Awaji Island is nestled between islands of Honshū and Shikoku and is the largest of the inland sea islands. It is connected to Kobe through the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. Since it is the transit to the two islands, Awaji means “road to Awa” which is a historic province along the border of the Shikoku side of the Naruto Strait. We want to help you make the most of your trip to this quiet but picturesque island, so here’s eight of the things we suggest that you do.
1. Indulge in the warmth of the Matsuho-no-yu hot springs
You can opt to soak after a long trip going to the island so you’re invigorated to explore it afterwards or afterwards when you want to relax after a day’s adventure… Or both. It’s totally up to you. Although there are several onsens in the area, nothing is as panoramic as this one perched on the hilltop overlooking the suspension bridge. If you plan to soak at dusk, you’ll enjoy the amazing light show where rainbow patterns reflect across the sky and on the water.
2. Get close to the Naruto whirlpools and be sure to take a picture
Hop on a guide boat and sail through the whirlpools which appear twice a day along the narrow strait connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Inland Seto Sea. The churning water can reach up to five feet and occurs because of the difference of the water levels from the ocean and adjoining sea.
3. Bask in the sunset on the sands of the Keino Matsubara Beach
Island vacations will never be complete without a trip to the beach. Although lounging on the beach isn’t popular in the country, you can always go barefoot and stroll along the shore while waiting for the pretty sunset to unfold. If you don’t want your toes to get wet, there’s the Sunset Boulevard that you stroll around, too.
4. Visit the historic Izanagi Shrine
Another must visit is a beautiful shrine that was built to honor the island’s or rather Japan’s founder. Students come here to pray for good grades and businessmen pray for success in their ventures. It wouldn’t hurt to pray for a peaceful and blessed life ahead when you come over to visit. Izanagi shrine is special because it is said to be the oldest in the country although there no specific date on record as most ancient structures’ origins can’t be traced. Enjoy the melding of its architectural and natural beauty as you stroll around while priests go on with their traditional Shinto ceremonies.
5. Hike or drive up Sumoto Castle
You can either take a 25-minute hike or if you want to save time to explore the rest of the island, you can take a 5-minute drive to visit this castle atop the mountain. It’s not as huge as other castles across the country but it has quite a charm to it as you can see across Osaka Bay and the three prefectures closest to the island. Stop by the base of the mountain before or after you go up and dip your feet in the castle’s hot spring foot bath to ease your tired veins.
6. Awajishima Monkey Center and Harmony Farm
If you love animals and you’d want to either be up close with monkeys or ride horses, Awaji island has both. If you want to visit all 250 of the monkeys, they’re on the mountains of Naha. You may take loads of photos but be sure not to look them in the eye. That might be a wee bit challenging. The horses are over at the Harmony Farm where you can sign up for horseback riding lessons or simply canter around the mountain passes and wading along the shoreline with your new friend.
7. Marvel at Tadao Ando’s Yumebutai Gardens and Shingonshu Honpukuji
Tadao Ando, a former boxer, is an architectural institution in the island as his creations have been popular and well visited over the years. Some of the most popular are the Yumebutai Gardens, a modern feeling garden with endless staircases carved around the hillside so you can walk up and down the expanse of it (don’t worry if you get too tired, there’s an elevator to the rescue) and the Shingonshu Honpukuji, an underground water temple where the magnificence of the pond, the water lilies and sacred lotuses are legendary. They are prettiest at certain months of the year.
8. Enjoy the Hansakiji Gardens, cool down with an ice cream and feast on juicy burgers
Known as the Thousand Flower Garden, the colorful blooms exuding with vibrance carpets the island’s northern hillsides. The view to Osaka Bay and even Osaka City is amazing here, too. Right at the gardens you can try their seasonal soft serve ice cream that is flavoured in biwa or loquat in autumn and sakura or cherry blossom during the spring. And if you’re hungrier and want a heavier meal, you must try out the burger over at Awaji Country Garden. Rest assured that the caramelized onions that are lathered atop the juicy patty are top quality since the island is famous for their onions.
Awaji island isn’t just any touristy island in Japan. With all the extraordinary structures and natural occurrences, the island is first and foremost a historical gem as it was told in folklores. One such being the drop of seawater fallen from the blade of Izanagi and Izanami’s spear after they stirred the waters. The droplet hardened on top of the waves, became this panoramic island and ultimately was developed to become the entire Land of the Rising Sun.