Close your eyes and think of Japan. What do you see?
Is it the image of a country with flashy technologies, strange flavors and adventurous urban subcultures, mixed up with uniformed salary – men moving every morning to the beat of rush? Don’t get me wrong – I truly love that place. But sometimes, just for a day, I dream about logging out of this world of dazzling glittery Kitty-chan, Pachinko slots and nasalized “Irrasshaimaseee” around each corner.
So take a deep breath, close your eyes again and imagine Japan muted, still rural and literally idyllic. As a place where you can cherish tranquility, experience the smooth coexistence of people and nature and find out what the old style, simple Japanese live is like. Seems dreamlike, right? However it’s not only real but also at the arm’s length – it’s Sakushima, one of the 3 isolated islands floating in the Mikawa bay, that together with Himakajima and Shinojima form the “Aichi Archipelago” east of Nagoya.
This croissant shaped “Island of Wind”, with a population of about 250 and only 11km long coastline can be walked or biked around within just a day – there is no need for neither lease car nor even a single traffic light! Bicycle rental shops are easy to find both in east and west port, for a reasonable price starting from ¥300 per hour, to ¥1,000 per day. Beginning in 2000, it has become known as the “Island of Art” – 100% deservedly, in my opinion. Apollo (wooden hideout with a scenic view of the ocean), the Ohirune House (an easy–to–climb giant Rubik’s cube), or the Hidamari Hiroba (an open picnic space with lots of mosaic compositions) are a few examples of the more than 20 of artworks enhancing the individuality of Sakushima today.
Remarkably, the island has around 15,000 years of history to draw on. A variety of broken ceramics not only from the Jomon (a period in prehistoric Japan, traditionally dated between c. 14,000-300 BCE) but also the Yayoi period (300 BCE-300 CE) were discovered. There also used to be about 50 ancient tombs dating back to 3rd-7th century, and some of them still remain on the island for sightseeing.
Back in the Edo era, the island was prosperous mainly with the shipping industry and famous for its culture and traditions, such as bon dance or Sakushima drums, performed during numerous festivals organized till now throughout the year. Plenty of small, local temples and shrines were also established at that time (the Hakken shrine nearby the east port, built in 1024, is nowadays designated as an Aichi cultural heritage site). Though the main industries today are fishing and tourism, the everyday island’s life is about supplying people’s needs through farming. Once you have a taste of dishes made with local products, picked up from the garden right outside the window or caught the same day, and try homemade Japanese sweets made before your eyes, you won’t like to have 7-11 lunch anymore! When it comes to the season from March to May, you can also see people regardless of age and gender go clam picking.
Although it’s only 60km away from the heart of Nagoya, it takes around an hour by car to get to the Isshiki Port in Nishio City (no worries if you’re a non-driver, there are plenty of alternatives to get there; see below). While waiting for the ferry to take us to the island, we stopped by the fish market across the way. This is a definite must-see spot! Not only because they serve the best pickled shrimp I ever had, but you just won’t find many souvenir shops in this area! Make sure you visit the market before you get on board, because it’s open until 5:00 pm.
Sakushima is only 10km away from the main Honshu island, so the ferry ended up being a fancy boat and cost us ¥820 per person (¥410 for kids). After 20 minutes of ride and chat with islanders, we landed at the West Port. In the two story house right in front of our eyes, we picked up some pamphlets and a great pictorial map (can be found also in the east port) – all in Japanese, though. It was almost time for lunch, so we started our trip from the OLEGALE Café, which in the regional dialect means “My house”. Delicious food (menu in English!), unique interior, cosy atmosphere… And a tire swing set in the front yard! What else could I dream about in the sunny, lazy afternoon?
Time stood still while we were writing down our dreams on the wishing stones of Tsutsushima Benzaiten, and strolling down Kurokabe Shuraku, the “Black Pearl” of the island (named after wall paint color, protective coating houses from the adverse effects of wind and salt). Sakushima is also well known for the clearest water for swimming in Aichi Prefecture, so we couldn’t miss spending time by the beach, climbing up the Ohirune (nap) house, enjoying whistling stones and heavenly appetizing chocolate brownies we bought along the way in Café Hyakuichi, a newly opened place by the west port, in a very old (renovated) Japanese house.
It was almost sunset when we went to see if plum orchard in the old bay of whales was already in bloom, and climbed up the stairs to the top of the East House, another impressive artwork letting us stop for a moment to relax and ponder on the beauty of nature. It was the time to catch the last ferry back home.
If you need to get some distance from the rapid pace of modern life, Sakushima is definitely a place to go. Although most visitors are day-trippers, I was thinking of all those places we still didn’t see and things we didn’t do that day. I want to go hiking up Mt. Enda, walk around the the pockets of camellia and bamboo forests scattered throughout the island, and see natural habitats of butterflies and fireflies, or just experience the traditional Japanese ryokan.
Can’t wait to come back and enjoy the island’s specialties of octopus and fugu, eat breakfast with the ocean view in the morning and unwind in the bath in the evening after the whole day of… relaxing!
You can stay overnight at Sakushima Kan from ¥7,000 per person incl. breakfast and dinner made with local seafood and veges. www.geocities.jp/sakushimakan/
There is a ferry timetable here