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5 Nature-Themed Activities to Try on Japan’s Amami Oshima Island

Amami Oshima has yet to experience a substantial tourist boom so you can explore at a leisurely pace.

By 4 min read

Amami Oshima is the largest of the eight Amami Islands, an archipelago lying southwest of Kyushu and part of Kagoshima Prefecture. In July 2021, Amami Oshima and the neighboring Tokunoshima were added to UNESCO’s list of World Nature Heritage Sites in recognition of their unique ecosystems and native fauna and flora. The island is excellent for swimming, snorkeling and boating. Like most visitors, my partner and I enjoyed a kayak tour at the Mangrove Park during our weekend getaway, but there is so much more to do.

There are flights from multiple airports around Japan and a ferry service between Amami Oshima and Kagoshima. A rental car is the most convenient way to explore the island. Additionally, there’s a bus service provided by Shimabus.

Here are five nature-themed attractions and activities you shouldn’t miss when visiting Amami Oshima.

1. Night tour of the local wildlife

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The star of the show, Amami rabbit.

It was raining when we met our nature guide, Masataka Kawauchi, but he assured us that the wildlife wasn’t afraid of getting wet. Nature specialist Kawauchi leads groups on kayak tours at Mangrove Park during the day, but he is equally adept at spotting the creatures of the night. We set off in a comfortable SUV and soon arrived on the designated forest road, where traffic is strictly limited through a registration system to ensure minimum disturbance to the animals.

The stars of the show are the Amami rabbits, a species that once roamed all over Asia but is now only found on Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima. The little black creatures obligingly stopped long enough for us to “hop” out of the car and get some photos. We also saw several types of pretty frogs, including the speckled Amami Ishikawa frog and a Ryuku Scops Owl. The diminutive birds can be tough to find, but our guide identified our owl from its cry.

“Through these night tours, we hope that not only the residents of the island but also visitors will appreciate the biodiversity and understand how we must carefully protect and preserve these rare creatures for the future,” Kawauchi says.

Amami, Kagoshima 894-1202 - Map
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Admission: ¥2,000 (Adults), ¥500 (Children)
Nearest bus stop: Mangrove Park Mae
www.kagoshima-kankou.com/for/attractions/10218
Book your Night Tour of local wildlife through Mangrove Park

2. Heart Rock

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Catch this attraction while the tide permits.

This heart-shaped rockpool is on a sandy white beach in the Tatsugo region of the island. It’s quite small, but the shimmering blue of the pool, with waves crashing behind, offers stunning photo ops. The pool is only visible for around an hour before and after low tide, so time your visit carefully and watch your footing, as it can get rather slippery.

There is a car park a little way up the road, but we just parked at the small café opposite the entrance to the beach. We purchased some of their delicious goat’s milk ice creams before walking down a short forest trail to reach Heart Rock.

1346-1 Akaogi, Tatsugo, Oshima District, Kagoshima - Map
Admission: Free
www.town.tatsugo.lg.jp/kikakukanko/kanko/heartrock.html

3. Mud-dyeing experience

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Watch these expert weavers in action.

The island’s tradition of producing high-quality Oshima Tsumugi silk dates back 1,300 years, and it has been highly prized for use in kimono. We learned about the labor-intensive process at Oshima Tsumugimura, where we watched skilled weavers working their looms with exquisite precision.

We also tried our hand at the unique process of dorozome, or mud dying, which utilizes the island’s iron-rich mud to produce dark threads for weaving. We had a lot of fun dying our T-shirts using a simplified version of the process, which included wading up to our knees in ponds full of the special mud, and quite a bit of assistance from our jovial guide. The bonus was taking home one-of-a-kind souvenirs of our visit!

1945 Akaogi Tatsugo Ooshima, Kagoshima - Map
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: From ¥1,500
Nearest bus stop: Ooshima Tsumugimura
www.tumugi.co.jp/english/index.html

4. Waterfalls

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One of the many stunning waterfalls which await.

Amami Oshima has a wealth of waterfalls on offer, but we settled on visiting two of the better-known ones. The first was Materiya Falls, which are frequently shown in promotional materials. This waterfall is located in the Yamato region and it was quite a drive to get there, including some very narrow mountain roads.

However, we got many great sea views along the way and a photo stop at Dokubama Cliff is highly recommended. While the Materiya Falls and the plunge pool at their base were pretty, we enjoyed the 30-meter-high Arangachi Falls just as much. These peaceful waterfalls are in Uken Village, quite close to the famous Mangrove Park and thus more accessible for most visitors.

Oganeku, Yamato, Oshima District, Kagoshima - Map
Admission: Free

5. Tanaka Isson Memorial Art Museum

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Spend a couple of hours at Amami Park.

Nature and art lovers alike will enjoy a visit to this beautiful museum. Tanaka Isson (1908 to 1977) moved to Amami Oshima at the age of 50, supporting himself with jobs in the silk industry while painting the local flora and fauna. In recent years Tanaka’s work has finally been receiving the attention that eluded him during his lifetime.

The art museum is part of Amami Park, which also includes an interactive history and culture museum, suitable for all ages. The complex is located very close to the airport, and it seems a lot of people drop by just before flying home. Do allow a couple of hours to fully explore the attractions here—we wish we had!

1834 Kasaricho Oaza Setta, Amami, Kagoshima - Map
Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Admission: ¥520
Nearest bus stop: Amami Park
www.amamipark.com/isson/
Have you been to Amami Oshima before? How was it? Tell us in the comments section!

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