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Three Small Islands in Japan for Your Next Getaway

Time flows differently on Japan’s remote islands. Here are three of my favorite hidden getaways and why you should visit them yourself.

By 5 min read

Japan’s 6,852 isles are why the country is called a shima-guni, or island nation. The concept of an “island nation,” which underlines the sense of relative isolation, seems to be the go-to word to explain anything that feels uniquely Japanese and out of the norm for most foreigners.

The sense of isolation and unique culture becomes even more evident as one leaves Japan’s four main islands hosting most of its population—Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu—and sails away to one of the hundreds of small inhabited islands.

Here are just three of those islands that feel worlds away and will lure you into their extraordinary and alluring world with open blue waters, cultural splendors and charming hospitality.

Tokashiki Island: Swim in Kerama blue

True blue or Kerama blue?

Tokashiki Island is my favorite summer getaway in Japan, and I visit every summer. It can be reached by a 35-minute long ferry ride from Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, but despite its proximity to Okinawa’s main island, Tokashiki feels relatively secluded. You can often have some of the beaches to yourself early in the morning.

The island is part of the chain of islands known as the Kerama Islands. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and near-transparency of the waters surrounding the group of more than 20 islands (only four are inhabited), so the locals call it “Kerama blue.”

To understand why they had to come up with a new term, it takes one quick look at the water surrounding Tokashiki Island, heaven for divers, snorkelers, swimmers and anyone who enjoys water and the relaxed beach atmosphere. The swimming and overall beach experience on the island can easily compete with better-known tropical paradises, including world-famous Thai islands (make no mistake, I am also a fan).

Spot a few sea turtles in the near-transparent Kerama waters.

The main spots on Tokashiki Island are Tokashiki Village, where the main ferry port is located, and Aharen Beach, the busiest beach on the island thanks to several sports centers and restaurants. As someone more interested in just swimming or reading on the beach instead of water sports, I often skip Aharen Beach and spend most of my days on the more secluded Tokashiku Beach, which is a prime to spot sea turtles.

Since there is only one place for lunch selling bento boxes, most people bring food and drinks to make a day out of it, either right on the beach or under the shade of free-to-use huts.

Aharen Beach area and Tokashiki Village are where most of the island’s minshuku (Japanese-style bed and breakfast) are. I always stay at Kerama Backpackers in Tokashiki Village. It offers private and dorm-style rooms and a free shuttle to the island’s popular beaches.

Ojika Island: Enjoy the slow life

These are not Nara deer. Keep your distance!

In Nagasaki Prefecture, Ojika Island is small enough to cover on a bike or even on foot (as I did) and is home to many stylish cafes and restaurants, including the Michelin-recognized Fujimatsu.

One of the biggest appeals of Ojika Island is homestays. You’ll participate in local’s daily life—farming, cooking and relaxing—enjoying the slow life just as they do. For those looking for more privacy, you can rent a tastefully restored kominka managed by the Ojika Tourism Office.

An island with a history of secrets.

During my recent visit to Ojika Island, I stayed at the fantastic Ya no Ya, run by a lovely young couple. My mornings were warmed by light shining through sliding doors, and the smell of cooked fish and local ingredients wafted from the kitchen.

Nearby Nozaki Island, administratively a part of Ojika, is home to the Former Nokubi Church and the ruins of an old village, which was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of 12 Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region. With its picturesque church and landscapes, including—to my great surprise—savanna with hundreds of friendly deer, Nozaki Island was a day trip I’ll never forget.

Sashima Island: Sanctuary and cycling

Time to rest those legs.

Although Sashima Island, located in the Seto Inland Sea, is the most centrally located among the three islands featured here, it feels like the most secluded, likely because it is the least populated of the seven Kamijima Islands on the Seto Inland Sea. I stayed on Sashima Island during a pleasant spring weekend after biking the famous Shimanami Kaido Cycling Route connecting Onomichi in Hiroshima Prefecture to Imabari in Ehime Prefecture.

The tiny island doesn’t offer much for sightseeing. However, it is a place to relax without worrying about missing out on any sights. On Sashima, there are no supermarkets or convenience stores—only one guesthouse and one cafe.

On a relatively more active day, I took a walk to the neighboring Yuge Island crossing the Yugeo Bridge. While Yuge Island is bigger and richer in terms of lodging and dining options, Sashima Island, with limited but perfectly satisfying options, was the perfect sanctuary that I was looking for after a busy week in Tokyo followed by a long bike ride.

Shiomi Guesthouse is a renovated traditional Japanese house run by lovely people who are amazing cooks. The house overlooks a small garden and has a cauldron-shaped Goemon bath that felt magically rejuvenating after biking the 70-kilometers long Shimanami-Kaido route.

While I visited Sashima to rest after cycling, I enjoyed talking with locals and fellow travelers. I spent many hours at the nearby Book Cafe Okappa, eating pizza and drinking tasty craft beer.

Do you long to get off mainland Japan and wander and discover its smaller islands? What’s your favorite island getaway? Let us know in the comments!

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