Following our previous post on Nagasaki, here are some amazing sights and sounds on Tsushima, Iki and Goto Islands!
Tsushima Island (対馬)
There are six towns on the island, namely Izuhara, Mitsushima, Toyotama, Mine, Kamiagata and Kamitsushima. Due to its close proximity to South Korea (you can take a ferry from Busan), there is an interesting mix of Korean and Japanese elements on Tsushima. Seizanji Temple (西山寺) in Izuhara (厳原) was once a travellers’ lodge, and is now a youth hostel. There is a monument dedicated to Kim Sung-il, a famous Korean envoy to Japan (NOT the former president of North Korea, Kim Il Sung).
If you are keen to experience some cultural activities such as kimono wearing, tea ceremony, making pearl accessories etc, then visit the Former Residence of Nakarai Tosui (半井桃水館). He was a writer and mentor to Higuchi Ichiyo, whose image is found on the 5000 yen bill.
Soak your tired feet at the foot bath in Isaribi Park (漁火公園), which overlooks the ocean. At night, the lights from the squid boats will be the perfect backdrop for your photos! These lights are used by fishermen to attract squid, which is an important industry for the people of Tsushima.
Feeling adventurous? Why not explore some of the 13 fortress ruins all over Tsushima? In Mitsushima (美津島), we have the Himegamiyama Fortress Ruins (姫神山砲台跡). It was constructed during the early 1900s and is very well-preserved. You can climb up the mountain for a better view of the fortress and the ocean.
Another ruin worth visiting is Kaneda Castle (金田城跡), which was once a formidable fortress. Now, only three castle doors and a surrounding stone fortress remain. Read more about the function of this fortress in Nagazasshi, a free magazine about Nagasaki.
Visitors to Toyotama (豊玉) definitely should go to the Watatsumi Shrine (和多都美神社). It is well-known for the five torii gates, where two of them appear to be floating in the water.
The shrine lies at the foot of Mount Eboshi (烏帽子岳), which offers an amazing 360 degrees view of Tsushima Strait to the east, Korean Strait to the west and Aso Bay when you hike up to the viewing platform. See it for yourself here!
One of the most important shrine on Tsushima can be found in Mine (峰). Dedicated to Princess Toyotama (guardian deity of the sea), the Kisaka Kaijin Shrine (木坂海神神社) had two of its relics stolen in 2012. Fortunately, the South Korean government finally decided to return one of the stolen Buddha statues as a sign of improved relations between Japan and South Korea.
This picturesque village known as Omi no Sato (青海の里) has traditionally been Tsushima’s major centre of rice production. The atmosphere and pace of life is slow and you can get a beautiful view of the rice terraces and the village nestled in the valley.
Dense forests cover a large proportion of the island, making it the perfect home for a diversity of wildlife. Remember the endangered Tsushima Leopard Cat? It is in the wild only on Tsushima (the others are in zoos)! Be sure to find out more about this adorable creature at Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center, located in Kamiagata (上県).
Another animal native to Tsushima is the Taishu horse. Today, there are less than 50 of this small, but powerful breed alive. At Baji Kouen Park, you can enjoy the beautiful sakura (during the right season) or try horse riding.
If you go to to Unatsura, there is an oddly-shaped rock that bears 99% resemblance to the Egyptian Sphinx!
Finally in Kamitsushima (上対馬), there is a hiking route known as Hitakatsu Pilgrimage (比田勝八十八箇所). Visit all 88 stone statues along the path and your wishes may just come true! In addition, collect the stamps found beside each statue by obtaining all stamp collection sheet from the tourism office. The route starts from Homanji temple and offers an amazing view of a rare natural white sand beach.
From the Korean Viewpoint (韓国展望所), one can expect a great view of Busan city on a clear day. Just round the corner is the Waniura Hitotsubatago Wildflower Area (鰐浦のヒトツバタゴ), where thousands of hitotsubatago trees (known in English as Chionanthus retusus) bloom each May. These beautiful white flowers was designated as a National Natural Treasure of Japan in 1928.
Introducing Tsushima’s specialities: Ishiyaki (stone-grilled seafood & vegetables), rokube noodles (black noodles made from sweet potato), iriyaki (hot pot), tonchan (pork slices) and more!
For dessert, be sure to get your hands on the Taishu soba ice cream! Enjoy the unique flavor of Tsushima buckwheat, currently available only at Soba Dojo in Kamiagata.
Iki Island (壱岐)
Situated in the Genkai Sea and forms part of the Iki-Tsushima Quasi-National Park, Iki island is rich in nature and is a vibrant holiday destination! The main towns on the island – Gonoura, Ashibe, Ishida and Katsumoto, have been merged to form Iki City. One of the many legends about this island is the story of the “eight pegs”, which includes two of the most popular tourist spots – Sakyobana and Saruiwa.
- Sakyobana (左京鼻): This 20m tall white-tipped rock (thanks to years of cormorant poo) is located in Ashibe (芦辺). There is a small Shinto on the right side.
- Saruiwa (猿岩): Living up to its name sake of “Monkey Rock”, this formation can be found at the other end of the island in Gonoura (郷ノ浦). Other things to lookout for include a small hilly viewpoint to the left of the monkey, and a World War II era gun.
Iki island has an important place in Shintoism as one of the eight children of Izanagi and Izanami, the gods who created the Japanese islands. As such, there are several Shinto shrines and related artifacts worth visiting. For example, the locals believe that the island on which Kojima Shrine (小島神社) is located is sacred, including the small wooden shrine.
Another popular spot is in Ashibe, where a row of six jizo statues are partially submerged. The Harahoge Jizo (はらほげ地蔵) are unique in that they have small holes in their stomachs, but no one knows how or why they came about.
To learn more about the history of Iki, head over to Iki City Ikikoku Museum (壱岐市立一支国博物館). It showcases various artifacts from prehistoric times, with the most popular being detailed models of a Yayoi period (200 B.C. to A.D. 250). Move on to Kakegi Tumulus (掛木古墳), where you can experience crawling into an ancient Japanese burial mound known as kofun. Meanwhile, the village of Yunomoto (湯ノ本) is definitely the best place for hot spring on the island,where you can soak and enjoy the sunset.
Goto Islands (五島列島)
Although Goto Islands is named for the five main islands of Fukue, Hisaka, Naru, Wakamatsu and Nakadori, the entire archipelago actually a chain of 140 islands. There are numerous beautiful churches across the islands, each as a testimony to the oppression faced by the Hidden Christians in the past. For example, the Dozaki Church (堂崎天主堂) in Fukue Island (福江島) is vital in serving as a base for Christian revival on the islands, while the Uragashira Church (浦頭教会) is shaped like Noah’s Ark.
Here is an informative guide that gives you a tour of the churches on Goto Islands.
Touted as the “the last place where the sun sets on Kyushu”, this spectacular view of the Osezaki Lighthouse (大瀬崎灯台) on the cliff will definitely be the highlight of your trip!
Another distinctive feature of Goto Islands is its pristine beaches with white sand, an uncommon sight in other parts of Japan. In particular, Takahama Beach (高浜海水浴場) is said to be the fairest of them all! Beach-goers can also indulge in various marine activities, from snorkelling, canoeing to coral reef diving and even fishing!
End off your day with fresh seafood, marinated mackerel sushi (also called oni zaba zushi 鬼鯖鮨) produced by Miiraku Fisheries (三井楽水産), and Goto udon (hand-pulled noodles)!
- A comprehensive guide to Tsushima and Iki.
- These brochures to all three islands are really useful as well!