Japan Guides: Nishinoshima Island, Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture
Nishinoshima Island is a small island that along with its neighbors Nakanoshima and Chiburijima forms the island trio known as Dozen (doh-zen), which make up the Dozen Caldera, the result of a volcanic eruption about 5 million years ago. Along with the larger Dogo Island they are called the Oki Islands and are located about 50-80 kilometers off of the coast of Shimane in western Japan.
With an area of about 22 square miles and a population of just 3,000 scattered across small villages that collectively make up Nishinoshima Town, Nishinoshima Island's mild sub-tropical climate offers a relaxing break from the more populated and busy main tourist spots on the mainland. Nishinoshima Island's highest point, the 452 meter high Mount Takuhi is the central pyroclastic cone of the Dozen Caldera.
Nishinoshima is part of the Daisen-Oki National Park and the UNESCO Oki Islands Global Geopark, and has a wide range of natural and geological features, unique ecosystems, and traditional cultures.
Some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in all of Japan can be found on the northwest coast of Nishinoshima Island. From the Matengai Cliff, one of the tallest in Japan, down to the Akao Lookout, what is known as the Kuniga Coast is a stunning gallery of natural wonders including the amazing Tsutenkyo Arch, and the collection of rock formations known as Tenjyo-kai.
A footpath runs from the water's edge up to the cliff top where you will find horses and cattle grazing. The best way to see and experience the Kuniga Coast must be by boat, and two different tours operate out of Beppu, which is the main port of the island, and out of Urago Port. Running several times a day from April to October, weather and sea conditions permitting, the cruises get up close to the rocky coast and sometimes go into sea caves.
The rest of Nishinoshima Island's coast has plenty of cliffs, coves, and beaches for activities in, on, and under the water. Swimming and snorkeling are very popular and the crystal clear waters are perfect for scuba diving. On the surface there is sea kayaking including an evening tour, as well as banana boats, sumo tubes, and wake boards. Many Japanese come to the islands for fishing, either on a boat or at the shore.
Of course there may be times when you feel like being less active and want to be entertained, and Nishinoshima's traditional culture has plenty to offer. Due to their remoteness, the Oki Island have a culture that is in many ways quite distinct from that of mainland Japan. In fact, the island is so remote that it was used as a place of exile, with Emperor Godaigo being sent here in the 14th century. Near Beppu Port is a small museum on the site where he is believed to have stayed during his exile.
Nearby is the local Folklore Museum (Nishinoshima Furusato-kan Museum) that has plenty of displays on local festivals and dances. Many of the festivals include performances of kagura, a kind of Shinto dance-theatre, take place at shrines. Nishinoshima has two such festivals of note.
Takuhi Shrine is located high on Mount Takuhi with views across the water to the other islands. This atmospheric shrine has the oldest shrine buildings in the Okis and is set back into a cave. No buses run to it and it involves a 15-minute climb from the car park. Much easier to get to is Yurahime Shrine near Urago Port. Set at the head of an inlet and enshrining a Goddess of the Sea, the shrine legend connects to the squid that come right up to the shore. The cherry blossoms here are illuminated in April, and on the last weekend of July every second year, it has Nishinoshima's biggest festival.
Cuisine on Nishinoshima
Nishinoshima, like the other Oki islands, has a well deserved reputation for its cuisine. Fresh and delicious seafood is widely available, and the rock oysters are coveted all over Japan.
Locally raised beef is also a speciality. There are numerous restaurants, cafes, and izakayas, many of which have menus in English.
Getting around Nishinoshima
Getting around Nishinoshima Island can be done several ways. Car rentals are available as are bicycle rentals. There are taxis and some local buses. The island is reached by car ferry so you can bring your own car or motorbike. Small ferries connect to the other two islands, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima, so day trips can be taken there.
There is a full range of accommodation choices on the island from largish hotels down to smaller family-run ryokan and minshuku. There are two campsites, though neither offer tent rental. Places book up quickly for the busiest times of the year, so advance booking is recommended.
The Tourist Information Office offers lots of help with booking and planning your trip and they speak English and some French.
On their website there are many downloadable maps, schedules, and timetables. (see below for links in the resources section).
Getting Between the Oki Islands
A fairly frequent and fast small ferry service connects the three islands of Dozen, but between Dozen and Dogo you need to use the large car ferry or fast ferry.
Read more about access to the Oki Islands and getting around the islands.
Useful Oki Island Resources
- Oki Islands UNESCO Global Geopark
- Oki Islands Events Calendar
- Oki Islands Nishinoshima
- Oki Kisen Ferries