Remote Adventures: Exploring The Shimane’s Dozen Islands
To the west of their larger counterpart Dogo, the three dozen islands are a haven for nature lovers with beautiful hiking trails, delicious local food and fascinating traditions. Formed from a single caldera long ago, the three islands are now separated by seas but remain closely con-nected on a cultural level. Once part of Pangea along with Dogo before a lake and eventually a sea formed, separating Japan, the Oki islands were initially a peninsula but became remote islands over six million years ago. Their unusual development means they have a unique eco-system, stunning rock formations and a chance to escape everyday life into the wilds of Ja-pan.
With an inter-island boat service, all three islands can be explored easily, be it over a weekend or longer. Protected by the Daisen-Oki National Park, it’s the perfect location for a few days of windswept hikes, with some surprisingly contemporary restaurants to look forward to at the end of your day.
The smallest of the islands but also the only place in Shimane Prefecture with a growing popu-lation, Chiburijima has a rough-and-ready charm to it. The island is known for the Mt. Akahage hiking trails and the annual wild radish festival which is held in June, but also for the stunning Sekiheki Red Cliffs.
Best Nature Spots: Sekiheki Red Cliff Walk and Mt. Akahage
A kilometer-long stretch of eye-catching red, the Sekiheki cliffs are an unusual and dramatic view, well worth the short hike it takes to see them up close. Gaining their color from splashes of hot volcanic lava which turns red when exposed to the oxygen in the air. The contrast of a white stripe across the cliff and the blue seas below it make for a truly beautiful sight. The viewpoint is a short walk from the car park.
Address: Nibu, Chibu, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0100
Access: 25-minute drive from Kurii port, two-hour cycle.
For those looking for a longer hike, the Mt. Akahage trails are a great hiking and camping al-ternative. Dotted with the local cows, the 325m tall mountain is the highest point on the island, offering 360-degree views of the dozen caldera and even to Mt. Daisen on a clear day. There are remnants of dry-stone walls along the trails, left from the days of the island’s unusual makihata crop rotation system which prevented the land from becoming overworked by alter-nating grazing with vital crops. There is also a lookout accessible by car if you don’t have time to complete the hikes.
Address: Urumi, Chibu, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0100
Access: 20-minute drive from Kurii port, 1.5 - 2-hour cycle.
Best Experience: Red Cliff Boat Tour
Offering a whole new perspective of neighboring Chiburi Island’s Sekiheki red cliff, the boat tour puts the island’s distinctive geological history pride of place. While from land the scale of the cliffs may be hard to fathom, from the water it is left it is awe-inspiring in its impact. The boat journey takes in a few extra sights including the nearby caves, with the skilled drivers able to take the boats right inside in good weather.
With cows appearing as small dots on the distant clifftops of the red cliff, it is possible to see the sheer magnitude of the island’s form, as well as the changing layers that have created it over millennia.
Address: 1730-6 Kurii, Chibu, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0100
Access: To Kurii port, it’s 17-minute ferry ride from Beppu port
Hours: The tour starts after 4 pm, based on sunset time. You will be advised the exact start time upon booking
Entry: 12,000 yen for up to a group of 6 people, 2,000 yen for each extra person
Best Experience: Iwagaki Oyster Painting
Smooth, locally-sourced and each one a unique shape, the oyster shells set before you will be a tantalizing selection. The craft of Iwagaki oyster painting offers the chance to become an artist, albeit temporarily, and to take home a small piece of the island when you leave. With plenty of examples to inspire you and an incredibly talented teacher, the options are limitless. You can record a special memory from the trip, map out the islands or add tiny shells and sand collected from the island’s small beach.
Address: 1730-6 Chio-mura, Oki-gun, Shimane Prefecture 684-0100
Access: Chiburijima tourism association is in the Kurii ferry terminal building.
Hours: 1 pm - 4 pm all year round
Entry: 1,500 yen
Booking: Reservations advised, available by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 08514-8-2272
Website: http://www.chibu.jp/activity.html (Japanese only)
Best Food: Hotel Chibu no Sato’s in-house Restaurant
The only hotel on the island, Hotel Chibu-no-Sato is also one of the very few restaurants to be found on Chiburi. Luckily, the newly-appointed head chef has an amazing way with food, cre-ating Japanese and Western-style dishes using the island’s best ingredients. Keen to avoid wasting the local fish, which are often sliced for sashimi with plenty of good fish going to waste, he ensures all parts are used, with creative combinations and traditional techniques.
Address: 1242-1, Chibu, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0102
Access: 10-minute drive from Kurii port, with shuttles provided for guests.
Hours: Dinner times dependent on reservation
Website: http://tibunosato.com/ (Japanese only)
The largest of the Dozen islands, Nishinoshima is a natural haven with incredible views across the Kuniga Coast. With local restaurants serving up their freshly-caught produce, boat tours and hikes, the island has everything you need for a refreshing day out.
Best Nature Spot: Matengai Cliff Sky Walking
To experience true Nishinoshima, visitors can try sky-walking at the Matengai cliff on the Ku-niga Coast. On the far North-West of the Islands, this rugged and windswept coastline has some of the most unusual formations. Designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark, the Oki Is-lands are known for unusual landscapes.
Walking across neatly-grazed fields, you’ll come across the cows and horses who live on the hillsides, resting and munching on the wild grass. The paths are unpaved but not too difficult to navigate, with signposts to mark the way, as well as acting as occasional scratching posts for the animals. The light hike takes around an hour, ascending the cliff with the option to return to your transport or continue on down to the water’s edge.
At the bottom of the trail is the Tsutenkyo Arch, an impressive formation which was once a cave, but now inspires visitors to try recreating its shape for a memorable photo of the trip. Nearby, you’ll find the small but unusual Kuniga Shrine perched on its very own island.
Address: Nishinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0303
Access: 25-minute drive from Beppu port, a 50-minute cycle and 2.5 hours on foot.
Best Food: Lunch at Nishiwaki
With a bright red sign that’s hard to miss and dried squid hanging proudly from the door-frames, Nishiwaki is as unpretentious as it gets. Simple wooden benches are joined by fish-drying racks on the outdoor terrace, and you’ll find the menu is simple but tempting. As one of the first businesses on the island to request the help of the local tourism office for English menus, it’s a welcoming spot for foreigners as well as locals. Using freshly caught seafood and fish, the lunch sets are packed with melt-in-the-mouth sashimi, tender abalone, the local specialty of turban shell and plenty of seasonal vegetables and seaweed.
Be sure to pick up some souvenirs on the way out - the island was once designated for royal provisions, with local seafood used in Imperial court rituals, so whatever you pick is bound to impress.
Address: 677 Urago, Nishinoshima-cho, Oki-gun, Shimane Prefecture 684-0211
Access: A 10-minute drive from Beppu Port or a 25-minute cycle.
Hours: 11 am - 3 pm with some seasonal changes.
Booking: Not required
Adding a spiritual side to the natural beauty of the islands, Nakanoshima offers rare experi-ences as well as unexpected cuisines.
Best Experience: Night Prayer at Oki Shrine
Adding a spiritual touch to the island experience, Oki Shrine has opened its doors to visitors for a unique evening ceremony. In partnership with the Murao Family who run the shrine, the local tourism association have developed a way for visitors to witness the atmosphere of even-ing prayer, a tradition usually difficult to witness. Open to both Japanese and international guests, there are explanations about the process as well as invitations to join, with a simple ceremony and prayer ritual taking place in the warm glow of the shrine. Somber but moving, the rare experience will no doubt remain with those lucky enough to take part for a long time to come.
You will be picked up from the port or your accommodation and whisked away to the shrine, all under the clear night skies of the island. If you would like an evening tour without the cere-mony you can also arrange this with the tourism office for 2,000 yen per person.
Address: 1784 Ama, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0403
Access: You will be taken to the Shrine from your accommodation or the port and returned.
Hours: From 7.30 pm to 8.30 pm including collection and drop off.
Entry: 5,000 yen for the priest prayer, or 2,000 yen for the night tour.
Booking: Reservations are required and can be made through the Ama Town Tourism Office.
Best Food: Dinner at Radice Italian
Run by a dedicated chef and her exceptionally friendly cousin, Radice is an unexpected gem of an Italian dining spot right where you least expect it. Using local ingredients with a few im-ported treats, Ama-born chef Chizuru Kawamoto puts her years of training in Italy and Tokyo to the test with each delicious dish. The fixed menu changes every few weeks, with seasonal and local items showcased using traditional Italian techniques and flavors. Working as a friendly and welcoming team, the cousins create a relaxed and warm atmosphere, welcoming visitors with wine and stories as well as the incredible food.
Address: 968-3 Fukui, Ama, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 684-0404
Access: A seven-minute walk from Hishiura port.
Hours: 2pm - 4.30pm and 6pm - 10 pm (last order at 9pm) Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Booking: Due to the small size, reservations are recommended and can be made online.
Website: http://oki-radice.sakura.ne.jp/ (Japanese only)
Transport On and Between the Dozen Islands
Due to their size, the Dozen islands can be easily navigated by bike, with Nishinoshima also offering rental cars.
Electric bikes are recommended due to the hilly terrain and cost 400 yen per hour, while nor-mal bikes cost 200 yen per hour. They are available from the tourism association in the Beppu Port building and as only 10 are available, booking is advised and can be done over the phone: 08514-7-8888 or online. Rental cars are also available for between 3 - 24 hours from Kuniga Rent-a-Car and Domae Rent-a-Car with bookings advised as supply is lim-ited. These can also be booked using the online contact form or via the companies, although only in Japanese.
Bicycles are available from the Ama town Tourism Association close to Hishiura Port. The is-land is the easiest of the three to explore by bike, but an electric bike is still recommended for all but keen cyclists. There are no rental cars available on Nakanoshima, although there is a local bus service that visits many of the popular sites and has a 200 yen flat fare. Timetables are available from the Tourism Association Office.
http://oki-ama.org/ (Japanese only)
The only means of transport on Chiburi island is a rental car or taxi, as there are no bikes available to rent or buses. Tourist taxis are available for between 10-13,000 yen for 1.5 - 2 hours and can be contacted by phone: 08514-8-2458. Rental cars are available from 4,000 yen for four hours to 7,000 yen for a day (for a four-seater). These can be reserved through the local Tourism Office by phone: 08514-8-2272 or by email: email@example.com
The Dozen islands have a frequent inter-island boat service which makes visiting multiple is-lands in a day easy.
The regular inter-island boat service has two boats - the Ferry Dozen, a small car and pas-senger ferry, and the Isokaze, a passenger-only ferry. These boats travel between Hishiura Port on Nakanoshima, Beppu port on Nishinoshima and Kurii Port on Chiburijima, although the latter is visited less frequently. The journeys take between 10-15 minutes and cost 300 yen for adults and 100 yen for children. Note that there are additional charges for bicycles and strollers. There are timetables available at tourist information centers and beside ferry ports, but there is also an app with the latest times and service updates which is an excellent bonus and makes traveling between the islands much easier.
It is also worth noting that the regular car ferry and the high-speed boat make additional jour-neys between the islands as well as travelling from the mainland. While fares between Dozen and Dogo range from 2,840 yen (high-speed) and 1,490 (regular ferry), the smaller island fares are much lower. A trip between Beppu and Hishiura Ports on the high-speed boat takes ten minutes and costs just 370 yen.
Access to the Dozen Islands
The smaller islands are served by the regular car ferry, the high-speed boat and a series of inter-island boats. From the mainland, the ferry and high-speed boat stop at Dogo first before arriving at Beppu Port on Nishinoshima Island and Hishiura Port on Nakanoshima. Kurii Port on Chiburijima can only be reached via a transfer at one of the other islands.
The larger Oki car ferry takes 4 hours to reach Beppu Port and 4.5 hours to reach Hishiura Port due to a wait at Dogo’s Saigo Port. There are generally two departures per day, with some variation during holidays and low-season. There are five tiers to choose from; Second Class (3,300 yen), Special Second Class (4,250 yen), First Class (5,980 yen), Special First Class (7,460) and Private Room (8,360 yen). Tickets can be bought on the day or reserved in advance, except for second class tickets which cannot be reserved.
The Rainbow Ferry takes just under two hours and generally departs once a day from the mainland, with some additional routes during peak times. Tickets cost 6,280 yen per person and must be reserved in advance. As it is more likely to be affected by the weather, the boat may be cancelled in rough seas, so be sure to check the company updates in advance and consider taking the car ferry instead.
The ports are both served by special shuttle bus services running from Matsue Station (plat-form 9, Ichibata Bus Company), Yonago Station (platform 2, Hinomaru Bus Company) and Yonago Airport. The fares vary range from 390 – 1,050 yen per person depending on the loca-tions and are timed to coincide with the ferry departures and arrivals.
Oki Steam Co., Ltd. website: https://www.oki-kisen.co.jp/
The fastest way to travel from Tokyo is to fly to Yonago Airport, with direct flights from Haneda on ANA costing around 10,000 yen mid-week. It is also possible to take the bullet train to Oka-yama and then the express train to Yonago or Matsue Stations. This takes around six hours and costs 20,000 yen.
From Osaka you can take the bullet train to Okayama and from there the express to either Yonago or Matsue. The journey takes around 3 hours and costs approximately 10,000 yen. There are no direct flights from Osaka to Yonago.