Dogo Island in Shimane: Japan’s Hidden Nature Haven
The largest of the Oki Islands, Dogo is a volcanic land of ancient trees, rocky coastlines and incredible sunsets. Surrounded by the Sea of Japan, the Oki Islands were formed by volcanic activity and have developed a unique ecosystem thanks to their remote location and geohisto-ry. As a designated UNESCO Global Geopark, they offer a bounty of natural highlights, from centuries-old cedars to striking rock formations perched along the shorelines.
Be it by bike, sightseeing bus or car, the island is ripe for exploration, with hiking trails offering views across the ocean and entry deep into the lush green forests. Offering diverse land-scapes as well as a cultural history of traditional fishing and unusual festivals, Dogo is the per-fect introduction to the Oki Islands.
Tamawakasu-mikoto Shrine and the Stately Yao Cedar
The main shrine of the Oki Islands, Tamawakasu-Mikoto Shrine is a stunning example of the traditional Oki-zukuri architectural style. Greeted with the thatched entrance gate, visitors can spy the paired zuishinmon guardians before stepping through to the courtyard, complete with the ancient Yao Cedar. At an imposing 30m tall, the tree is believed to be almost 2000 years old, with countless branches reaching out across the grounds. Once damaged in a storm, a cross-section of the tree is on display at the Oki Nature Museum.
Just beside the Yao cedar, a set of unusually sloped steps lead to the shrine’s main buildings. Each year on June 5th, the Gorei Furyu Festival takes place here, and in a thrilling display, eight horses bearing the eight gods race to the temple.
The shrine’s worship hall is strung with an impressively thick shimenawa, a woven purification rope used to ward off evil spirits. Hidden just behind this building, however, is the honden - the main hall and most sacred part of a shrine. If you take a few steps to the left of the worship call, you can look across a small pond and sneak a view of the beautiful hidden building. With a steep thatched roof and shimenawa inspired by Ise Shrine, it is a small but impressive sight.
Close to the grounds is the oki-ke, the traditional residence of the head priest. As well as a home, the oki-ke is a small museum with important historical artifacts on display. One of the highlights is a set of Japan’s only remaining original eki-rei bells, dating from 646. Used as proof of identity by visiting officials and messengers, the government issued bells allowed their owners to acquire horses and labor during travel. The shrine buildings, the oki-ke and the guardians have been designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan while the cedar is a National Natural Treasure.
Address: 701 Shimonishi, Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0017
Access: A five-minute drive from Saigo Port, or you can alight at Tamawakasu Bus Stop.
Tsuma’s Traditional Funa Goya
A view that takes you back to the island’s fishing heyday, the funa-goya (boat houses) of Tsuma line the small bay. Twenty of the traditional buildings remain, rented by locals for boat storage for as little as 1,500 yen a year. Due to the stable tide of the bay, the boat houses sit right on the water’s edge. While plastic boats are used today, traditionally they would have been wooden and required raised platforms to prevent rotting from the constant lapping of the water. In the distance, the 350m tall Mount Takatayama overlooks the small and peaceful vil-lage, offering a short hike of half an hour, if you fancy a bird-eye-view of the boathouses and their surroundings.
Address: 1643 Tsuma, Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0104
Access: A 20-minute drive from Saigo port or alight at Kamaya Bus Stop.
Winner’s Water at Dangyo Falls
Surrounded by the lush forests and rocky cliffs of Mt Yoko, deep in the Tsuma region of Dogo, lie the twin Dangyo waterfalls.
Sandwiched between two towering cedars, the stone tori gate marks the entrance the shrine grounds, a weather-worn purification rope hanging from its pillars. Called dangyo no meoto-sugi, meaning husband and wife cedars, they are a formidable pair to step between. Following the rough path along a small river, visitors can enjoy a touch of shinrinyoku (forest bathing), which is said to boost wellbeing and a general sense of happiness.
The female waterfall, called medaki, is the first to spot, while the larger fall can be found up a flight of moss-lined steps. Falling straight from an overhanging cliff, the ‘male’ waterfall, called odaki, is an impressive sight. Nestled close by, Dangyo shrine is largely protected by the rocks, but receives a light mist nonetheless.
Long-believed to be ‘winner’s water’, the falls are visited by those competing in local competi-tions like sumo before a match, hoping for success. If you venture along the path you can en-joy the view from behind the falls and there’s even a spot to try the water before you leave.
Address: Nagu, Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0103
Access: A 50-minute drive from Saigo Port, no public bus service.
Going North: Shirashima Coast
At the northernmost tip of the island, the Shirashima coast offers breathtaking views of the is-land’s coast. Perfect for those with an interest in geological formations and still beautiful for those without, you can spot dikes and faults carved out over the years by the harsh seas. The striking white waves of the blue ocean are only enhanced by the green of the trees balanced upon the islands, apparently defying the harsh conditions that surround them. From the view-point, there is a 50-minute trail down to the coast for those with extra time.
Address: Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0432
Access: A 35-minute drive from Saigo port, no public bus service.
Hidden Shrine: Chichi Suzi
Close to the peak of Mt. Daimanji, the ancient Chichisugi is another of the island’s legendary trees. Surrounded by ferns and with a distinctly primeval feel, the 30m tall tree has a striking presence, looming out from its simple neighbors. Meaning breast tree, the cedar is known for its unusual limbs and is dedicated to a maternal deity. With a 10m circumference, the tree is one of few so large to remain alive, continuing to grow new limbs that protrude at increasingly crowded angles.
Enveloped in total silence, the tree is a shrine, complete with a weathered tori gate just in front of it. Nearby, there are small placards left by visitors to mark their journey, a habit with un-known origins but a friendly touch. If you’re keen to continue walking, there are two trails near-by which lead to the mountain peak, taking an hour. The tree is best accessed by car but can also be reached using the Araki mountain trail.
Address: Fuse, Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0412
Access: A 50-minute drive from Saigo Port. There is no bus service.
Jodogaura Coast’s Breathtaking Views
One of the most breathtaking examples of the island’s rocky coastline, Jodogaura’s namesake will come as no surprise. Meaning heaven, the area is named after the Buddhist Pure Land branch and certainly lives up to its name. Formed by volcanic flow and shaped by millennia of rough winds and waves, the coves are clear markers of the island’s geological development.
With a path trailing the coastline visitors can clamber out onto rocks or admire them from the viewpoints - whichever suits their fancy. Topped with pine trees, the rocky islets have signs of life and even the occasional local fisherman, reclining in the sun.
As well as being beautiful to observe, the landscape is a window into the history of not only the islands but Japan itself. Visible in the rock formations are layers of sediment that once formed the bottom of the lake on the Eurasian continent, millions of years before it became an ocean - separating Japan forever. Oki was formed by volcanic activity and was connected to Japan’s mainland during the glacial age, before sea levels once again rose, cutting them off perma-nently. Thanks to this unique development the island has an unusual range of biodiversity and geological history and is now a designated UNESCO Global Geopark.
There is a rest area near the parking spot with a cafe open during peak seasons as well as a camping ground.
Address: Fuse, Okinoshima Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0412
Access: A 40-minute drive from Saigo port
Sunset at Candle Island
Balanced on an increasingly fragile base, the Rosoku-jima is a further example of the erosion taking place on the island’s coasts. While interesting to observe during the day, either by boat or from an on-shore observation point, the island earns its name from its appearance during the beautiful Oki sunsets.
Seen from the sea, with just the right positioning and at just the right time, it resembles a burn-ing candle, the sun’s flame perched on the wick as it sets. While it seems the balancing act of these factors may be too tricky to attempt, the Rosoku-jima Sightseeing boats have it down to a fine art. Twisting and looping their boast at just the right moment, you’re almost guaranteed a perfect candle moment, provided the weather permits the boats to leave, of course.
The journey out will provide some impressive views of the jagged shores as well as views of the unusual Fukuura Tunnels. Carved over centuries and used for humans as well as cars, they were once the only way to traverse the island’s tricky topography. If keen, you can follow a walking trail along the water’s edge and through the tunnels, taking the bus to the Uneri Ho-tel stop or driving around 30 minutes from Saigo Port.
For those sticking to the sunset view, boats must be booked in advance and cost 2,600 yen for adults and 1,300 yen for children. As the departure times depend on the sunset, you will be advised what time to arrive at Fukuura Bay when you call.
Address: 2003 Kitagata, Okinoshima, Oki District, Shimane Prefecture 685-0301 (Fukuura Bay)
Access: A 35-minute drive from Saigo port.
Hours: Tours are conducted at sunset so times vary, but will be confirmed at the time of book-ing.
Entry: 1,600 yen for adults and 1,300 yen for children.
Booking: Advance reservations are required and can be made over email with the Okinoshi-ma Tourism Association: firstname.lastname@example.org
Transport on Dogo Island
Dogo is best explored by car, as the popular sightseeing spots are spread out across the is-lands. Unfortunately, while there are public buses, they generally serve local needs rather than sightseeing spots. This means that while some places have infrequent services, many have none at all. There are cars available to rent from a selection of companies including Oki Rent-a-Car (*), Oki Ichibata Rent-a-Car (*) and Marina Rent-a-Carr(*). Dur-ing the high season, these cars may be booked up so booking in advance is recommended.
(*) the websites are available only in Japanese
It is also possible to explore the island by bike - but the distances can be quite far, so this is only suggested for keen cyclists. You can rent bikes from the tourist information office at Saigo port and choose from regular, road or electric bikes. Prices start at 500 yen for three hours and range up to 1,200 yen.
Website: https://oki-dougo.info/data01/room/sroom/sroom_cycle.html (Japanese only)
Sightseeing tours are available and cover either the East or West sides of the island. These tours run from April to October and depart in the morning (the Chichisugi course) and the af-ternoon (the Dankyo Course) so you can do both in one day if required. Both courses take just under four hours and cost 5,000 yen for adults and 3,000 yen for children. Reservations are advised and can be made, along with inquiries, to the Oki Ryugakusha on 08512-2-7100.
Website: https://oki-dougo.info/data01/room/broom/event_geobus.html (Japanese only)