When people think of “Japan,” they almost assuredly conjure up mental images of hyper-modern Tokyo or traditional Kyoto. Unbeknownst to most overseas visitors, Japan is actually home to a number of killer beaches. Of course, many of these are located down to the south surrounding the islands of Okinawa (some of which I have actually covered before in this article). During the colder months of the year this concentration of coastline means everyone seeking an escape from the frigid winter will flock to a single prefecture. While shoreline retreats rarely become overcrowded, you’re certainly not going to have the beach all to yourself. This can be a bit of a deal breaker for those looking to disconnect from the daily concerns and bliss out by the ocean.
Luckily for the beachgoers out there, there’s an alternative. Enter Kagoshima Prefecture’s little known Amami Oshima. This isle is the largest of all the land masses that encompass the Satsunan Island chain that runs between Kyushu and the Okinawan islands. Though it is geographically to its southern neighbor of Okinawa, Amami Oshima is technically part of Kagoshima Prefecture. In fact, the island has been ever since the mighty Shimazu clan brought it to heel in 1611. Home to a number of beaches that dot its coastline, Amami Oshima shelters many white sand coves which sport clear, temperate waters that are ideal for swimming and/or snorkeling. It’s a miracle that this slice of heaven isn’t better known.
When it comes down to development, Amami Oshima unfortunately loses out to Okinawa. The island’s selling point over its competitor lies in the fact that it sees far fewer visitors annually. Because of this, you can almost assuredly have the entirety of the beach entirely to yourself. What’s more, Amami Oshima actually has a fair bit of culture to explore as well. For example, the island has been revered for ages for its Oshima Tsumugi silk that is used to produce ultra high-quality kimonos. Alternatively, for the history buffs out there, know that Amami Oshima was the isle where Saigo Takamori, the famed “last samurai,” was exiled during the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate.
Getting to Amami Oshima
No joke, getting to Amami Oshima is a bit of a trek. As you might imagine given its location near Okinawa, the first step involves taking a flight from a major city. If you’re coming from Tokyo or Osaka, there are a few options for direct flights yet another alternative is to transit via Kagoshima. Though it would certainly be possible to skip all the attractions down in that neck of the woods, I’d suggest that those considering coming all the way out to Amami Oshima should also spend some time in Kagoshima’s capital city. Here, I’d recommend a direct flight down to Amami Oshima then a transit flight back.
Anyway, the mainland aside for a second, know that public transit on Amami Oshima is basically nonexistent. There are a small handful of buses however these options are quite disjointed and difficult to understand. Rather than try to navigate this arcane mess of connections, I instead suggest that you just rent a car. Amami Oshima is quite large and without a set of wheels to cart you around, you’ll be hard pressed to get the most out of the island. In fact, if you’re like me and can’t drive for your life, you’ll want to snag a friend who can hop behind the wheel otherwise opt to visit someplace more accessible.
What to See in Amami Oshima
The island of Amami Oshima is host to a whole slew of lovely attractions, both manmade and natural. Unfortunately though, these are haphazardly strewn all about the isle in a manner that isn’t all too conducive to stringing together a recommended itinerary. Because of this, I’ll instead opt to just provide you, the reader, with a list of all the spots that I found worthy of a visit. This way, you can decide to pick whatever works for you and your interests. As always, I’ll include Google Map links for each so that you can get a sense of where the venues sit.
- The Beaches
When it comes to Amami Oshima, the beaches are what make the destination. While there are some other interesting attractions, these are but mere sideshows to the main draw. Though the island has many beaches to choose from, the best and most conveniently accessed is Tomori beach. You’ll find this stunning coast approximately ten minutes away by car from Amami Oshima’s airport.
- Mangrove Forest
Amami Oshima is home to the second largest mangrove collection in all of Japan. You’ll find the highest concentration of these near the center of the island. Of course, the best way to explore this primeval landscape is by kayak and lucky for you, these can be rented at many spots throughout the mangrove forest.
- Downtown Naze
This is the main “urban” area of the otherwise sparsely populated Amami Oshima. The compact main area is home to a surprising number of bars and restaurants. In fact, I’ve heard that Naze has the second highest concentration of drinking establishments in all of Kagoshima Prefecture.
- Amami Park
Located on the grounds of Amami Oshima’s former airport, Amami Park has a few allures to check out that include a folk museum highlighting the island’s historical and cultural legacy. There’s also a free observation deck with a killer view as well as an art museum.
- Saigo Takamori Museum
This facility is housed in the former residence of the man who is often hailed as the “last samurai.” While English is a bit lacking, the museum details the life of Saigo Takamori during his banishment on the island of Amami Oshima.
Of the above, I’d consider the beaches and the mangroves my “must visits.” That said, if you’re a party animal, a boozy night out in Naze can be one to remember (assuming you can that is…).
There’s Still More to Amami Oshima
If you’re looking to get a little bit more out of Amami Oshima, I suggest hitting up any of the islands to the south of the main island. These tiny, remote communities offer a glimpse into a rarely seen side of Japan. If you’re hankering for an experience that is altogether different from what most others experience when visiting Japan, I cannot more highly suggest that you spend some time on any of these islands. During my time down here, I overnighted on the island of Yoroshima and made some great memories. Likely, any of the other isles offer similar experiences.
What justifies the epic odyssey over land, air, and sea that is required to get to this far-flung corner of Japan? A far bit it turns out. For starters, the night sky is absolutely to die for. Seeing as you’re a considerable distance from just about anything, you’ll be able to enjoy unobstructed views of the stars. Additionally, given that cellphone reception is close to nonexistent, you’ll have a much needed opportunity to disconnect from technology and experience life as it once was. Though the experience isn’t for everyone, I certainly enjoyed my time seeing this remote slice of what is already a rarely visited part of Japan.
Until next time adventurers…