There are 727 islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Some of islands became very popular travel spots by hosting the worldwide contemporary art event, the Setouchi Triennale, as well as a part of the sacred cycling route, the Shimanami Kaido. However, each island offers a unique atmosphere; natural beauty, historical scenery, and some very cute animal inhabitants. The islands also offer real local hospitality, and slow and easy lifestyle. The Seto Inland Sea, Setonaikai in Japanese, lies between the Japanese main islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The sea stretches over 400 kilometers. People say the mild climate and the islands’ relaxed atmosphere resembles life among the Mediterranean islands. Let’s look into the 10 best islands of Seto Inland Sea today.
Awaji island in Hyogo Prefecture is the largest island of the 727 islands. It is about 590 square kilometers, with a long stretch north to south. A highway connects Awaji island to Honshu and Shikoku, which makes it one of the most accessible islands. Its convenient access brings many tourists from the metropolitan areas of Osaka and Kobe on the weekends. The islands offer many outdoor leisure activities such as fishing, hiking, and camping. You can also see amazingly strong whirlpools in the Naruto Strait between Awaji Island and Tokushima Prefecture at the southern end of the island. There is a ferry, Uzushio Kanchosen, which brings you closer to the swirling tides and rumbling currents. As Awaji island is said to be the first island that played a role in Japanese mythology, you can visit some of these classic spots, particularly Izanagi Jingu, the oldest shrine in Japan, and the tiny sandstone island of Eshima, which sits right next to the port and is believed to be one of the legendary islands in the creation myths on Kojiki writings.
Shodo island in Kagawa Prefecture is the second largest island. This island is also easily accessed via a number of daily ferries that connect Honshu and Shikoku. The Angel Road, which appears only during the low tide, is attracting many tourists recently who are hoping the angels will grant their wishes. Kankakei is a famous scenic spot located in the Seto Inland Sea National Park, designated as Japan’s first national park. Shodo island is well known for olive cultivation and produces 95% of domestic market needs. Olive forests spread across the entire island, creating scenery reminiscent of Greece.
Naoshima is the main venue for the contemporary art festival Setouchi Triennale, which is held once every three years on a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The artworks of international artists are presented across the islands. Although it is usually a quiet island with a population of mostly senior citizens, many young people and international tourists visit during the festival season and infused the island with vibrancy.
― How to get to Naoshima
Many cyclists from all over the world are now visiting the Shimanami Kaido, where a trail connects Onomichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture and Imabari City in Ehime Prefecture. The trail offers an exciting ride across many islands and bridges. The landscape of Ikuchi island, the third one along the course, consists of steep hills and pristine open fields, perfect for lemon production as they receive maximum daily sun. They produce the Setoda lemon brand, and many gourmet delights made with fresh lemons. Also on the island, you can visit the Hill of Hope which has a number of art works using the famous Carrara marble of Italy.
The third largest island in Seto Inland sea, Suo-oshima in Yamaguchi prefecture, is also known as ‘Hawaii in Setouchi’. In the Meiji era, about 4,000 Suo-oshima residents migrated to Hawaii to work in the sugar plantation. Some returned to the island and brought back the culture and customs. There are many buildings modeled after the facilities on Kauai island in Hawaii. Palm trees lining up along the road, you may feel like you are actually in Hawaii.
Mukaishima is the first island on the Shimanami Kaido trail. It is 200 meters away from Onomichi city and you can easily cross the bridge by car. The local specialty is figs, the warm climate and the island’s abundant sunlight helps them grow delicious sweet figs. The fig season is usually from mid-August to mid-November. There are beautiful orchids growing here and at the Mukai Shima Yoran Center you can see over 1,000 various types.
Tomogashima is an uninhabited island that was used as a fortress facility of the Japanese army in WWII, and the battery and defense station are still left behind. All neighboring islands were requisitioned by the Japanese military in the early 1900s, and were erased from official maps and cleared of residents in order to house military listening posts and enormous gun batteries. You’ll see endless red-brick military buildings overrun with plants and vines. You can explore inside if you want. Many visitors consider environment to bear a strong resemblance to the film called Castle in the Sky from Studio Ghibli. This island truly offers a unique blend of picturesque natural beauty and dystopian decay.
Osaki-Shimojima is located off the coast of Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture, and can be reached in about an hour by car from Kure city. The townscape of Mitarai dates from the Edo period and is designated as an important preservation district of the country. You can visit nostalgic spots like the oldest existing clock shop in Japan and the theater called Virgo built in 1937.
Sanagishima in Kagawa Prefecture is a small island with a circumference of about 4km. This island became famous to nationwide cat lovers as it is an island with more cats than residents! You can interact with the cats everywhere following a few rules that are written on the island’s notice board such as ; do not leave garbage behind; do not enter the premises of the house for pictures; feed cats only with the amount that they can eat at one time; do not feed in the middle of the road.
Here is another animal island. About 700 rabbits live on this island, far surpassing the number of inhabitants. You can see rabbits everywhere on the island. This is also one of the islands that was erased from the official map during the war, as a poison gas manufacturing plant was in operation. You might be surprised at this remarkable transition of this island where the dark history became a healing spot with soft furry rabbits. Learn some history at the museum and play with some cute rabbits for the rest of your day!
Check out the other islands in Japan
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