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Travel Japan: Top 10 Attractions on Awaji Island

This article comes from former Awaji island ALT Stephen Harmon’s blog A Walk in Japan. Having spent a year exploring all that the island has to offer, Stephen is the perfect man to tell us how to use this year’s Skills Development Conference on Awaji as an excuse for an unforgettable, fun-filled weekend trip on the renowned onion island.

Tucked away in the Japanese countryside rests an island overflowing with historical landmarks and cultural gems; this is Awaji Island.

To get here from mainland Hyogo, most people drive across the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, at two miles long it is the longest suspension bridge of its kind in the world. That’s about where state of the art technology stops on your trip to Awaji. Once you get off that bridge, you are immediately immersed in century-old traditions. In fact, according to Japanese folklore, Awaji Island is the birthplace of Japan. As the story goes, the gods Izanagi and Izanami stirred the sea with a spear, and when they lifted the spear from the water, a drop of brine fell from the blade and hardened atop the ocean waves. Thus, Awaji Island was born. Soon Izanagi and Izanami descended upon its shores, to further develop the land of the rising sun.

Far from the futuristic glamour of Tokyo, Awaji is suspended in a time where traditional values like, būshido, the unwritten code of honor and loyalty, continue to govern the locals. As a result, you can’t help but feel a simpler way of life, whilst walking past cattle barns and onion farms. On Awaji you can experience a Japan, away from Anime, Hello Kitty, and robots clustered in big cities. Without further ado, here is my top-ten list of Awaji Island activities.


10 monkeys10. Visit the Awajishima Monkey Center – Up in the mountains of the southern town of Naha, over 200 monkeys roam free. Visitors are sure to get some up close shots of these little guys. Just make sure you don’t stare them in the eyes.

9 sake brewery photo travel blog9. Tour the Sennenichi Sake Brewery – Conveniently located on the main road in Higashiura, Sennenichi has been brewing their house sake for generations.


(photo from a travel blog)


8 shrine28. Stroll through Izanagi Shrine – Since you’re on Awaji Island, it’s only fair you check out a beautiful shrine dedicated to the island’s (and for that matter Japan’s) founder. It’s said to be the oldest shrine in the country, but there’s no specific date on record. A beautiful stone walkway way lined with lighted pillars and a few torii gates mark the grand entrance. It’s not uncommon to witness priests carrying out traditional Shinto ceremonies. It’s also a popular spot for businessmen to pray for success, and students to pray for good grades.

7 sumoto castle7. Hike up to Sumoto Castle – The stone walls fortifying the rebuilt castle have held their ground since the early 1500′s. The castle itself was rebuilt in 2013 and, although small in stature, is well worth the fun twenty-five minute hike, or five minute car ride. From the mountain top, visitors can look across Osaka bay and see the three different prefectures of Hyogo, Osaka, and Wakayama. Be sure to dip your feet in Sumoto’s hot spring foot bath near the base of the small mountain.

To get there, drive under the yellow and red Sumoto Onsen sign, parallel to Ohama beach. Then, take the second right at the small statue of a women holding a bucket, drive under the torii gate and the foot bath is on your left.

6 keino beach6. Enjoy the sunset on Keino Matsubara Beach – Hundreds of black pine trees dot the (almost) white sand beach on Awaji’s south western shoreline. It’s cleaner than most Japanese beaches, which isn’t saying much. Ironically, for being an island nation, relaxing at the beach is not as regular an occurrence as it is in the States. Be sure to stick around for magnificent sunsets, as the strip of road along the coast is not called, “Sunset Boulevard” for nothing.

5 yumebutai5. Explore Tadao Ando’s Yumebutai Gardens – In the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, one of Japan’s most talented architects, Tadao Ando, designed this magnificent modern garden. Constructed alongside a resort conference center, lush gardens overflow the hillside with an endless staircase carved out of the side of the hill. Don’t worry, there’s an elevator too. Interestingly, much of this area’s land was removed and shipped across the bay to build artificial islands, like Kansai International Airport. If you can’t get enough Ando, simply drive five minutes south to see his modern temple, Honpokuji; an underground temple below a glimmering reflecting pool.

4 whirlpools4. Sail through the Naruto Whirlpools – In a narrow straight connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Seto Inland Sea, powerful whirlpools swirl twice a day. The difference in water levels from each sea can reach extremes of almost five feet, creating the fourth fastest moving straight in the world. If you would like to get up close and personal, visitors can board a guide boat to snap closer pictures of the whirlpools. Be sure to look for the, “Yes Onion Yes” vending machine located outside the nearby restaurant and gift shop. This brings us to a good time for me to mention that Awaji is famous in Japan for their onions. You will see them hanging to dry all over the island.

[I missed the large whirlpool when I visited, so here’s a photo I found on google.]

3 horses23. Ride Horses at Harmony Farm – I stumbled upon this horse farm while biking in the mountains on sunny spring afternoon. Many guests come from off the island for lessons. Spend an afternoon traversing through beautiful mountain passes and wading through calm ocean waters on a horse.

2 burger2. Walk through Hanasajiki Garden, and feast on ice cream and burgers – I’ll be the first to admit that gardens are usually never near the top of my tourist attractions list, but Hanasajiki (Thousand Flower Garden) is bursting with vivid colors that beautifully carpet Awaji’s northern hillside. From the gardens, visitors have a grand view of Osaka Bay and, on clear days, even Osaka City itself. Make sure to try the seasonal soft serve ice cream; “biwa” (loquat) in autumn, and sakura (cherry blossom) in spring.

I can’t recommend Hanasajiki without directing you to the best burger joint on the island, conveniently located just 2 minutes north up the street. It is called Awaji Country Garden, but the big sign is in Japanese (淡路カントリーガーデン). Unlike the other Awaji Island burgers, this guy is not made with shredded beef. Instead, guests get one thick and juicy patty topped with sweet caramelized onion rings and a secret burger sauce. Now would be a good time to remind you that the world famous Kobe Beef cows reside in the Awaji hillside. So yeah, the burger is unbelievable.

1 onsen1. Soak in Matsuho-no-yu Hot Springs – After a full day of exploring Awaji Island, you’ll need a bit of rest and relaxation. Luckily, Awaji is blessed with a number of onsens. However, none command a view as scenic as Matsuho-no-yu, perched in the northern hills overlooking the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. The bridge is lit for a few hours starting at dusk, and for five minutes on each hour, an enchanting rainbow pattern of lights reflects off the water and fills the sky. The best way to enjoy the light show is whilst soaking in an outdoor onsen.

[It’s probably not a good idea to bring your camera to a public bath, so here’s a photo from their website.]

Stephen Harmon

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