Reconnecting with the authentic Japan : the Oki Islands

Updated 2016-11-17 13:39

The Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture : a Global Geopark site

When my mother came to visit me in Tokyo, we had a great time and I asked her what she thought about this country that she was visiting for the time. She said she loved it, but then she made a remark which made me think about this place I thought I knew by now, after 4 years living here. She genuinely asked me if Tokyo was the 'real' Japan. I thought about it, and I concluded that like in every countries, the capital is definitely a big part of the local culture and history, and is 'real', but it's also not all. So after Kamakura, Hakone and Kyoto, those famous places which represent Japan so well, time came for me to see another side of the country. Less famous, more authentic.

So after a few verifications about the less popular places in Japan, I finally decided to go for Shimane Prefecture, in the South West par of Japan. Near to Kyoto and Hiroshima, I heard from friends the place was quite amazing to see, but forgotten because shadowed by its two great neighbors.

I wasn't disappointed. After a short trip from Tokyo, I arrived right on time at Shimane Airport. I'll never get tired of the level of service you can find in the national flights in Japan. The quality is the same as with an international expensive one, without the stress and the price of it. I soon arrived to Shimane Airport, a small but well organized place where I immediately took another smaller airplane for the Oki Islands, my first stop. These islands are currently registered in the Geoglobal park program, and four days are definitely not enough to really discover the four of them.

A small airplane will take you there in roughly one hour and half, or you can also take a boat which will need a little bit more time but allow you to watch the sea and breathe the marine air of Shimane. Once arrived on the islands, the contrast between Tokyo and them is striking: less people, less sound'¦ Amazingly in such proximity, the sceneries and landscapes completely changed and offered something new every time. From the wide views upon the ocean and cliffs to the small shrines hidden in the forest, everything was surprising and it felt like I was visiting a whole country concentrated in four small islands. All four of them are linked with different boats services, easy to access and quite frequent.

A definitive stop was the Dangyou no Taki Shrine. Lost in the forest with a discreet entry, the torii is still quite imposing but simple in design, all made in wood. I tried twice the popular game in Japan of throwing a coin and make it land on top of the torii, in vain, but it was only to give me an excuse to come back and try again one day. Then the trip continued inside the forest, walking along a small river which was leading to a beautiful waterfall, right beside the Shrine. It was situated at the bottom of the ravine, and the sun was hitting the wooden building at the perfect angle. No one was here so the silence was only broken by the sound of the water rushing over the top of the cliff.

Don't worry about having to find a place to sleep on the islands, as you'll have a few opportunities to try the bed and breakfast option in Japan. I stopped in a local habitant's house, who offered such a professional service that hotels cannot catch up. Of course the dinner and breakfast were made with ingredients from the island too.

Trekking is also definitely a great option on the islands, with beautiful views from the cliffs upon the sea. Just be careful about the cows and horses who are walking freely outside! The air feels amazing, and the path isn't too hard for the beginners. Walking on the entire island can easily takes a few days though, so plan out your trek beforehand. The views along the cliff are ever changing and charming, with sometimes paths that will part from the trek and go down to the shore.

And on your way back to Mastue, right before leaving the Oki Islands for good, you can still try the salt and pepper ice cream near the boat station! Definitely a challenge, but actually surprisingly good.

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