Top 10 Attractions on Awaji Island

Tucked away in the Japanese countryside rests an island overflowing with historical landmarks and cultural gems. This place is called Awaji Island, and it’s less than two hours from Osaka.

To get here, most people drive across the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, a two mile suspension bridge, the longest of it’s 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 glamor 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 more simpler way of life, whilst walking past cattle barns and onion farms. Now that I’m back in the states, I hope to give you a peak into some of the best places in Awaji where you too can begin to understand a very different Japan, away from Anime, Hello Kitty, and robots clustered in big cities. A place where you’re bound to venture where no other foreigner has been before. Without further adieu, here is my top ten list for Awaji Island activities. If you would like to add anything to the list, please leave a comment below.

10. Visit 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.

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9. Tour Sennenichi Sake Brewery - Conveniently located on the main road in Higashiura, Sennenichi has been brewing there own house sake for generations. Based across from the town’s elementary school, I biked past this place everyday, but never had the chance to take a tour.

Since I never actually went inside, here’s a photo from a travel blog.

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8. 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 over arching 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. This is sure to be a very unique Japanese experience, as you will witness how Japan blends religion into their daily lives.

ImageIMG_45827. 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 three different prefectures: 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 torii gate and the foot bath is on your left. (There’s also a map at the bottom of this post)

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6Enjoy 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.

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5. Explore Tadao Ando’s Yumebutai Gardens - In the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, one of Japan’s most talented architectures, Tadao Ando, designed this magnificent modern feeling garden. Constructed alongside a resort conference center, lush gardens overflow the hillside with an endless staircases 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.

The first photo is of the garden, and the second is from inside Honpokuji Temple.

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4. Sail through the Naruto Whirlpools - In a narrow straight connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Inland Seto 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.

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3. 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 mountain passes and wading through calm ocean waters on a horse. It turned out the one of the horse trainers was my next door neighbor. That solved the mystery of who was snoring so loud through my apartments’ thin walls.

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2. 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, like “biwa” (loquat) in autumn, and sakura (cherry blossom) flavor 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. The place 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. I biked up a mountain and sweated through my T-shirt on a chilly spring day just for this burger. Okay, so maybe I only recommended this garden for the nearby burger joint (Oops!). But the flowers are still beautiful.

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1. 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 over looking the two mile 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 from 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.

ImageHere’s a map labeled with each location mentioned above. Click on the pin for more information.

Don’t have a car? No worries.

Just hop on the Jenova Ferry from Akashi. In twelve minutes, you’ll be dropped off in an old fishing village called, Iwaya. This is the only boat to the island (the city planners  are clearly not prepared for a zombie apocalypse).  You can rent bikes at the port terminal building for 500 Yen for two hours. Or 1,000 Yen for the day (9:00 AM – 4:30 PM, 0799-72-3420).

Additionally, you can catch a bus from Sannomiya station in Kobe to Higashiura Bus Terminal in Awaji. Or catch the same bus later, alongside the highway at Maiko station. The 55 minute ride from Sannomiya is 900 Yen. The 25 minute ride from Maiko is 600 Yen. The 1.5 hour ride to Sumoto, the largest town on the island, is 1800 Yen. Click here for directions to bus stop, and here for the timetable.

Did you really think there would be no Hello Kitty on Awaji? This is still Japan. I present you Hello Kitty…onion style.

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14 thoughts on “Top 10 Attractions on Awaji Island

  1. I just stumbled upon your blog and got so excited since I am from Awaji. Your videos and photos are so cool! Made me homesick. I live in the States now but have my friends and family there. I graduated from Higashiura Chugakko long time ago. Are you still in Awaji or back in the States? You may know people I know there. Shoot me an email if you would like.

      • Did you work with Nishi-sensei and Ueda-sensei? I went to school with F. Tatsumi who is also teaching there. I believe they are all still at Tochu or Iwaya Chugakko. I can tell from looking at your photos and videos that you immersed yourself into Japanese culture and it’s local community while you were there.Wonderful story telling and I like the way you edited the videos. (I shoot videos and photos myself too.)

      • I worked with Ueda Sensei at Higashiura JHS, and I also taught at Iwaya JHS. But I don’t remember a Nishi Sensei. Teachers are both schools were incredibly kind to me and they made it easy for me to immerse myself in Japanese culture.

      • Ueda-sensei was my English teacher as well as basketball coach. My friends and I have been talking about taking a trip to Japan together and my google search on Awaji led me to your blog. I will share the link with them and I am sure they will enjoy it. How many JET teachers get to go on a boat with local fishermen? I truly enjoyed your blog and it made me want to go back home soon. Thanks!

      • Thank you for the compliments. It was fun updating the blog while I was in Awaji. I’m not sure how many JETs have been fishing with local fisherman. I was lucky and met the fisherman at 打ちっぱなし near HIgashiura JHS. He didn’t speak any English but wanted to take me fishing out of 森漁港. I’m glad I went. It was a great experience! I hope you get the chance to visit Awaji soon!

  2. Hello Stephen, Thank you very much for your information about Awaji, I really love to go there on my vacation. Sorry for my poor english. Could you please explain how to go to Hanasajiki Garden from Maiko Station?

    This is my first time to go to Awaji from Thailand.

    Thank you very much.

    • Thank you for reading my blog. From the Maiko train station, walk up the stairs and take the escalator up to the highway. The bus will stop on the side of the road at zone 2. Take a bus to Higashiura 東浦 bus terminal. There are bus schedules listed at the station. I believe it will arrive every 30 minutes starting from Sannomiya and stopping at Maiko. At the Higashiura bus terminal you can take a 10-15 minute minute taxi ride to Hanasajiki Garden. Enjoy!

  3. hi
    Very very informative and written with love…
    I intend to travel to Japan beginning April, returning from Okayama via Naoshima, Takamatsu Naruto and awajishima
    no car. public transport, arriving on 12th night to Kyoto via Kobe
    Traveling by myself.
    would 2 days be enough for a taste of the island?
    Mainly the YUME BUAI AND MIZUMIDO
    where is the best place to stop and look for accommodations coming from Naruto? (not fancy)
    would appreciate your help
    sari

    • Hi Sari,

      2 days are a good amount of time for Awaji Island. However, it is difficult to travel around without a car. But there is a bus called the “Awaji Kotsu” that you can use. The bus stops at Yumebutai, which is actually the same stop for the Westin Hotel. If you are coming from Naruto, I would look into accommodations in Sumoto, the biggest town on the island. There are a few nice hotels there, or if you traveling on a budget maybe you would like this place http://www.fbi-camping.com/access/
      Hope this helps!

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