- 6 min read

Japan Heritage Journey in Tsushima

Historical perspectives to gourmet excitements

Tsushima is one of Japan's Heritage sites in Nagasaki, offering a unique blend of culture and history. Situated between Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula, it has become a popular tourist destination among both Japanese and South Korean visitors. In fact, most signs on the island are displayed in both Japanese and Korean languages. Moreover, the island has been attracted by gamers around the world, influenced by the “Ghost of Tsushima," which was released in 2020.

Another captivating aspect is the island's association with the mythology of being one of the eight original islands created by the Gods– Izanagi and Izanami. The Tsusima Shrine Guidebook states that there are currently 29 shrines on the island, a considerable drop from the 455 religious structures that were documented during the Edo period.

Watatsumi Shrine is famous for the five torii gates. The sight of the shrine is truly reminiscent of a dragon palace, and has long been associated with the legend of Ryugu-literally, "dragon palace" in Japanese.
Watatsumi Shrine is famous for the five torii gates. The sight of the shrine is truly reminiscent of a dragon palace, and has long been associated with the legend of Ryugu-literally, "dragon palace" in Japanese.

Where is Tsushima?

Located near the center of Tsushima, Aso-wan is a bay shaped by a beautiful rias coastline.
Located near the center of Tsushima, Aso-wan is a bay shaped by a beautiful rias coastline.

Tsushima, an island closer to the Korean Peninsula than Japan's main island, serves as a gateway to discovering one of Japan's unique cultures.

The island spans about 82 km from its northern to southern ends, with approximately 90% covered by mountainous terrain and primeval forests. The vistas from the mountain peaks, such as the Eboshidake Observatory, offer astounding views, allowing glimpses of Korea's landscape.

At Manzeki Observation Deck. Close to the airport and easy to stop by if you rent a car.
At Manzeki Observation Deck. Close to the airport and easy to stop by if you rent a car.

Tsushima is believed to have been established around the Yayoi period—300 BCE to 250 CE—serving as a crucial trading center between the Korean Peninsula and Japan's main island. During the Edo era (1603-1868), Tsushima played a pivotal role in transferring cultural and technological knowledge to Edo–current Tokyo area–while providing military assistance to Korea.

According to the Tsushima Museum, Tsushima used to be so heavily fortified that the entire island was said to be "a fortress," with gun batteries all over the place. There were more than 30 of them. Because of the location of the island, dynamic ruins of such fortresses still remain today.

The Himegamiyama Fortress Ruins was built to prevent enemy ships from entering Asakaya Bay during the Russo-Japanese War.
The Himegamiyama Fortress Ruins was built to prevent enemy ships from entering Asakaya Bay during the Russo-Japanese War.
Somehow it reminds me of the ghibli world when visiting. Situated atop a hill remains as it is today. Visit there when the sun is still up.
Somehow it reminds me of the ghibli world when visiting. Situated atop a hill remains as it is today. Visit there when the sun is still up.

One of Tsushima's local residents shared, “It’s not common to speak Korean if you are born here as Japanese. We just try to be available for both languages because we equally have tourists from both nationalities.”

In July 1999, a high-speed ferry connecting South Korea’s Busan and Tsushima’s Hitakatsu port was inaugurated, significantly enhancing accessibility and boosting the local economy. Since then, South Koreans have been capable of traveling to Tsushima by just a 70 minute ride; the economy flourished due to travelers from the neighborhood.

After the opening of a direct ferry service to South Korea in 1999, signs in Korean characters gradually increased in the town.
After the opening of a direct ferry service to South Korea in 1999, signs in Korean characters gradually increased in the town.

With the epic transportation, sightseeing became more flexible and feasible for both domestically and internationally. The influx of South Korean tourists prompted the need for more guides, information in both Japanese and Korean to regulate certain Japanese laws.

Additionally, with the release of the video game "Ghost of Tsushima" in 2020, Tsushima gained more international attention from the gamers in the world. Some fans make guesses about a certain historical site in the real world.

While “The Golden Temple” featured in the game "Ghost of Tsushima" doesn't exist in the real world, fans speculate that it may be modeled after a temple called "Banshoin" in Izuhara.
While “The Golden Temple” featured in the game "Ghost of Tsushima" doesn't exist in the real world, fans speculate that it may be modeled after a temple called "Banshoin" in Izuhara.
“The Cloud Ridge Shrine” in the game world appears to have a real-world counterpart in Wadatsumi Shrine in Tsushima. When the tide is high, the seawater rises close to the shrine.
“The Cloud Ridge Shrine” in the game world appears to have a real-world counterpart in Wadatsumi Shrine in Tsushima. When the tide is high, the seawater rises close to the shrine.

Discovering Tsushima's Local Culinary Marvels

Exploring ethnic food and local agriculture adds a fascinating dimension to travel. Similar to learning a new language, trying ethnic local cuisine is exploring its agriculture and background.

Here are the lists which are renowned for several culinary delights:

  1. Anago a.k.a Japanese salt-water eels,
  2. Tsushima’s Honey,
  3. Rokube noodle from sweet potato,
  4. Tonchan-yaki.

1. Anago (Japanese Saltwater Eels)

As an island surrounded by the ocean, Tsushima excels in fisheries. The locally branded Golden Eel, known for its thickness and chewiness, is a must-try. When it comes to Japanese saltwater eels, other prefectures such Hiroshima and Shimane are the notable regions to picture it. Whilst Tsushima has its own brand, Golden Conger Eel (Kogane Anago in Japanese) captivates tourists from all over the world. Personal recommendation: Anago tempura, crispy and devoid of a strong fishy odor. Others are; Anago in a bamboo steamer and grilled eels at Anaga Tei.

Anago Tei uses the " Kogane Anago," or Golden Eel brand, to provide elegant cuisine. The photo is of a Special Steamed eel (Seiro in Japanese) for 3,800 yen.
Anago Tei uses the " Kogane Anago," or Golden Eel brand, to provide elegant cuisine. The photo is of a Special Steamed eel (Seiro in Japanese) for 3,800 yen.

2. Tsushima’s Honey

Tsushima is notable for producing exceptional honey with precious wild Japanese bees. Hachi-dou, traditional log-carved hives, are placed in the mountains to naturally collect honey from a diverse range of flowers. The taste is genuinely gentle compared to other basic honey products. Harvesting this honey requires significant effort, reflecting in its cost. Its extravagance makes it a delightful complement to any kind of bread or when paired with a cup of coffee. This is the sole location to obtain authentic honey produced by wild Japanese bees.

Sightseeing information center, Fureai-dokoro-Tsushima has a souvenir shop in the same facility. The honey was sold there for 2,500 yen.
Sightseeing information center, Fureai-dokoro-Tsushima has a souvenir shop in the same facility. The honey was sold there for 2,500 yen.

3. Rokube Noodle from Sweet Potato

A unique Tsushima noodle dish made from sweet potato starch, Rokube noodles originated during the Edo period. Due to geological processes, Tsushima ancient people invented the noodles from sweet potatoes and were an excellent plant that could adapt to the rocky, barren land of Tsushima. A method was devised to extract the starch (called "sen") from the sweet potato through a complex process of soaking it in water and fermenting it, making it possible to preserve it for a long time.

This is one of the healthy and easy-to-eat soup noodles. If you have eaten Konjac, the texture and appearance are similar to it.

At Izuhara Shopping Center Tiara, Taishu-An restaurant offers the dish for 650 yen.
At Izuhara Shopping Center Tiara, Taishu-An restaurant offers the dish for 650 yen.

4. Tonchan-yaki

A regional cuisine influenced by South Korea—Tonchan-yaki–featuring marinated pork with miso, garlic, and spices, is widely available in the upper part of Tsushima. “Tonchan" is a dish that mainly uses pigs’ offal, but "Kami-Tsushima Tonchan" is a little different, as it uses the normal part of pork itself. This Tsushima tonchan-yaki, also called "Soul food" or “Seoul food” in Japanese, has spread from the northern Tsushima area and is notable to serve on the menus of almost all restaurants in the Kami-Tsushima region.

Activity

The island has vast panorama views everywhere. Why not try to wake up before sunrise and glimpse the breathtaking moment? Photo was taken at Isaribi park.
The island has vast panorama views everywhere. Why not try to wake up before sunrise and glimpse the breathtaking moment? Photo was taken at Isaribi park.

For an intriguing and memorable accommodation experience, consider staying at Seizanji Temple. The temple is available in Japanese, Korean and English and welcomes international seekers. Situated on top of a hill brings tranquility and peaceful moments. Especially, at night, the area becomes dead silent and twinkling stars in the sky.

The temple has a few parking spots; however, recommend you book a spot when reserving a room.
The temple has a few parking spots; however, recommend you book a spot when reserving a room.
Reserving a Zen meditation session or zazen practice provides an opportunity to treat your mind to a monk-led experience.
Reserving a Zen meditation session or zazen practice provides an opportunity to treat your mind to a monk-led experience.

Tsushima emerges as a cultural gem, seamlessly blending history, cultural diversity, and natural splendor. The island's unique fusion of Japanese and Korean influences, showcased in its signs and cultural exchanges, offers visitors a vibrant tapestry of experiences.

Tsushima's serene landscapes, adorned with shrines, fortresses, and scenic observatories, provide glimpses into its storied past and scenic grandeur. Delving into its gastronomic treasures, along with immersive activities like Zen meditation at Seizanji Temple, enriches the visitor's journey.

Accessible by sea or air, Tsushima beckons adventurers to uncover its historical riches, savor its unique culinary delights, and immerse themselves in tranquility. Tsushima stands as an unforgettable destination for those seeking an authentic, enriching experience in Japan.

Tsushima's sunset
Tsushima's sunset

Getting there

Access to Tsushima

There are two means to reach out to the island from the mainland of Japan. Flights provide sightseeing time in the land more, but the schedules are few.

Boat:

  • From Hakata Port in Fukuoka Prefecture, ferries sail to Tsushima, arriving at Izuhara Port in the south or Hitakatsu Port in the north.

  • To Izuhara Port: Takes about 4 hours and 30 minutes by ferry from Hakata Port. Alternatively, a high-speed boat reduces travel time to 2 hours and 15 minutes—an interesting coincidence, as this duration matches the travel time for those coming from Busan in Korea.

  • To Hitakatsu Port: Requires approximately 6 hours by ferry from Hakata Port, but interestingly, about 1 hour and 15 minutes by high-speed boat from Korea (Busan).

Plane:

  • From Nagasaki Airport: Approximately 35 minutes.

  • From Fukuoka Airport: About 30 minutes.

5
6

Join the discussion

Joshua Douglas a month ago
Emi Takahata Author a month ago
Thanks!!
Bonson Lam a month ago
I love eel, especially when I went to Nagoya. https://en.japantravel.com/aichi/kanebun-restaurant-shin-anjo/8586 Do you recommend the eel here in Nagasaki?
Emi Takahata Author a month ago
Thank you, Bonson-san!