Have you ever heard of Shimane Prefecture? Probably not…That’s what most people say, not just travelers from overseas, but people within Japan often say as well. Sadly, Shimane Prefecture has been voted the “Least Known Prefecture in Japan”, but don’t let that put you off. Shimane features something refreshing – unspoilt rural scenery, amazing nature, fascinating culture and interesting history – this is the “real Japan”, something hard to find in the hustle and bustle of many big cities and towns.
So, have you heard of the Oki Islands? Probably not…most people get it confused with Iki (island in Kyushu) or Okinawa! Let me tell you about O-K-I. This picturesque remote island group located off the coast of Shimane Prefecture is where I call home, along with around 20,000 people, several thousand cows and horses, and an island famous for tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs). Welcome to the Oki Islands!
The Oki Islands, a group of four large inhabited islands and 180 smaller uninhabited islands and rocky outcrops, are one of the treasures of the Sea of Japan. Oki is divided into two main areas – Dogo (Okinoshima Town) and Dozen (Nishinoshima Town, Ama Town and Chibu Village). Nishinoshima is my home, but I often visit the other islands for work and for fun. There is so much to see and do in Oki!
When you type “Oki” into the Lonely Planet search, there is almost zero information (hopefully to be changed soon) but one kind traveler wrote “I always look at a map of Japan, and the Oki Islands seem to stick out…they seem so intriguing”. These islands are just that, on the edge of Japan, once a part of the Eurasian Continent, then at the bottom of a lake, the sea, volcanic islands, and now, a group of peaceful islands that have rich geohistory, ecology and history. If you come to Oki, you can discover firsthand the connections between the land and the people who live here. Wherever you travel, you will be greeted with a friendly “Konnichi wa” and if you are lucky, some omiyage (gifts) from the sea! You will also be treated to impressive landscapes created by Mother Nature, such as dramatic sea cliffs, radiant sunsets, grazing cattle, beautiful beaches and so on. These special features make Oki an ideal candidate for becoming a member of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN).
Oki could possibly be the adventure capital of the Chugoku Region. Here you can go hiking, mountain climbing, cycling, snorkeling, diving, sea kayaking, banana-boating, sumo-tubing, wakeboarding, water skiing, swimming etc. There are over 100 shrines in these islands, and lots of quiet places to sit and read a book or draw a picture. There is something for everyone in these quiet islands.
To get to Oki, take a ferry from Shichirui Port (Matsue City) or Sakaiminato Port. Check the Oki Kisen Ferry Line Timetable for ferry times and prices http://www.oki-kisen.co.jp/ . Currently, a one-way ticket costs 3150 yen (ferry) or 6000 yen (fast ferry) and takes one – two hours. Buses run to/from the ferry ports, Matsue City (Shimane) and Yonago City (Tottori) meaning access is easy. The Nishinoshima Tourism Association has some good information in English www.nkk-oki.com and the Oki Islands Geopark http://www.oki-geopark.jp/ has more detailed information about these unique islands.
Come to Oki and experience this little piece of paradise in the Sea of Japan!
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