Recently, I had the opportunity to explore Toshijima for the first time, and was thoroughly excited at the prospect! With a local expert of the area and two fellow first-time Toushijima explorers, we set off to find out what Toba’s largest island has to offer…
THE MYSTERIOUS MUSEUM & PIRATE TEMPLE
Before embarking on our voyage to Toushijima, we visited two quaint sightseeing spots. The first was the Toba Minatomachi Museum of Literature (鳥羽みなとまち文学館), dedicated to the lives and works of mystery novelist Edogawa Ranpo, and painters Iwata Jun-ichi and Takehisa Yumeji. I was impressed that the museum was free to enter, and you’re able to see many works of Rampo, from his illustrious novels to his research on homosexual people. You must take a look at the interesting artifacts and nuggets of history inside!
At the end of the same road was our next spot, Jyoanji Temple; in honour of the famous local pirate-cum-shogun, Kuki Yoshitaka. I think the story of the temple is as riveting as the temple itself! Yoshitaka was infamous for demanding civilians to give him money and woman (basically he wasn’t liked in Toba)! After a string of successful battles, his winning streak was over. In the Battle of Sekigahara, both he and his son fought on opposing sides, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu respectively. Yet, Ieyasu’s clan won and Yoshitaka fled to hide on Toushijima. History-lovers should definitely take a look at this wonderful temple and listen to the intriguing tales of Kuki Yoshitaka that continue on the island…
Ferry time (15minutes to be exact)! With sunny skies and a few clouds in the sky, Toshijima’s waters were beautifully glistening as we enjoyed cruising to the main port. As there is a limited amount of ferries every day, make sure to plan your day with this in mind. On sunny days, I definitely recommend going up on the ferry’s upper deck, as you’ll be able to see Toshijima’s amazing landscape in its full glory; the mountains, woodlands and thriving harbor port!
With a population of 2,300 people, whereby 80% of people work in the fishing industry, it’s no wonder Toshijima has such a well-connected and tight-knit atmosphere! Less than five minutes of landing on the island, we were serendipitously invited to look inside a fish drying factory. The rows and rows of whitebait, or shirasu in Japanese, are an impressive sight. These infant fish are caught in the morning, scattered on mesh netting and dried within four hours. We were even lucky enough to try some, oishikattayo!
SHRINE & TEMPLE
A few minutes’ walk up the hill from the ferry port, we arrived at the majestic Mitarashi Shrine (美多羅志神社)and Choonji (潮音寺). A unique feature of these two sites is the close proximity in which they have been built as one is a shrine and the other is a temple. Shrines feature in Shinto practices whilst temples in Buddhist, but rarely this close together.
If you’re looking for a relaxing and spiritual site-seeing spot, this is for you! Mitarashi Shrine is especially important to the islanders because it was built in honour of the sea god, Tarashi. Islanders pray to the god at the temple for the island’s safety and a plentiful catch of fish throughout the year. Also, take a look and see if you can see the dragon’s face in the branches of the dubbed Dragon Tree! I couldn’t see it at first…
Both the temple and shrine have stunning traditional Japanese outer structures, and it’s worth the walk up the hill to see them! Inside Choonji, you can find a glorious array of artifacts and offerings dating from over a millennium old.
Originally owned by the emperor, Choonji has lots of character too! Remember the pirate Kuki Yoshitaka? After he came to the island for his own safety, he came here and committed a form of traditional honourable suicide instead of being killed by the enemy. However, because of a delay in communication, his son had actually got his life pardoned but was too slow to tell his father before he died.
Towards the harbour, through a fascinating maze of islanders’ homes, we saw a strange mark… A feature that is special to Toshijima is a mark on most of the buildings on the island. A round circle with the kanji for eight (八) inside is drawn with a mixture of charcoal and seaweed on the outside of the house. Islanders believe that the god Hachiman will protect the household in return for drawing the marking. In Japanese hachi means the number eight, which explains the marking’s form. It appears everywhere, so how many can you find?
FRESH ・FISH ・WATER ・BOATS
The harbour has a beautiful backdrop of open waters, smaller islands, plenty of fishing boats and octopus pots! The next time I go to Toshijima, I want to take a stroll along the harbour, sit down and eat a packed lunch here.
We had timed it perfectly as we dropped into a marine products sorting factory (ＪＦ鳥羽磯部答志支所水産物集約市場). I had never been to anything like it before, so I was excited to enter! Every day at 12:30pm, they hold the Toshi fish Market, an auction of fresh produce that is sold to local businesses all the way to the famous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo! The variety of fish, molluscs, crustaceans etc. is impressing, and the speed in which the produce is bid for and allocated to is a fascinating sight.
Toshijima is actually nicknamed Miketsukuni, loosely translated as the Land of food offerings. In ancient times, up until the Heian period, every province of Japan regularly had to give an offering to the Imperial family. Usually provinces would offer cattle or rice, but because of Toshijima’s prosperous fishing industry, seafood and salt were offered instead. This is a reason why Toshijima is renowned for its delicious and varied seafood, especially abalone! The seafood is of such good quality, Toshijima regularly provides seafood to the Ise Grand Shrine, one of the most important and sacred shrines in Japan. You’d be crazy if you don’t eat some seafood on Toshijima!
FOOD GLORIOUS SEAFOOD
Seeing all of the seafood being auctioned off at the fish market, we were all hungry for a bite to eat! For lunch we went to the exceptional restaurant, The Ama Hut (海女小屋); a unique local place behind the fish market. It’s a seafood barbeque-style eatery with buckets full of character! We feasted on seabream, lobster, octopus rice, beltfish, swordfish and other delicious seafood. When you go, make sure to reserve a place a few days before and bring along your friends too!
Our servers and chefs for the afternoon were two generous and genuine Toushijima Ama, Japanese divers. In addition to feeding us, they provided us with a wealth of information and stories about the island. We all had such a great and relaxing time, and I am looking forward to returning there again!
A fascinating aspect of Toushijima is the neyako system (寝屋子制度). This system is a custom of the island where boys between 15-26 years old have a set of neya parents (寝屋親) as well as having their own parents or guardians. These act as relatives that teach the island’s customs, traditions etc. Nowadays, young men visit their neya parents before festivals and other important days in the year. Once a custom of the whole island, it’s now only practiced within the T?shi district. After some fabulous conversations, we moved on to the next delights of the island…
Our stomachs filled with seafood and our ears with island stories, we went to two of the most beautiful spots on the island! First, we stopped off at the jaw-dropping viewing platform, BLUEFIELD (ブルーフィールド). A five-minute walk from the restaurant, it has a luscious backdrop of the ocean, and is perfect for short breaks, barbeques, yoga practice etc. With its own set of public toilets, you’re able to enjoy yourself there for hours at a time! When the weather is warm, I can imagine that BLUEFIELD is a popular place on the island!
Designed by Ise-born architect Mr.Yutani, this place has a sister spot too, RAYFIELD (レイフィールド). Whilst BLUEFIELD is situated near the sea, RAYFIELD is placed about 4km away up the mountains. If you enjoy walking or hiking, this is a breathtaking spot to finish your trip! When reaching the platform, we were in view of mainland Toba, a formation of islands and a stunning sunset! My recommendation is to go when the sun is setting. Both were built within the last few years in order to provide both tourists and locals a place to enjoy. I think these spots are unmissable places on the island!
As we headed back to the port to leave, we visited the T?shi Community Centre (答志コミュニティアリーナ). The centre is filled with historical island artifacts, a plethora of leaflets and adorable handmade posters made by the local children. We hadn’t even left the island, and I was already planning my trip back. I also learnt that Toshijima hosts festivals and events for children too. If you want to see those artifacts, you need to book.
We had such fun navigating around the island, however there were lots of things that we didn’t have time to see. Toshijima boasts hot springs, places to stay, swimming and fishing spots to name a few. Toshijima is a wonderful island with an abundance of character and sights to see. Toshijima can provide you with many things to do so you surely need to pay it a visit!