Top 25 Things to Do in Amami-Oshima - Japan's Hidden Beach Paradise
Amami Oshima is a larger-scale outer island that belongs to Kagoshima Prefecture in southernmost Kyushu. Located almost right in the middle of Kagoshima and Okinawa Prefectures, Amami Oshima has plenty to offer in terms of culture and sightseeing, equipped with an eclectic mix of elements from mainland Japan and Okinawan. In this article, we will explore 25 of the best things to do in Amami Oshima including what to see, eat, and do.
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What is Amami Oshima?
As an archipelago, Japan is made up of almost 7,000 islands, ranging in size, climate, and population density. Amami Oshima, covering an area of only 712 square kilometers, is home to stunning scenery and natural beauty that can hardly be found in other parts of the country. The subtropical island has its own unique culture that includes both mainland Japanese and Okinawan influences, and here you can also find crystal-clear water, coral reefs, lush nature, and species native to the island. For those looking for an adventure and to explore an unknown, underrated part of Japan, look no further than Amami Oshima!
What to See in Amami Oshima
Kurasaki Beach is one of the premier beaches on Amami Oshima, as it is a white-sand beach that looks out upon crystal-clear azure water. Here you can enjoy leisurely relaxing on the beach without the hustle and bustle created by busy beachgoers. You can also see coral reefs atop the sandy bank at this fantastic location. Incredibly enough, this is an inland beach, located inside Amami Crater, the first meteorite crater discovered in Japan. Kurasaki is perfect for snorkeling and windsurfing, and during the summertime, you can see many families enjoying camping and swimming along the shore.
Kuroshio no Mori Mangrove Park
Lush forest covers over 90% of Sumiyou, the town where the Kuroshio no Mori Mangrove Park is located. The park is home to numerous protected species, many of which are designated natural monuments. Many activities can be enjoyed at the park, including golfing, riding on segway, and eating local cuisine at the restaurants, but an experience that cannot be beaten is leisurely canoeing through the overhanging mangrove trees, taking in the scenery that is only accessible in very few places in Japan. The mangrove is also still home to species of fauna such as the Ryukyu Ayu fish that have become extinct in Okinawa, meaning that they can now only be found here. If you are lucky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of some rare animals flitting around!
This mystical waterfall is surrounded by a lush forest and has long been known for being extremely beautiful in the sunlight, with people since ancient times lauding it for the breathtaking way the sun would shine upon the water. It is the perfect place to relax and connect with nature, as it is a serene location where the only sound that will hit your ears is that of the flowing water. During midday, the sun shines straight down from above, turning the water a sparkling emerald green.
The “Heart Rock” is a heart-shaped tidal pool on Bira Beach that only appears during low tide. It is filled with crystal-clear azure water, and visitors can even take a dip in the hot-tub-sized pool! The heart rock and surrounding area are known as a power spot for its calming and healing atmosphere. It is also said to enhance the power of love, so be sure to visit with your beloved! For a more specific, modern take on the legend, it is said that if someone takes a picture of the rock and makes it their phone background, they will be granted true love. The pathway to the Heart Rock is also quite beautiful, as indigenous plants grow on the way to the tide pool, and from January to March, the heart shape is accentuated by an abundance of sea lettuce growing in the tide pool. However, the rock is quite slippery, so be careful in your quest for true love!
This fascinating shoreline is not covered with the typical sand, but instead large, rounded stones that have been shaped and eroded by the waves from the Pacific Ocean. These rocks create mesmerizing, drum-like sounds that echo across the shore when pushed together by the incoming and outgoing waves. There is also a cave on the far side of the large rock standing in the center of the shore, which can be explored during low tide. Due to the rough currents, Honohoshi Coast is not an ideal swimming spot, but it is perfect for those who are looking to take a breath and soak in the sounds of nature reverberating throughout the coast. Do note that although it is tempting to bring back a souvenir, taking rocks from the shore is prohibited!
Although secluded, Amami Oshima is home to many remnants of the historical Battle of Dan-no-Ura (1185), a major naval battle during the Genpei War (1180 - 1185) that saw the fall of the Taira Clan. One of these locations is Gamou Shrine, which enshrines three members of the Taira Clan who later came to Amami Oshima. Getting to the shrine feels as though you are walking through a Ghibli movie - the road to the shrine is quite off-the-beaten-path and covered by a canopy of trees. The shrine building itself is small and quite rustic. There are statues of animals decorating the grounds and the shrine is known as a power spot, inviting visitors with a magical energy. As the island was historically more inclined to shamanism when it came to religion, there are few shrines and temples, making Gamou Shrine even more mysterious.
Mt. Yui Observatory
Mt. Yui is located on the southern part of the island and offers breathtaking views of the Amami Strait and surrounding islands. There is a pathway by the area where you can park your car that you can walk down to see different angles of the stunning scenery. The sunset is particularly spectacular, as it sets the sky and water ablaze in vibrant hues of orange and yellow.
Tanaka Isson Memorial Art Museum
Tanaka Isson was a Japanese artist from Tochigi Prefecture who relocated to Amami Oshima in the latter part of his life and created paintings of the local flora and fauna until his death in 1977. The Tanaka Isson Memorial Art Museum now in Amami Park in northeastern Amami Oshima, and has several rooms with both permanent and temporary exhibitions of his works as well as those of others associated with the island. The grounds are also surrounded by lush nature as well as host other attractions that explain the history and culture of Amami Oshima.
Amami Seaside Museum
The Amami Seaside Museum is a two-story aquarium that houses many marine creatures including fish, crustaceans, and coral. The exhibits introduce the local marine biology and its relationship with the surrounding area. The large fish tank in the center of the building is meant to represent the marine environment of Amami Oshima, and you can see fish leisurely swimming around the tank. However, the main draw is certainly the fact that you can even feed the sea turtles some cabbage! You can also touch starfish and sea cucumbers, and there is an activity corner where you can create crafts with shells, making it the perfect destination for visitors with children.
Kinsakubaru Primeval Forest
Kinsakubaru is a primeval forest that is home to many species of flora and fauna that are unique to Amami Oshima. Overhanging trees allow in slivers of sunlight, creating a mystical atmosphere that feels as though you have stepped inside a fantasy story. Visitors must be accompanied by a certified guide, but this is actually for the best, as they can explain in depth all the wonders and hidden areas that would otherwise be lost on those who are unaware of their existences.
The Kaganbana Tunnel is a short, 29m-long tunnel on a road beside the water. However, this tunnel is also nicknamed the “dragon eye,” the reason being that twice a year, around the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun sets right in the center of the tunnel, the glowing silhouette appearing like a fantastic eye. People will often park their cars by the side of the road to snap pictures of this magical scenery, so feel free to participate, but be careful of other pedestrians and cars!
What to Eat in Amami Oshima
Keihan (Chicken Rice)
Chicken is an Amami Oshima specialty, and although it is served in a multitude of ways, a must-try local dish is “keihan” (chicken rice). You can find it in restaurants all across the island, and the ingredients will differ from place to place. Most simply, it is strips of chicken over rice, but other ingredients that are often added are thin omelet strips, mushroom, and pickled papaya, and then garnished with green onions and ginger. Chicken broth is then poured on top to submerge the ingredients. Filling yet light, this dish is a perfect way to satisfy your stomach in the warm island climate.
As mentioned above, chicken is an Amami Oshima specialty, and another popular way to prepare the meat is as “torisashi” (chicken sashimi). Although torisashi may seem daunting, it is served extremely fresh and is actually quite light in flavor and is beautifully complemented by the seasonings which include soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. For those who are up for some adventurous eating, be sure to give torisashi a try! You are likely to be pleasantly surprised!
Peanuts have long been used in Amami Oshima cooking, and there are many dishes that use peanuts, one of which is tempura. Just as the name states, peanut tempura is clusters of peanuts that have been coated in batter and fried. Simple yet delicious, peanut tempura is a celebratory dish on the island, with it being a staple at many local festivals. There are also restaurants that serve this beloved dish, which is perfect for some savory decadence!
Abura somen is a popular home-style dish that is simple yet delicious. Somen noodles are stir-fried with other ingredients such as pork and cabbage and then lightly flavored with chicken or other stocks. It was originally eaten as a light meal by field workers, but is now eaten on many joyous occasions and agricultural events. The flavor and ingredients highly depend on the chef, but you would be hard-pressed to find a version of abura somen that doesn’t satisfy you!
Yun Misu (Fish with Miso)
A local specialty, “yun misu” (fish with miso) is a dish that is truly unique to Amami Oshima. Miso is an indispensable seasoning in Amami Oshima, and yun misu is made by taking the meat of grilled or fried fish and breaking it into small pieces and then mixing it with miso paste. Sugar or bonito flakes can also be added for extra depth, and it is a perfect side dish for some tea or alcohol or on top of rice.
Waa Misu (Pork with Miso)
Kagoshima is well known for its pork, and Amami Oshima has raised black-haired pigs since ancient times. “Waa misu” (pork with miso) is prepared the same way as yun misu, but with pork instead of fish. Peanuts may be added for extra flavor, and it is a great drinking snack or in a bento, and has long been lauded for being healthy and delicious.
Amami Oshima produces some succulent tropical fruits, one of which is papaya. It goes without saying that people enjoy the sweet taste of fresh papaya as-is, but a unique Amami Oshima custom is pickling the papaya before it gets too ripe, creating a fascinating and delicious dish. Strips of papaya are pickled with soy sauce, miso, brown sugar, and vinegar to create a light, tangy side dish that goes great with alcohol and is beloved among the locals.
Kokuto-shochu (Brown Sugar Liquor)
Areas in southern Japan such as Amami Oshima and Okinawa are famous for their sugarcane, but “kokuto-shochu” (brown sugar distilled liquor) is only produced in Amami Oshima. The liquor has a faint aroma of brown sugar yet a rich flavor from the malted rice. The practice of making kokuto-shochu dates back to the nineteenth century, and today there are a couple of dozen breweries making the delicious liquor. Be sure to give some a try while dining on the island, and even bring some back with you as a unique souvenir!
“Kasha mochi” is a type of traditional sweet on Amami Oshima that uses local ingredients to create an addicting, lightly-sweet dessert. A paste consisting of rice powder, mugwort, and muscovado, is kneaded to make the mochi, which is then steamed in large kasha leaves, which is why the dessert is quite literally called “kasha mochi.” The springy mochi has quite a fun texture, and the leaves add an enticing aroma that will leave you wanting more.
What to Do in Amami Oshima
Hunt the Milky Way
Thanks to being an island that has not been heavily built up, breathtaking views of the Milky Way can be seen on parts of Amami Oshima. Great places to catch views of the galaxy on clear nights are Cape Ayamaru on the northern part of the island, and a plethora of stars can even be seen at the aforementioned Kaganbana Tunnel.
See How Traditional Amami Oshima Cloth is Made
“Ooshima tsumugi” is a type of traditional silk fabric that is of high cultural significance in Amami Oshima. It has been crafted on the island for over 1,300 years, made with a unique dyeing technique that uses mud. Ooshima Tsumugimura is a facility on the island that showcases that beautiful textile culture, offering tours that explain the process and allowing visitors to try their hand at making the fabric. There is also a shop on the premises where you can buy a gorgeous, hand-crafted souvenir that is representative of Amami Oshima culture.
There are several companies across the island that rent out paddle boarding equipment, so why not grab a board and float across the calm waters? There are plans for everyone from beginner to advanced, and it is the perfect way to leisurely take in the marine atmosphere and get a view from offshore.
With no shortage of clear, azure waters, Amami Oshima offers a plethora of scuba diving and snorkeling-worthy spots. Rent some gear, take a tour, or if you are more experienced, venture off and explore the marine wonderland surrounding the island. There is plenty of marine wildlife to discover, and there is no better place to see them than the crystal-clear waters of Amami Oshima!
There are several companies that offer paragliding experiences of Amami Oshima, and what better way to enjoy the scenery than a bird’s eye view? Fly on high and get a wide-range look at Amami Oshima’s magnificent nature, breathing in the fresh air and enjoying the contrast of the deep green of the trees and the sparkling blue of the ocean.
Discover Unknown Amami Oshima
With all the amazing experience Amami Oshima has to offer, it is a wonder why there aren’t more tourists visiting its shores. However, this allows you to get more in touch with the environment and truly enjoy the heartwarming culture the locals have cultivated. Although small, there is plenty to do to entertain yourself on Amami Oshima, so be sure to visit before more people discover this hidden paradise!
Explore the Kyushu Area
Amami Oshima isn't the only area with stunning scenery and fascinating culture! There are many areas to be explored and things to be discovered all across Kyushu, so be sure to make your way to Kyushu to experience everything the area has to offer!
Visit Kyushu Official Website: https://www.visit-kyushu.com/en/
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.