Japan’s neon-lit cities, bullet trains, and high-end sushi restaurants may lure you in, but it’s also a country rich in history, mystery, and areas of hypnotic tranquility. Nowhere is this more apparent than on its islands, which provide a quiet respite from Tokyo’s turmoil. If you’re searching for a tropical getaway, here’s a list of Secret Japanese Islands.
Only around 400 of Japan’s 6,852 islands are inhabited, but the majority of the country is divided into only five. In the north, there’s icy Hokkaido, Honshu – home to Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama – Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa a bit farther south. The others are largely small islands with tropical beaches, lush woods, and many of temples and shrines, as you might expect.
These magnificent islands are a great place to start if you want to discover all of Japan’s hidden gems or just want to take a day excursion from Tokyo.
Okunoshima – Secret Japanese Islands
Who wouldn’t like a day on Rabbit Island? On Okunoshima, there are nearly a thousand of these hairy little companions. Don’t pick them up because they’re wild creatures, but they’re quite friendly — and constantly hungry. When you look past the cuteness, you’ll find a darker past at the Poison Gas Museum, which is where the substance was created during WWII. On the island, there is also a souvenir store, restaurant, hot spring, camping, and hotel.
Ainoshima – Secret Japanese Islands
Do you prefer cats over dogs? On Ainoshima, the idea is similar, except instead of rabbits, there are hundreds of stray cats roaming the island, napping in the sun, and generally loitering. This is a tiny island off the coast of Fukuoka that you may stroll around on for 5 kilometers (3 miles). Along the island’s shoreline, you’ll find a few modest shrines, a spectacular pile of 5th-century gravestones, and a variety of interesting rock formations.
Naoshima – Secret Japanese Islands
Between Honshu and Shikoku is the Seto Inland Sea, which is scattered with small islands, some of which are joined by the magnificent Shimanami Kaido bridge. But there’s nowhere else in this mini-archipelago that compares to Naoshima. This is an artist-conquered island. Modern art museums dot the landscape, sculptures abound, and modern architecture contrasts nicely with the surrounding countryside.
The Art House Project has converted a declining fishing hamlet into a hub of art installations and creative workplaces, and the Setouchi International Art Festival takes place here every three years. If you’re searching for a creative getaway, Naoshima is the ideal combination of artistic inspiration and island tranquility.
Sarushima – Secret Japanese Islands
This island has been a highly fortified defense bastion for generations, ideally positioned to protect the surrounding port city of Yokosuka as well as Tokyo Bay. It’s been available to the public since 1995, and you can witness nature slowly recover the area as you explore tunnels, barracks, and artillery batteries covered in fern and moss.
There’s a nice sand beach with clean seas ideal for swimming and sunbathing, or you may explore the island’s edges to find tranquil pools of water teeming with rich marine life.
Despite being 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of Tokyo, this 30-island archipelago is officially part of the city. To get here, you’ll have to endure a 24-hour ferry ride, but the subtropical islands at the end are well worth the wait. Only two are inhabited, Chichijima and Hahajima, so make your reservations there.
The islands are known as the Galapagos of the Orient because of their distant location, which has enabled the ecosystem to evolve in a unique way, resulting in a plethora of exotic fauna. With crystal-clear seas and plenty of wonderful snorkeling places, you can expect to encounter dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and manta rays; the first-ever photograph of a gigantic squid in the wild was caught here in 2004.
From afar, this island looks a lot like Alcatraz, but closer inspection reveals an abandoned coal mining island that was once one of the most densely populated locations on Earth in the early twentieth century. It closed in 1974, and the people who lived there quickly fled, leaving nothing except a rotting mound of rubble in the midst of the sea.
It’s now a vestige of the industrial past and the working-class inhabitants that formerly called it home, garnering it Unesco World Heritage designation and even drawing James Bond himself in Skyfall (2012), when the island doubled as Raoul Silva’s diabolical hideaway.
In Yaeyama, which comprises the country’s most southern, western, and remote inhabited islands, you’re closer to Taiwan and China than you are to mainland Japan. As a result, the region has developed its own culture, complete with its own indigenous language and a number of annual events.
Long lengths of unspoiled white sand emerge from the bush to meet tranquil, blue seas and spectacular coral reefs on the beaches. The best beaches are on Ishigaki and Iriomote, but Taketomi, with a population of just under 350, is the most lovely of them all, with exquisite Okinawan architecture, tropical surroundings, and a laid-back attitude to life.
Rebun Island, located at Japan’s northernmost tip, is a lush green island. Because the winters are cold here – after all, it is practically in Russia – your best option is to visit in the summer, when the alpine flowers, some of which are peculiar to this island, are in full bloom.
Make sure to bring your hiking boots, since there are several gorgeous hiking paths, including a climb up Mount Rebun, which provides breathtaking views of surrounding Rishiri Island, which was formed by an extinct volcanic peak. This is a good place to enjoy the whole Japanese experience, with ryokan lodgings, onsen springs, and kaiseki meals.