The island of Innoshima in Hiroshima

The island of Innoshima in Hiroshima

This small island in the Seto Inland Sea offers a look into the Japan of yesterday with plenty of surprises to appeal to the traveler
水軍城
水軍城の見上げる。

When visiting or even living in Japan, it is easy to get caught up in the ever-pulsating rhythms of the cities or fall victim to the same ol’ tours of Kyoto and Nara. But to truly to escape to Japan’s countryside you must veer away from the tour books, get lost and stumble into the unknown. Innoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, offers a look into the Japan of yesterday with plenty of surprises to appeal to the stumbling adventurer.

Buddha meets Christianity

Hiking up Mt Shirataki is a great way to get your bearings of the island. At the top of the mountain you will be greeted by the “500 Buddha Disciples,” rather 700 rock statues in the image of Buddha and all with different faces. If you look closely you may see a small crucifix etched into the backs of some of these statues. These “hidden Christian” symbols were prayed to in secret when Christianity was forbidden in Japan.

Hiroshima-ken, Onomichi-Shi, Innoshima Shigei-Cho (広島県尾道市因島重井町); tel. +81 (0)8 4526 6212; innoshima.no-blog.jp or www.go-shimanami.jp

水軍まつり水軍まつりにて村上水軍武者のパフォーマンス。Pirates of the inland sea

Castle
The Suigun Jyo, dating back to the Muromachi Era (and probably rebuilt sometime in the 1960s or 1970s), is perhaps Innoshima’s most famous relic. The small red building functions as a museum, paying homage to the island’s historical connection to the Murakami Suigun (navy pirates). Recordings carry you through the history as you walk around viewing artifacts, ruins and historical scenes that may remind you a bit of “The Last Samurai.” After putting on slippers you can climb a small staircase to the second floor of the castle where a 360° view of the island reveals what the pirates watched over during their tenure. The castle is a bit retro but it adds to the charm and reality of the Japan that existed over 600 years ago.

Festival
So imbedded in the history and culture are the Murakami Suigun, that every summer Innoshima celebrates its most renowned event, the “Suigun Matsuri” or Pirate Festival. The most popular event of the three-part celebration is the Fire Festival. After spending a day at the Shimanami Beach swimming, eating okonomiyaki, and reserving a spot in the sand, you are entertained with traditional dances and a fire ceremony culminating into a large fireworks display over the ocean. If you want to hitch a ride on a kohaya (canoe-like boat), stick around after the kohaya races at the Sea Festival and you may get to row one yourself.

Suigun Jyo (Pirate Castle): Hiroshima-ken, Onomichi-Shi, Innoshima Nakanosho-Cho 3228-2 (広島県尾道市因島中庄町3228-2); tel. +81 (0)8 4824 0936; Open daily 9:30am-5pm, except Thursdays and December 29-31; www.city.onomichi.hiroshima.jp or www.go-shimanami.jp (Japanese)

Suigun Matsuri (Pirate Festival): Shimanami Beach, Hiroshima-ken, Onomichi-Shi, Innoshima Ohama-Cho (広島県尾道市因島大浜町); tel. +81 (0)8 4526 6212 or +81(0)8 4524-2513 (July 18-August 24); www.city.onomichi.hiroshima.jp
Event Dates: Island Festival July 31, Fire Festival August 28 & Sea Festival August   29

 

地蔵鼻地蔵鼻のズーム写真。Jizobana (地蔵鼻)

Out on a small peninsula-like area in the ocean sits a Jizo, or guardian statue. According to legend, a Murakami Suigun warrior murdered a woman after she refused to become his concubine. Her ghost, along with the sound of the koto, were heard every night. In order to comfort her spirit this Jizo was carved. The stone is now known as a guardian for women that answers the prayers of marriage and fertility for those who pay their respects.

Getting to the Jizobana is a bit of a challenge but that’s also half the fun of the trip. After driving (or walking) behind industrial buildings, make your way up a two-way street the width of a golf-cart. The street eventually widens (as do the blind-spots), leading to a small parking area. Miniature Jizo statues dressed in bonnets and aprons will lead you down a tree-covered path to a private beach area where the main Jizo can be found out in the distance.

Hiroshima-ken, Onomichi-Shi, Innoshima Mitsunosho-Cho (広島県尾道市因島三庄町); tel. +81 (0)8 4526 6212; www.go-shimanami.jp or kanko.gnavi.co.jp

竹林竹林を散策。Get lost

Getting lost in Innoshima is highly recommended, as many of the best places are found when the map is forgotten. Here are some pointers for wandering around the island. If you are at the Shimanami Beach, start walking beyond the park and you will enter into an open area campsite. Before long you will be roaming in a sea of bamboo with paths covered in leaves. When you make it to the other side, you will stumble into a lighthouse park that has a brilliant view of the Innoshima Bridge and neighboring island Mukaishima. From there it’s all up to you.

For those wanting to treck on foot around the 39.76 Km² Island, Innoshima is home to a walking tour of 88 Temples. This link provides locations to help kick start your journey: http://www.city.onomichi.hiroshima.jp/english/kanko/data_inno/t_hachihachi.html.

Ohamasaki Camp Site: Hiroshima-ken, Onomichi-Shi, Innoshima Ohama-cho (広島県尾道市因島大浜町); tel. +81 (0)8 4526 6211; Open July - August; www.city.onomichi.hiroshima.jp

About the author: Angela is a journalist who has spent much of her adult life studying and working in a Japanese environment. Other than needing unlimited access to raw fish and tako-yaki, her requirement for life is living within a car trip or train ride away from a Disneyland park.

Angela submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page