Where to go: Experience the lingering whispers of priests and warriors at Tomogashima islands

Tomogashima (友ヶ島) is a cluster of four islands in the Inland Sea, off Wakayama, Wakayama, Japan. The four islands are Jinoshima (地ノ島), Kamishima (神島), Okinoshima (沖ノ島), and Torajima (虎島). The islands form part of the Setonaikai National Park.

The island of shugendo (mountain asceticism) and ancient fortresses seems a distant, hard-to-reach destination, as ordinary people were not allowed to approach it until the end of World War II.

Actually, Tomogashima island consists of a cluster of four uninhabited islets–Okinoshima, Torajima, Kamishima and Jinoshima–located between the Kii Peninsula and Awajishima island.

Regional folklore spins a tale that Ennogyoja, the founder of shugendo, underwent training on the steep cliffs of Tomogashima in the seventh to eighth centuries.

Tomogashima stands at the entrance of Osaka Bay and was used as a fortress by the Kishu domain (present Wakayama Prefecture) during the Edo period (1603-1867). The military set up batteries on the island in the Meiji era (1868-1912) to prepare for attacks by foreign warships.

 

“In the end, no battles were fought on Tomogashima. The island still contains many remnants left by the former Imperial Japanese Army,” said Sanae Sugimoto, 64, a tourist guide.

From Kada Port in Wakayama, you can take a ferry to Okinoshima. The ride lasted about 20 minutes and travels the only route connecting the port to the island.

After landing,  visit the military remains, including those of battery pedestals and officers’ quarters.

The path forged by the military by chopping through laurel forests has since become a good hiking trail. The leafy shade of the dense and dark forests will leave you with a pleasant feeling.

The remains of the third battery facility, which are one of the island’s main attractions, are surrounded by brick buildings that conjure an air of unexpected nostalgia and elegance.

“The remains of the battery facility are some of the largest on the island and the best preserved. The site’s a popular photo spot.

Recently, more young tourists have been visiting the island, wearing military uniforms or anime cosplay outfits. Some are stimulated by the military environment, while others, perhaps older, nostalgically reflect on their youth.

During weekdays, once the last ferry of daytrippers departed, the island will sink into silence.

There are no year-round residents on Okinoshima, but three Japanese-style inns are open mainly during the tourist season as the island has good fishing spots and a lighthouse. About 20,000 people visit each year.

Training not to be taken lightly

As Tomogashima has no public water supply, visitors are required to conserve water. Using conservation as an excuse, you might want to opt for sake whenever possible in place of water. At one of the island’s inns, you can drank  copious amount of sake with a side of fresh sea cucumber and octopus. Enjoy the tranquil admosphere of the star-studded night sky and the sound of the surf lapping in the distance.

The next day, you might want to go from Okinoshima to Torajima, where traces of shugendo training sites abound. A dike built by the Imperial Japanese Army is damaged, allowing the tidal flat to surface at low tide.

“It’s best to check the patterns of the tides when traveling to Torajima because you want to avoid a situation in which you can’t return to the shore by high tide,” said Kojiro Matsuura, who is a local guide on the island.

It’s fun to explore the rocks during low tide and see all the creatures left behind when the water recedes.

Another fun thing to do is touring  one of the caves on the island. This is part of Shugendo training.

The standard training course includes climbing a steep slope, descending from a high point using a rope and other challenging activities. I recommend visitors study the content carefully before attempting it.

Then travel on a ferry back to Kada Port and head to the former Mukai House, which provides accommodation to ascetics en route to Tomogashima for training.

Here you can climb up a hill that is home to a hall in which shugendo founder Ennogyoja is enshrined.

Compared with the training required to continue trekking deep into the mountains, the Tomogashima course is a picnic, though.

Categories: Daytrips, history of Japan, Must see, Things to do, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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