This is a piece I did for Taiken about one of my favorite places in Japan. I was searching for that Studio Ghibli feeling of awe and wonder and I stumbled upon this place in my research. History, beautiful nature, terrifying spiders, and crumbling ruins waiting to be explored, this place has it all. It was a TREK, but in the end…completely worth it! Click the link back to the original, or read it below!
Studio Ghibli movies are well-known for providing not only heartwarming stories but also beautiful scenery that is hard to forget. One of the Studio’s classics, Castle in the Sky, was actually inspired by a real location in Japan that happens to be not far from busy Osaka. Tomogashima Island in Wakayama Prefecture is a natural and historical treasure that combines the allure of crumbling architecture with lush natural greenery and impressive rock formations. There are even legends that pirates hid their treasure there, so it’s time to dust off your treasure maps and get your hiking boots on.
How Do I Get There?
This will be the tricky part. From Osaka you can take the train to Wakayama-shi where you can transfer to the Kada Line down to Kada Station. Now you are truly in rural Japan, so enjoy the 15-20-minute walk to the ferry port. The island is only accessible by ferry which runs hourly from March to November and irregularly during the winter season. There are no advance reservations and you should expect there to be a line, so get there early. Please note that if the weather is bad or the seas are too rough the boat will not run for safety reasons, so check the forecast ahead of time.
You can take a look at the boat schedule here: http://tomogashimakisen.com/jikoku.html
Make sure to bring lots of bottled water, some food, a flashlight, and dress for hard walking. There is one hostel/restaurant on the island (Umi no Ya) but you will mostly be hiking, so take something to eat on the go. Onigiri is always a safe bet!
Sightseeing on the Island
Upon arrival you will be greeted by a large map with some recommended routes and hiking trails. The most popular area to visit is the Third Battery Site. These are the remains of the secret military base that was on the island during World War II, and the place that no doubt inspired the floating city of Laputa. To enter you need to go through tunnels that can be pitch black at times. This is where the flashlight comes in – but I would be wary about pointing the light at the ceiling, as you will witness some of the largest spiders you’ve ever seen.
Exiting the tunnels, you will find small walled-in gardens with shallow pools. It’s interesting to muse about what they could have been used for as they seem way too picturesque for a base. This is a prime photo spot!
Your next stop should be hiking up to the Mountain Observatory, which is also a great place to stop for lunch, with great views of the island and cerulean waters. Then head down the coast to view the rest of the ruins and finish at the lone white lighthouse, which has been guiding ships to safety since the Meiji era.
The last boat off the island leaves at 16:30 sharp so don’t miss it. If you want to try staying overnight there are two recommended campsites (you must bring all of your own supplies however) and the hostel, Umi no Ya. Adults can stay there for JPY7,000 a night. The hostel also has meals, drinks, and barbecues – depending on the season.
Visiting Tomogashima Island is a true off-the-beaten path adventure and a must see for Studio Ghibli fans and those who want to avoid flocks of tourists. If you get a chance to go, it will no doubt take a permanent place in your heart and in your memories.
Have you ever been to Tomogashima Island or Wakayama Prefecture? Let me know in the comments!