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Coastal sojourn at Oki Islands: Dogo

Location: Dogo Island

Just like a typical person, I dislike it when my computer has system errors. However, for this one time, I’m actually grateful for an error. This error led me to Oki Islands ( Dogo, Nishinoshima, Ama & Chiburijima)

I was creating a route plan for my Kyoto trip when my computer froze and just went crazy. The focus shifted from Kyoto to the Sea of Japan. As this crazy computer calmed down, a group of islands were displayed on my screen. Four islands that looked intriguing and mysterious that I momentarily forgot my Kyoto route. I did my research and voila! Months later I arrived in this hidden gem in Japan.

Prior to going, I emailed the tourism office for assistance in  tours and accommodation.  Nicola, one of the staff from Nishinoshima Tourism Association, was very kind and helpful throughout my trip (from planning up to the end of the trip).

Oki Islands are part of Oki District, Shimane prefecture, Japan. It is an archipelago located in the Sea of Japan. Oki Islands boasts a unique ecosystem wherein vegetation and wildlife from the north and south of Japan coexist. Here, alpine plants that usually grow in Hokkaido exists alongside vegetation found in the much warmer Okinawa.  This could be attributed to the series of geological changes that occurred in the islands. The land of the Oki Islands was once a part of the Eurasian continent that sank underwater later on as the Sea of Japan was formed. The land then resurfaced due to volcanic eruptions, creating the group of islands. They were once connected to mainland Japan during the glacial ages due to declining sea level however post glacial warming caused the sea level to rise again, isolating the islands in the process.

Oki is completely different from the busy metropolitans of Japan. Here, busy streets and illuminated buildings are replaced with beautiful coastal scenery where you can marvel at the wide expanse of the blue sea and the cliffs that dot along the coastline. One can easily find solitude and tranquillity here. For me, it almost felt like the time stopped.

Here are some of the highlights from one of the islands in Oki:  Dogo,

Tamawakasu-no-mikoto Shrine

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Tamawakasu-no-mikoto is the main shrine of Oki. The honden (main hall) was built around 1793. The shrine was constructed in an architectural style unique to Oki called Oki-zukuri. The Zuishinmon guardians of the gate, roof and the haiden (front hall of worship) are designated as National Important Cultural Properties.

The grounds of the shrine also serve as home to the Yao-sugi Cedar, one of the three symbolic cedars of Dogo. The giant tree towers at 38m and it is said to be more than 2000 years old.

Katakuri Flower Park

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Katakuri Dogtooth violet (Erythronium japonicum) is a spring ephemeral that blossoms in Dogo from March to April. In this park, you will see a lush woodland carpeted with the beautiful pink, purple and white colors of these flowers. Katakuri is a subalpine flower yet it is found close to the coast in Oki.

Dangyo-no-taki Waterfalls and Shrine

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The area is a picture of tranquillity especially when you take in its surroundings. The waterfalls and shrine are located within the forest of Tsuma. You’ll be relaxed as you listen to the sounds of the waterfalls and feel the breeze that floats around the cedar forest. The scenery can also be enjoyed behind the waterfall where you can step on ledge in the cliff. The water can be consumed and has been designated as one of the Top 100 Exquisite and Well-Conserved Waters by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment.

Kabura Sugi

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The most distinct feature of the 600-year old tree are the six trunks that diverge into several directions, creating a peculiar form that resembles a kabura-ya, hence the moniker of the giant cedar. Kabura-ya is turnip-shaped arrow which is shot as signal prior a battle

Chichi sugi Japanese Cedar

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In a dense forest shrouded in mist you will be find the Iwakuni Shrine and a majestic cedar tree just behind it. The shrine is one of the two that does not have any shrine buildings. It is in the 800-year old cedar tree where the deity of the shrine resides. The tree has a single root but divides into 15 trunks, four to eight meters from the ground

Okutsudo Coast

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The unusual distribution of plants in the Oki Islands is even more evident here. The rocks on this coast are composed of alkali rhyolite. These igneous rocks are light igneous rock composed of minerals quartz and feldspar. The unusual combination of plants is centred in the area where alkali rhyolite is present.

How I got there:

It was quite a long journey from Kyoto, with a total of four hours and two train rides to get to Matsue station.

Kyoto-Okayama-Matsue.

I spent the night in Matsue to catch the morning bus for Shichirui Port. The bus trip takes about 40 minutes or an hour to get to the port.

From the port, I took the ferry to get to Dogo Island (two and a half hours)

Arrival

I met one of my guides, Saito-san upon arrival in Dogo. I was supposed to go trekking however due to my back injury, I opted for an island tour instead. We had lunch first prior to the tour where Saito-san gave me a briefing about the tour and also introduced me to Tanaka-san who would be with me for this day.

At lunch, I just had one of the most delicious meal I have ever had in Japan. Upon initial look, I was worried because of the amount of raw seafood. I thought I could not finish it but the moment I had my first bite, it was pure bliss. The fish was so fresh that it melts in your mouth. I could not stop eating it. After the meal, not a single scrap of food was left in my bowl.

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