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Awaji Island

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Hyogo : Awaji Island
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Akashi Kaikyo Bridge

Awaji Island (淡路島 Awajishima in Japanese) is a not-terribly-large island - about the same size as Singapore - that marks the eastern boundary of the Seto Inland Sea of Japan. Thanks to a set of new bridges and a cross-island expressway, most visitors just zip through on their way from Honshu to Shikoku.

Understand

History

Awajishima has some claim to being the oldest settled area in Japan; the Kojiki mentions it under the name "Onokoroshima" and burial mounds (kofun) dating back thousands of years have been found on the island. The ningyo joruri puppet theater, which has evolved into bunraku, seems to originate from Awajishima.

Awajishima made a highly unusual but brief appearance on the world stage as the epicenter of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 that killed over 6000 people. However, Awajishima was (and remains) far less built up than the suburbs of Kobe across the bay, which took the brunt of the damage. It was also the island where the England soccer team stayed during the World Cup in 2002.

Geography

The southern tip lies a mere kilometer off the coast of Shikoku, and a bridge now straddles the Naruto Strait, famed for the whirlpools that form as the tide flows in an out. In fact, the very name "Awaji" means "road to Awa", the former name of current Shikoku prefecture of Tokushima. Some 50 kilometers away, the northern tip is not far from the port city of Kobe on Honshu, and the immense 3.5 km Akashi Kaikyo Bridge — the world's longest — now connects Awaji to the mainland. Politically (and in geographic terms somewhat oddly), despite its proximity to Shikoku, Awaji is a part of Honshu's Hyogo prefecture.

Get in

By plane

A high-speed ferry links Sumoto to Kansai International Airport (48 min, ¥2500). Highway buses connect Kobe Airport and Sumoto four times daily (two hours, ¥2000).

By car

By far the most popular option is the cross-island expressway, which will get you from Akashi to Naruto for around 5000 yen in tolls.

By bus

A more affordable option than private cars are highway buses, which charge around 600 yen for crossing the bridge and ¥1800 for a one-way trip from Kobe to Sumoto.

By train

There are no direct train services to Awaji Island. Highway buses run directly from major train stations, such as Shin-Kobe on the shinkansen (¥1800 to Sumoto), and Osaka and Sannomiya stations on the regular JR line (¥2300 and ¥1800 to Sumoto, respectively). From Shin-Osaka station you must either take a local train one stop to Osaka station, or remain on the shinkansen to Shin-Kobe, to transfer to the bus.

Buses to Awaji Island are not valid with the Japan Rail Pass. Tickets can be purchased from "Midori-no-Madoguchi" locations at each station.

By ferry

Even cheaper and more scenic, but available for the northern crossing only, are ferries that cross from Akashi to Iwaya for a mere ¥320 on the slow boat (all of 24 minutes) or ¥500 for the fast boat (a zippy 13 minutes).

Get around

Public transport is limited to very occasional buses. Unusually for Japan, there are no trains on the island. If you don't have your own set of wheels, hitchhiking is a viable option.

See

Very little evidence of Awaji's history remains though, and today's Awajishima is a typically Japanese densely populated but still rural area, known primarily for its onions. The current total population hovers around 150,000, and (unlike most rural areas in Japan) is slowly on the rise due to the improved connections to the mainland, and these days Awaji's most impressive structures are its bridges.

  • Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (明石海峡大橋), [1]. Completed in 1998, this majestic bridge dwarfs the village of Iwaya below. The bridge's total length is 3,991 meters and the main span at 1,991m is the longest in the world. The bridge is attractively lit at night.
    • To get to the bridge, take JR Kobe line from Osaka and get off at Maiko station. Here you can walk under the bridge and enter the observation desk. From the next station, Asagiri, you can walk down to the water and get a nice view over the bridge.
  • To see the Naruto whirlpools, stop at the expressway rest area at the southernmost tip of the island near the Onaruto bridge. If you have money to spare, you can take a little boat cruise to see them up close; note that whirlpools only appear when the tide is coming in or out.
  • Aside from whirlpools and burial mounds, Awajishima's main claim to fame are its beaches, especially on the more sparsely settled northern coast. They're nothing spectacular by international standards, but a popular nearby summer getaway for Kansai-ites just the same, and Awajishima has many campgrounds that cater to the budget traveller.
  • There are also a number of hot springs (onsen), the best known of which are Awaji's largest town Sumoto and the mildly radioactive(!) waters of Iwaya adjacent to the northern bridge.
  • There are two buildings designed by famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando on Awaji Shima: Water Temple and Yume no Butai.
  • A section of the Nojima Fault, responsible for the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake, preserved at Nojima Fault Preservation Museum.

Scattered here and there are a number of herb and biwa (loquat) farms. The southern coast, however, is essentially one long semi-urban sprawl filled with the stink scent of ripening onions; the only breaks in the monotony are a fairly hideous (but huge) concrete statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon and the inevitable Onokoro Amusement Park.

Eat

Drink

Sleep

Awaji has a scattering of ryokan and minshuku, concentrated in the hot spring areas. There are also a number of campsites, especially on the less populated western coast.

  • Hamabesō (浜辺荘) is a typical quiet minshuku, at the foot of the Akashi Kaikyo bridge some 20 min on foot from Iwaya port. ¥5500 with breakfast.



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