The island group consists of four inhabited islands:
The three Dozen Islands (make up the Dozen Caldera) and can be easily reached from each other by ferry
and the larger, more distant
Dogo Island is around half an hour by jetfoil, or 1 hour - 1 hour and 30 minutes by regular ferry from the Dozen Islands.
These islands are one of the lesser-known travel destinations of Japan, but are a surprising discovery for those seeking a change of pace and some of the most spectacular coastal scenery to be found on the Japanese Archipelago. The charm of these islands lies in their remoteness from mainland Japan; the adventure in getting there on the ferry or by plane, and experiencing the distinct island way of life, unique culture and traditions, and of course the beautiful coastal scenery of volcanic islands. The natural beauty and geologic importance of the islands has been recognised by UNESCO. The islands were designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2013. The islands are also part of the Oki-Daisen National Park.
The Oki Islands are volcanic (now extinct), created around 5-6 million years ago in the Sea of Japan, and are very mountainous, with stunning eroded coastlines. The majority of the population is settled small and picturesque settlements nestled in between mountains along the coast. Many of these settlements are quite isolated, and although modern roads provide easy access all around of the islands, distinct identities and festivities have been preserved.
Though the islands have been in contact with the mainland throughout history, their isolation and mountainous terrain have helped preserved many ancient cultures and traditions, many of which are unique, or have disappeared in other parts of Japan. They are most well-known for having been designated ‘islands of exile’ where up to 2,000 trouble-making nobles were sent from the 8th to the 12th century.
The islands have a long and rich cultural heritage that has been preserved throughout the ages. It is uncertain when the islands were discovered, however obsidian excavated from the islands was used to make tools and traded in particular around the Chuugoku Region since up to 30,000 years ago. Pieces of this ancient history have been discovered in ancient Izumo-style tombs, shrines to old animistic gods, and festivals that stem from ancient animistic beliefs. The islands are also mentioned in the oldest written chronicles of Japan, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki (early 8th century). In the ancient mythology that describes the creation of the Japanese Archipelago, the Oki Islands were created third, perhaps revealing the islands' significance in ancient times.
Islands of Exile
Under the new set of laws implemented by the Ritsuryō (historical law system) the Oki Province was designated 'islands of exile' from the 7th century to the 19th century. Noblemen who were on the losing end of the power struggles were banished to the islands where they would live out their sentences peacefully. Among the exiled noblemen were two defeated emperors Emperor Gotoba who was exiled from the capital Kyoto in 1198 and remained in Oki until his death in 1239, and Emperor Godaigo who was exiled in 1331 but escaped in 1333. Many other political figures such as Ono no Takamura were also exiled during this period. These figures were exiled along with their entourages, and brough a different class of culture which contributed to the mix of culture on the Oki Archipelago and has left behind a wealth of cultural heritage.
Kita-mae-bune (Northern-bound Ships)
The islands became part of the feudal Matsue Domain in the Edo Period (1603 - 1868). During this time the islands flourished as a port of call for the revolutionary Kita-mae-bune (Northern-bound Ships) shipping route that was prosperous from the Edo to the Meiji Period. The advanced kita-mae-bune ships allowed merchants to travel from Osaka by way of the Kanmon Straits (the sea separating the Kyushu and Honshu Islands) up to the northern island Hokkaido. Trading occurred at the ports along the way. Oki experienced a great deal of business as merchants stopped in the islands to replenish supplies and ‘wait for the right wind’. As a result many sailors would remain for quite some time bringing different culture to the islands. Visitors to Dogo Island in particular will enjoy the remnants of a once prosperous port town whilst walking around the river and the winding streets of the Saigo Port area, or by taking the Kappa Yuransen Sightseeing Boat.
In 1868 there was an independence movement on Dogo Island and the officials of the Matsue Domain were thrown out and sent back to the mainland without bloodshed. Dogo Island was self-governed for 80 days until the position was reinstated by military intervention shortly after.
Oki and Haibutsu Kishaku
The anti-Buddhist movement that took place during the Meiji Restoration at the end of the 19th century was taken seriously in Oki, and in Dogo Island all of the Buddhist Temples were completely destroyed. Consequently, many historical records and cultural artifacts from that time were also lost.
Oki and the Mainland
Following the state reforms of the Meiji Restoration and the establishment of the prefectural system Oki's relationship with the mainland was somewhat tumultuous. It was initially its own prefecture but was later merged with Hamada, first as Omori Prefecture and then Hamada Prefecture. It later it was merged with Shimane Prefecture, and then briefly became part of Tottori Prefecture, only to become part of Shimane Prefecture once more in 1881. However, having established strong links to the mainland of Japan during the time of the Kita-mae-bune trading route, the islands have had a relatively swift transfer of information and goods from mainland Japan. As expressed in his in his novel ‘Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan’, Lafcadio Hearn (Yakumo Koizumi), an international writer who became a Japanese citizen, visited Oki in 1892 and was surprised to find it was much more modern than he expected from remote islands.
The entire population of the Oki Region is at present around 21,600, however in 1950 it was recorded as being around double this.
Oki can be reached by air or by sea.
The Oki Airport is located on Dogo Island, and is serviced by JAL Airways (airport code OKI). Flights run to and from Osaka International Airport (Itami, ITM, 45 minutes) and Izumo Airport (IZO, 45 minutes). Book your tickets three months in advance for a substantial discount.
The ferries are run by Oki Kisen  and leave from Sakaiminato Port in Tottori Prefecture and Shichirui Port in Shimane Prefecture.
Ferry and connecting bus timetables can be found here: http://www.oki-kisen.co.jp/category_lst.php?sid=53
There are buses running from JR Matsue Station or Rainbow Plaza to both of the ports. The trip takes 40 – 50 minutes and costs 1000 yen.
One way ticket from the mainland = 2,920 yen
One way ticket from the Dozen Islands to Dogo Island = 1,330 yen
To Dogo Island = 2.5 hours
To the Dozen Islands = 2 hours
Dogo Island to Dozen Islands = 1 hour
Ticket reservations can be made at each of the ports and via travel agents. You cannot pay in advance. Ferry seats rarely sell out you shouldn't need to book. Contact [email protected] (Nishinoshima Tourism Office) or [email protected] for bookings if required.
A group of eight people or more can also get 10% off their tickets. When you board the ferry, you will be directed to the second class area and notice that there are no seats but instead spacious areas where people sit or lay down on the floor. Take one of the square cushions for a pillow and if you want to rent a blanket place 30 yen in the box and enjoy the journey.
If you must sit down there are seating areas inside or outside on the second level.
The fast and more expensive Jetfoil runs from late February - November. In peak-season tickets may be unavailable on day of departure so if possible reserve your ticket in advance. Contact [email protected] (Nishinoshima Tourism Office) or [email protected] for bookings.
One way ticket = 6000 yen
To Dogo Island = 1 hour
To Dozen Islands = 2 hours (via Dogo)
Dogo Island – Dozen Islands = 30 – 45 minutes
There are bus services on the islands; however the most convenient is by car. Rent-a-cars are available on all four islands. Sightseeing taxis are another option.
Regular and electric-assist bicycles are available on Nishinoshima and Dogo Islands.
On the smaller Dozen Islands you can get around to many sights by bicycle. The islands are very mountainous, so expect a work-out.
Dogo Island is larger and even more mountainous, however cycling enthusiasts will enjoy the views. If you wish to cycle, keep in mind that not all roads are well-equipped with pedestrian and bicycle paths. Talk to the staff at the tourism office for more information. Dogo Island Tourism office also has foldable bicycles that can be taken onto the bus.
There are a number of beautiful sights to see on the islands. These are some top picks in each island.
Nishinoshima Island (Nishinoshima Town)
Chiburijima Island (Chibu Village)
Nakanoshima Island (Ama Town)
Dogo Island (Okinoshima Town)
The islands have plenty of outdoor recreations, hiking trails, swimming beaches, sea kayaking, fishing, scuba and other marine sports are very popular. See the individual islands' pages for more details.
Home-stay and Island-experience packages are available. See http://www.oideyo-shimane.jp/?p=289&W036q=%E9%9A%A0%E5%B2%90 for details. (Website Japanese Only)
Here are some of the most well-known delicacies of the islands.
Apart from in the main town areas, places to eat in the islands can be few and far between or difficult to locate. Make sure you ask at the tourism offices for advice about eating outside the main town areas.
See individual pages for more information.
Sake (Japanese rice wine) from Oki's own sake brewery, Oki Homare. This sake is made using the pure water and rice from the islands.
See individual islands' pages
The Oki Islands are very safe.
Make sure to seek advice from tourism office about safe places to swim, or hike.