The Tokara Islands (トカラ列島 Tokara-rettō, sometimes 吐噶喇列島) are a small archipelago in Japan, south of Kyushu and north of the Amami Islands. They are also sometimes known as the Toshima Islands (十島), lit. "Ten Islands", and the name is preserved in the name of the administrative division, Toshima-mura, that covers them.
The Tokara Islands are about as off the beaten track as it gets in Japan. Of the 12 islands in the chain, 7 are inhabited, all of them barely: populations range from 40 to under 200, with a total of less than 600 people living in the entire archipelago. From north to south, scattered over 160 km, the inhabited islands are:
So why "Ten Islands" if there are only seven? The answer lies in a quirk of history — after the Allied occupation of Japan, the line between the mainland and US-held Okinawa was drawn between Kuchinoshima and the three Mishima Islands to the north, and the division persists to this day.
In July 2009, the Tokara Islands received some unusual media attention when the longest solar eclipse of the century swept over the archipelago, with Akusekijima having the longest eclipse duration (6 minutes and 25 seconds) in the entire world. The islands were so swamped with eclipse-spotters that a limit of 1500 visitors had to be temporarily imposed, but there is little doubt that the islands will soon return to their quiet ways.
There is only one practical way to get to the islands: the Ferry Toshima (フェリーとしま) , tel. 099-222-2101, which sails between Kagoshima and the islands twice a week (6 hours to Kuchinoshima, 13 to Takara), dropping in at the port of Naze on Amami Oshima (3 hours from Takara) once per week. As of 2009 — and it hasn't changed for over 10 years — the schedule looks like this:
The 2nd-class one way fare varies from ¥6010 (Kagoshima-Kuchinoshima) to ¥11,620 (Kagoshima-Naze). Schedules are subject to change at short notice, especially in the event of inclement weather.
In addition, there are (very) occasional charter trips to the islands, mostly by dive operators on Amami or Kagoshima. A 5-day, 4-night cruise costs on the order of ¥300,000 (diving included).
Since the Ferry Toshima is the only way to travel, island-hopping is time-consuming: once you get on an island, you're generally stuck there for several days.
Deciding how to get around that island is easy enough, since there are no buses, taxis, rental car, rental motorbike or even rental bicycle services: your only choice is to walk. However, most minshuku are located near the port, and those that aren't will usually pick up guests.
There isn't much in the way of sights on the islands.
The islands are very volcanic and they all have public hot springs. Most are just free, open-air, concrete tubs, but a couple have facilities and token entrance fees (¥200-300).
Most of the islands are surrounded by coral, and scuba diving is one of the main draws for the few visitors in these parts. There used to be another dive operator on Takarajima, but as of 2009, the only survivor is:
There's one festival that draws visitors from elsewhere as well:
There are no ATMs or banks on the islands and credit cards are generally not accepted, so bring enough cash to tide you over.
Eat & Drink
There are no public restaurants, pubs or bars on the islands, so you'll be eating and drinking at your lodgings.
All islands are equipped with a couple of minshuku, which are usually just spare rooms in fisherman's houses. All prices here are per person and include three meals unless otherwise noted.