Tawarajima is a remote island off the Yamaguchi coast. It’s towering rock formations are only appreciated by the few who make the challenging journey!
Escape to something extraordinary!
Do you want to get away from it all? Does the idea of a remote destination, so challenging to get to that most never make it, pique your interest? How about adding in rocky cliffs, changing weather and tides, and dramatic vistas?
This is the appeal of Tawarajima. And for my birthday, it was exactly what I wanted to do! It lies across Yuya Bay, opposite the more famous (and much more visited) Tsunoshima, and yet visiting here means escaping to another world. Tsunoshima is beautiful with its cobalt-blue waters and smooth, flowing bridge; Tawarajima is dark, with crashing waves on the island and rough columnar basalt towering over you.
Definitely visit Tsunoshima, but head north as soon as you’re done. You’ll drive through more coastal hills and farms, eventually reaching a large peninsula where most tourists begin to disappear.
The adventure begins
Once you hit the turn toward the island, you’ll definitely know you’re off the beaten path. The road is tight and twisty, and it soon drops you into a small village patrolled by ambivalent cats. The village is situated on a narrow isthmus, next to a small harbor, and once you cross it you start climbing a steep and curvy mountain road. Take it slowly, visibility is poor!
Ocean views start to fade away as the jungle gets thicker. Once you begin the descent on the other side, more and more rice paddies appear until the last turnoff – a road so narrow, bumpy and curved that you will only make it down if you have a Jimny or other kei-car utility vehicle. We were renting a van from MCCS Iwakuni, and it was huge! See the video below to learn how we fared…
We parked a third of the way down, next to a farmhouse. The kids were sleeping, so I hiked down to the beach on my own. The beach is made of smooth, flat rocks (almost all of them perfect for skipping!), and is covered in bugs! The ground would move as they scurried out my way, but I didn’t find myself stepping on any. They didn’t bite, either!
Tawarajima is at the very end of the beach. I arrived at mid-tide, and looked out on a dozen or so concrete blocks spanning the crossing to the island, with gaps in between. At first I thought that I’d be able to cross just by jumping from one block to the next, but it turned out to be even more exciting: some of the blocks were broken, and a narrow board and a couple poles had been laid across the gaps.
The water wasn’t too rough, but it was definitely flowing between the blocks, and I was definitely carrying electronics I didn’t want to get wet…so I secured things as best I could and picked up one of the poles to help keep a better footing.
I walked down the boards and watched them bend unnervingly. Three feet of swirling seawater waited for me below, so I planted the pole on the seabed to take some weight off the makeshift bridge. I stepped from one broken-down block to the next, and vaulted up to the intact block to see…a 12- or 15-foot gap beyond it. I slipped off my shoes and socks, tied up my camera bag around my neck, and waded in!
Fortunately, the water was pretty shallow here. Did I mention that I was carrying a chair the whole way? You’ll hear more about that in a future post!
The rough basalt gave plenty of footholds, but it was very steep. I cautiously made my way around the island, and once I got to the far side, my efforts were rewarded. Stunning columnar basalt shot up the island, forming geometric patterns overlooking the sea. The waves crashed and brought cool breezes, but I scaled the cliff and found that right where the vegetation started, the breeze was nearly gone and it was super warm!
I could see Shelbi and the kids had made their way down to the beach, so I headed back. This had just become my all-time favorite adventure in Japan. I can’t wait to go back!
A Sōsō lunch
All of our adventuring had worked up an appetite! Google showed us a well-reviewed restaurant called Sōsō…but we drove right past it! It looked like a regular house. We were really questioning it, but gave it a shot.
Spoiler alert: Soso was way better than so-so!
For ¥1300, Shelbi and I each got an American-sized set of super fresh sea food, tempura, vegetables, salad and rice. It was a ton of food, straight from the ocean and gardens. On top of that, the kids’ sets of fried shrimp, chicken cordon bleu, watermelon, onigiri and tiny yogurt bottles was only ¥500 a piece! Their fried pieces were prepared in-house, from what we could tell.
We were blown away. The staff were friendly, welcoming and not at all put off by our tiny Japanese vocabulary. The views were incredible. Parking was free. Go to Sōsō! You will not be disappointed!
If you came to Tawarajima first, make sure to head south to Tsunoshima next!
Have you made it to Tawarajima? How about Sōsō? Are there any hole-in-the-wall restaurants or remote destinations we should check out? Share your experiences with us!
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