An island rich in history, Omishima will delight with its salted ice cream and amaze with Japan’s largest collection of historic weapons and armor.
Omishima Island is one of the largest islands in the area, and is known for its natural beauty, Oyamazumi Shrine (one of the three most important Shinto shrines in all Japan!), Tsuruhime – an amazing warrior priestess – and it’s art museums.
This visit was inspired by Matt’s discovery of Hakata Salt, a sea salt company on Omishima. They make their own ice cream and put salt on it before they serve it! Matt has been wanting to try it for a long time, but it was never high on my list. For some reason the idea of trying salted ice cream didn’t sound appealing to me!
I agreed to go after our visit to Rabbit Island, since we were in the area. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the day!
Hakata Salt Factory
Our first stop on the island was Hakata Salt. A lot of times I don’t know what to expect of the places we visit. Matt usually does the research and planning and I go along making sure the kids are happy. When we got to this salt company, I was expecting to see a museum or something along those lines.
I was so excited to discover that it was a factory tour, not a museum! Everything from start to finish was done right in front of us! We watched them boil the sea water, reduce it, and sift through it. They piled it into massive sand dunes of salt, and used a special forklift to scoop up tons of it and load it into a funnel.
It was taken up conveyor belts to be distributed into individual bags. Then, they had the final step of boxing and getting ready for shipment. We saw the assembly line, the machines and the men and women working with the salt. It was really fun! The kids loved seeing the mounds of salt that reminded them of snow.
After walking through the whole process we went downstairs and tried some salt water that was 0.3% salt. It tasted like a clean ocean to me – Matt was feeling dehydrated, so it was nice for him.
After all that, we tried the ice cream. I’ll admit that we have been spoiled since moving to Japan when it comes to ice cream. Nothing beats Cremia. But this ice cream is a close second! It was very creamy, then they sprinkled a light amount of specially textured sea salt on top – yum! It sounds weird, but the savoriness of the salt was a wonderful contrast to the richness and sweetness of the ice cream.
Our next stop was the Oyamazumi Shrine and Treasure Hall. I wouldn’t have thought that a small island so far away from the larger cities would have such a rich history. This is an important shrine for warriors, as it is believed that the gods of the shrine protect and grant success in battle. Many samurai would stop here to pray either before battle, or after to leave an offering.
The offerings were usually swords, weapons and armor. They now have the largest collection of weaponry and armor that are registered as National Treasures. Some of the weapons date back to around 900 A.D!
They will blow your mind. Matt has been to some really high-end sword dealers, and handled some amazing ($500k!!!) swords. Seeing everything here rocked his world. Many of the larger swords or naginata from that era have been shortened down, but here they are still their original size. There are a couple swords that weigh over 25 kg, or 55 lbs – and they were actually used in battle!
A special aspect to this collection is that the swords aren’t all in pristine condition. Many have chips and you can see that they have been used in combat. No picture taking is allowed, it’s something you need to see for yourself!
Tsuruhime – Priestess, Warrior, Leader
The armor of Tsuruhime, the daughter of Ohori Yasumochi, a head priest of Oyamazumi Shrine, is located in the Treasure Hall. She was born in 1526. She was only 15 when her two brothers were killed in battle, and her father got sick and also died. This left Tsuruhime as head priestess to the shrine.
She had been trained in martial arts, and when the time came to defend Omishima she was a strong leader for her people and a great defender of their land. She was able to hold off samurai from Yamaguchi during two years of battles. Tsuruhime committed suicide after her fiance was killed in battle when she was only 17.
Plan your trip:
In addition to the two places that we visited on the island, there are also several museums. There is Tokoro Museum, the Omishima Museum of Art, Imabarishi Iwatakenhahatokonomyujiamu and the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture.
From Okunoshima Island we took the ferry, which was about a 15 minute ride. The drive itself took us about 10 minutes once we got off the ferry.
We took the beautiful Shimanami Kaido route home, and to get off the island it was about ¥2,000. Then there was the price of the toll road between Hiroshima and Iwakuni. If you want to save money you can take the ferry back to Okunoshima and avoid the tolls to get off the island!
This is a great additional island to explore if you are already on Okunoshima/Rabbit island or if you’re just interested in art!
Have you been to Omishima Island? What was your favorite part? Leave us a comment, we would love to know!