A Mediterranean escape in the middle of Japan, the olive gardens, Kankakei Gorge and Angel Road of Shodoshima are just the beginning of your adventure!
Shodoshima’s beautiful climate and distinctive terrain make it the host to a unique side of Japan: the area is ideal for olive growth, and recently celebrated over 110 years since the first plantings in 1908.
Dramatic cliffs and rock formations combine with views of sky and sea in Kankakei Gorge, one of the “3 Most Beautiful Gorges in Japan.”
Along the coast, Angel Road inspires friends and lovers to walk down an ocean path that disappears with the tide.
We had positive expectations for Shodoshima, but it ended up being one of our absolute favorite experiences in Japan. We found a stunning island of warm, proud people, steeped in tradition and eager to joyfully share it all with us. Read more to learn how you can enjoy it, too!
The 19th largest island in Japan, Shodoshima is located in the Seto Inland Sea and can be accessed by ferry from Okayama and Ichigi.
Top 3 Reasons to Visit Shodoshima
1. Angel Road
Just off the southern coast of Shodoshima, a trail of small islands overlooks the shore. Gentle waves lap against both sides of a sandbar, and twice a day, the tide recedes and the sandbar connects the island to the mainland. Especially beautiful at sunrise or sunset, this transient path is known as Angel Road.
It’s said that if you walk across the road while holding hands with your loved one, your wish will come true!
It really is breathtaking. We got there about 45 minutes before the tide was low enough, and the anticipation makes the walk even sweeter. The kids loved playing on the beach and we enjoyed the views.
It started to get crowded as it got closer to being passable, so expect other wish makers to join you if you’re there at the end of the day!
Make sure to check the tide tables for the day you visit because you can only walk across during low tide. You can walk across for two hours before and after low tide. This is something you definitely don’t want to miss!
2. Olive Groves
Shodoshima was the first area in Japan to successfully harvest olives, starting in the early 1900’s. They have been working hard since to develop new methods of extraction and ways of growing to ensure success in the future.
The olive weevil – found only in Japan – is an insect that is deadly to the plant and caused many of the setbacks the community experienced since beginning to grow olives in Japan.
We parked our car at the Olive Garden Park and took a leisurely walk through their fields. The aromatic jasmine filled the air with its delicious perfume; we stopped every few steps just to savor it!
The souvenir store is very nice, with items ranging from extra-virgin olive oil to bars of soap, cologne or cookies. They even have Cremia that you can get with crushed up olive leaves sprinkled over it. We do not recommend defiling Cremia like that…but it’s a unique experience!
After walking through the fields we went to a large tower slide, play sculpture and cubes to let the kids play. The island has hosted various art exhibits, and the park is a happy remnant of a past project. This was one of two parks where we played while on the island.
We kept walking and came to a windmill famous from “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” a Japanese animated film from 1989.
The live-action version was filmed here! There is a shop a bit farther down the road that lends out broomsticks so you can reenact a famous shot from the movie.
After walking through more olive trees we came to a some herb shops and glass houses. From the moment we opened our car doors at the Olive Garden, the air was filled with the most wonderful smells. The herb area was so fun to walk through because each plant had a different scent; some were familiar and others were totally new.
Our next stop was Olive Park. With Greek-style architecture and the ocean as the backdrop, the Olive Park offers some incredible views. Inside the main building is where you can pick up your broomstick. They also have information about the history of growing olives in the area. On the second floor, you can enjoy lunch at Olivaz – it has a few set meals, all of which are delicious!
3. Kankakei Gorge:
Possibly one of the best places to see the fall colors in all of Japan, Kankakei Gorge has thousands of maple trees that make this dramatic gorge stunning. They boast the only ropeway in Japan that allows you to view the sea, sky and gorge all at the same time! Everywhere you look, it’s inspiring!
There is a 1.9km hiking trail that goes between the top and bottom of the ropeway. The ropeway sells one way tickets for ¥980 or round trip tickets for ¥1760. For more information check out their brochure.
This area is with the times! They have kindly set up stands so that you can take selfies from just the right angle (there are slots to hold smartphones, and square bases for cameras). Don’t forget to sit on the bench in front of the heart shaped tree for your picture!
Don’t stop here!
Our list of the top 3 things to do on Shodoshima island can easily be done in one day, as long as you plan your trip according to the tide times. We had originally planned to stay 2 ½ days and 3 nights here. After we finished seeing our top 3 sights on the first day, we thought we would be going home early. We are so glad we didn’t!
What you don’t want to miss on Shodoshima
Beautiful arches cross over the world’s narrowest navigable strait! It was made official by the Guiness Book of World Records. Technically, the Tonosho area of Shodoshima is really a separate island! The narrowest part is 32.58 feet wide.
An amazing local park that was just behind our hotel. There is a large roller slide with a dragon head at the bottom so it looks like you are sliding out of the dragon’s mouth! There are several obstacles you need to go through to get to the start of the slide. This quickly became Matt’s favorite park. The kids loved it too!
Pro Tip: Ride down on a few pieces of cardboard; the friction can really heat up a backside! Ask Matt how he found that out…
If you can go during festival season, we highly recommend it. We were lucky enough to visit during the taiko drum festival. We saw the floats on Saturday night and the front desk at our hotel told us where to go on Sunday so that we could see more of the festival.
When we arrived, and we saw them perform one of their lifts, we got goosebumps. Ok, Matt got goosebumps and I teared up. We were inspired by their unity, teamwork and dedication. None of that fully explains how intense it was to witness, but suffice to say we were deeply moved. Matt started asking some questions of a few of the men – and they asked him to join them! You’ll need to read about his experience participating in the taiko drum festival!
88 Temple Pilgrimage:
Similar to the one on Shikoku, only a smaller version this pilgrimage will bring you all around the island. We didn’t have time to do this, but it is definitely on our list of things to do next year when we come!
Get lost wandering around in Labyrinth town! This area is said to have been built chaotically to protect the village from pirates!
We didn’t go and see the monkeys, but this park on the Shodoshima Skyline road is supposed to be full of them. We loved seeing them in Kyoto – next time!
Soy Sauce and Tsukemono Factories:
Shodoshima is famous for its soy sauce and pickled foods – tsukemono are Japanese side dishes made by preserving various foods in sweet soy sauces. Only one of the tsukemono shops was open due to the festival, but Matt really loved the foods he tried. There were various preserved legumes and vegetables for sale along with local soy sauces.
Somen noodles are made of wheat and a sesame oil specific to Shodoshima. They have been making these somen noodles for 400 years! The family businesses still making noodles today have been handing down techniques for the last century.
There are factory tours, and various experiences you can participate in. A reservation is required with some of them, so get in touch with them when you first arrive to see if it’s possible. We tried some of these at the Olive Garden cafe that we went to and they were delicious!
A 50-meter high statue of Daikannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. You can climb to the top (or take an elevator) where there is a lookout and great view. The price is ¥500 and its open from 8:30-5:00 year round. Inside the structure is a holy relic, a tooth from the Buddha, that was donated by a temple in Sri Lanka. We only saw this from afar, but even then it was impressive!
There is a movie set you can walk through for “Twenty-four Eyes,” a 1954 film by Keisuke Kinoshita based on a novel by Sakae Tsuboi. The storyline follows a teacher and her students during wartime. The set is from a remake, but there is also a school from the original movie.
The windmill from the Shodoshima Olive Garden is famous from the movie “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” a 1989 animated fantasy film, and the live-action version that was filmed at the Olive Park!
Places to eat:
We basically ate at 7-Eleven while we were here. Many restaurants closed since we were here in the middle of a large festival. However we also ate at Olivaz a few times, at the Olive Park. On the last day we ate at the Shodoshima Olive Garden restaurant, RestleA, and wish we would have gone there more. Both restaurants were so fresh and included generous amounts of local olive oil. The only downside of these two restaurants – they are only open for lunch! There are plenty of other restaurants open for dinner, but many of them require a reservation for dinner. Call ahead!
Plan your trip:
It took about 2 ½ hours to drive to the Okayama Port from Iwakuni. The toll was ¥4800 each way. We drove straight to the port the exact procedure to take the ferry. Everything was straightforward and we bought our roundtrip tickets and boarded without a hitch. Note: they accept Visa!
The price to cross is based on car size. We paid ¥11000 for a roundtrip ticket to take our Nissan Cube across. One adult and the kids were free with the car and an additional adult was ¥2700 for a roundtrip ticket. The travel time was an hour and ten minutes.
Find a port that works for you!
I really feel like this was a great trip for the whole family. Matt and I did everything we wanted to and there were things that the kids enjoyed doing as well. If you just want to do the top 3 things, you can do it in a day and you will love it. However, there is so much more to do on Shodoshima. We felt at home, and cannot wait to go back and see what else there is to discover!