Palm trees, wind-swept beaches, lush vegetation, deep-red torii, unique washboard-like rock formations, and a brilliant blue sea. Chicken nanban and mango ice cream. The former will be etched in your mind and the latter will be stuffed in your stomach after a visit to Aoshima (青島) in Miyazaki prefecture.
Aoshima is located on the southeastern side of Kyushu, approximately 300 kilometers from Hakata. From Miyazaki station to Aoshima station is about 30 minutes by train, and is 740 yen return. For reference, check out the useful English language train timetable search engine, hyperdia.com for complete travel details. It is a small island of about 1.5 kilometers in circumference, and home to Aoshima Shrine.
Because I live on Kyushu, my wife and I drove to Aoshima from Miyazaki City. But I have complete confidence in Japan Rail (JR) Kyushu as a vehicle of reliable transport.
Aoshima is a tiny island. You can cross the span between the mainland and the island by foot across the bridge.
Cars are prohibited from accessing the island, but for those who desire a slightly more vehicular experience, a small auto-rickshaw can be rented for the quick jaunt from the mainland to the entrance of the shrine.
You’d have to ask the driver for a price, but I’m sure in touristy spot like Aoshima your English wouldn’t be a problem.
Strolling leisurely along the partly paved and sandy path, you will notice the strange, sharply rutted rock configurations emerging from the shallow water. Small circular pools spot the surface, not unlike the moon. Over time, the flow of water has helped form these unusual shapes.
During high-tide, the washboard disappears, creating an almost entirely new scene. However, what is different about Aoshima Shrine, as my wife of Miyazaki origin will attest to, is its surrounding environment. She feels that the other worldly vibe of Aoshima Island is a unique feeling unto itself.
Being on a super small island is perhaps unusual for a shrine. I have visited a fair number of shrines, and indeed this one feels special. Set inside a dense thicket, the area takes on a surreal feel. The palm trees sway in the ocean wind, and a soft rustling spreads across the small island, lending a gentle, relaxed tropical sensation to the sacred grounds.
A narrow palm tree-lined path cuts through the small jungle to the shrine. Dangling from tree branches along the path, the colorful wooden charms gently clang against one another, adding rustic, gentle tones to the scene.
After your soul feels satisfied with the serenity of Aoshima, you can walk back across the bridge. There you will find a handful of souvenir shops and ice cream stands that will satisfy both your sweets cravings and your penchant for local mementos. Particularly tasty is the mango-flavored ice cream.
Mangos are grown in Miyazaki, and are one of Miyazaki’s most well known agricultural products, fetching upwards of 5000 yen for a single one! If perhaps you prefer something a little more unique, the black sesame seed ice cream will surely leave an impression.
If you havent seen enough sub-tropical flora in Miyazaki yet, then head over to Aoshima Sub-Tropical Botanical Garden, where an assortment of flowers, trees and cats (Yes, cats! Get your hashtag, #catsofinstagram ready instagrammers!) can be seen on the grounds, free of charge.
Alternatively, you can dive into the greenhouse on the grounds and be amazed at the variety of plants.
Eventually you are bound to get hungry. So you might as well indulge in a high-calorie meal of chicken nanban (チキン南蛮), Miyazaki’s specialty. Luckily there are a few restaurants within a couple minutes walk of the garden. One in particular, 鬼扇 (onisen), is popular with Japanese professional baseball players - Yomiuri Giants players to be exact.
During the Japanese professional baseball off-season, players from the Giants go to Miyazaki for spring training. When they do, they often visit this popular restaurant. Pictures of players, and autographs adorn the wall. If your timing is right, perhaps you will meet one of the players.
Filling your stomach with fried chicken coated in a crispy egg batter, marinated in a sweet and sour sauce, and topped with tartar sauce is a calorie-heavy experience.
But strolling on tiny Aoshima island, through the breezy trees and gazing at the gorgeous ocean will lighten your soul.