Cruising Across Islands in Toba, Mie
Toba is a coastal city in the prefecture of Mie, located approximately two and a half hours from Osaka. It has a population south of 20,000, and an area of 107.3 km² so it’s less than half the size of Osaka with a fraction of the people, but it does have that Japanese seaside charm. The town in fact, once flourished in trade and as a transshipment port between Osaka and Edo, but the city as we know it, wasn’t formed until November 1954 when it merged with five villages in the Shima District and became what it is today. Though it may no longer be a major transfer point, in no way has Toba lost its appeal. There is still plenty to occupy the seasoned traveler, and here are just a few of the things you can do on your visit to this city bordering the sea.
Toba harbor cruise; set sail for an hour tour of Toba Harbor aboard the Shima Marine Leisure ship Ryugujo 3. It’s beautifully painted red and green with gold trim, and offers indoor seating on two levels as well as an open air deck. The cruise begins near Pearl Island & Toba Aquarium, makes a stop at the Toba Marine Terminal platform, before continuing on past Dolphin Island. It then takes you by other smaller islands in the harbor and eventually returns to the starting point. A fun thing to do while you’re cruising is feed the hawks. There’s a vending machine on board where you can buy snacks, then watch these magnificent creatures catch and devour food thrown to them in mid-flight.
Mikimoto Pearl Island is another good place to visit, and since it’s very close to where the cruise begins and ends, it’s convenient for the next stop. It’s actually connected to the mainland via a pedestrian bridge and is known for its female pearl divers called Ama. There is a memorial hall dedicated to Koichi Mikimoto, who devoted years to the cultivation of his first pearl on the island. You can in fact learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about pearls there.
A short distance from Pearl Island is the Toba Aquarium. As the largest of its kind in Japan, it boasts a collection of more than 1,200 different species of aquatic life totaling somewhere around 30,000 specimens of sea creatures. It’s also said to be the only place in Asia where you can see a Dugong, which is a marine animal similar to a manatee.
Kami-shima is another good spot to see. It’s a small island a short distance from the mainland that can be reached from the Marine terminal. It houses the Kamishima lighthouse, a number of small shrines, and that fishing village nostalgia. As well, it’s a popular filming location and offers the opportunity for peaceful hiking where you can get fantastic views of the sea and coast.
Although it’s a bit different from other more well known places in Japan, Toba is still well worth the time and effort. Its seaside charm is sure to satisfy that nautical spirit in all of us.