Niemonjima Island – A Hidden, Historical Treasure of Chiba
One of the most delightful aspects of Japan is experiencing the hidden layers within the country. Steep mountains and rolling plains cover the landscape as sequences of terrain complement vast skies. Outside of the city, it isn't effortless to witness such occurrences, as patrons of the urban sprawl stay sequestered beneath concrete and steel. Despite the wonderment of industrialized dreams, many of us seek a balance — a blend of the organic and the synthetic. Like nature, we too wish to be free as the wind, unencumbered by the responsibilities of the metropolitan grind. If one is to take a break away from the hustle and bustle of the city, where could one go? Off the beaten path, of course.
Niemonjima. Have you heard of it? If you're not a history buff, then perhaps you haven't. Located off the coast of southwest Chiba, this tiny landmass was the secret hideaway of one of the greatest generals in Japanese history. Minamoto-no-Yoritomo was one of the founders of the Kamakura Shogunate, and after a battle with a rivaling faction, he fled for safety behind the shoreline rocks of Niemonjima. As you venture forth through the island, you have the opportunity to see the actual hiding place where he and several of his loyal supporters hid from the enemy. In the recesses of one of the caves lies a sliding door as old as the history itself!
Embarking on your journey to the island, you will be greeted by some fishermen who know the nearby seas like the back of their hand. Feel free to take in all of the sights and sounds of the area, giving you a rare glimpse of the Japanese countryside untouched by time. The briny tang of seawater blends well with the picturesque environment, as seagulls chirp noisily overhead. A short boat ride will get you access to Niemonjima, where a gift shop and tourist information center await. Despite the salinity in the air, the clientele will help guide you to where you need to go with warm smiles and gracious temperaments.
As you venture around the tiny islet, you're greeted with lush foliage of all types and sounds of crashing waves against the aged rocks. Throughout the years, famous politicians, entertainers, and even the former emperor have visited the island to take in its elaborate history. Feel free to leave with lasting memories of your own.
One of the more interesting facts about the island is that it contains only one inhabitant. The individual who greets you on the island is the same person who runs the gift shop. His house is found at the summit of the central mountain, adorned in traditional Japanese style. As a tourist, please take the opportunity to peruse the grounds outside of his home, filled with unique gardens and distinctive memorabilia. Just make sure you don't enter without a formal invite!
The journey to the island is a bit of a stretch, but if you're up for an adventure, do not let a little bit of walking deter you. From Kamogawa, you catch the JR Uchibo Line from Awa-Kamogawa Station and take it all the way to Futomi Station. From Futomi, it is a 12-minute walk to the pier where you can take a ferry across to the island. The landmark has standard hours of operation, open from 8:30 to 5:00 pm. However, if you somehow end up arriving around a later time in the day, have no fear. The landmass itself isn't large, which means you'll be able to see everything in 30 minutes or less. Therefore, you can take your time and catch the sights and sounds of what the place has to offer.
If you're looking to experience an esoteric part of history away from the ramblings and rumblings of Tokyo, don't skip over Niemonjima. Taking the road less traveled can lead to places one has never gone before. Perhaps that describes you.
Niemonjima, for the adventurer in all of us.