Amami Ōshima: Southern Island of Nature and Culture

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More than 300 kilometers from the southern tip of Kyūshū, and an equal distance from Okinawa to the south, Amami Ōshima is part of Kagoshima Prefecture. With coral reefs, sparkling blue seas, and rich growths of mangroves and virgin forests farther inland, Amami Ōshima and its neighboring islands, shoals, and seas were designated the Amami Guntō National Park in 2017. Eons ago the islands were part of the Eurasian landmass, repeatedly separating and reattaching to it over millennia. This created a unique environment, making the Amami islands home to many endemic species of fauna and flora and earning them the name of “the Galapagos of the Far East.”

After humans arrived, Amami Ōshima also developed a distinct culture influenced by Okinawa and the other Ryūkyū islands, Kyūshū, and Southeast Asia. Among its cultural traditions are unique festivals like the Hirase Mankai and the Yui no Hōnen Odori style of dance, as well as Ōshima tsumugi, luxurious silk fabric whose history stretches back 1,300 years.

Below we present aerial views of the archipelago’s beautiful landscapes, along with photos of the islands’ majestic natural landscapes and mystical festivals.

In the Shochogama ritual, men and children from the village climb onto a slanted wooden platform at dawn on the appointed day and stomp on it so that it collapses, thereby ensuring a rich harvest. Shochogama always takes place on the same day as the Hirase Mankai festival, marking the coming of autumn, such as it is in this subtropical climate, in the eighth month of the old lunar calendar.

Hirase Mankai, where five shamanesses assemble on two craggy boulders to the west of Akina Port to pray and dance for good catches throughout the year.

The dance called Yui no Hōnen Odori, designated an intangible folk cultural asset by Kagoshima Prefecture. Men dance to give thanks for the year’s harvest and also pray for a good harvest the next year.

The Kasarizaki lighthouse, at the northernmost point of Amami Ōshima, offers superb ocean views.

Naze Port, on the northwest shore, is Amami Ōshima’s transportation hub and departure point for the ferries serving the island.

The Kinsakubaru primeval forest, where gigantic ferns called hikage hego and other sub-tropical vegetation grow.

Virgin mangrove forests outside the Sumiyōchō district in the southern part of the island.

Yadorihama is a popular beach known for its white sands.

An aerial view of Kakeroma Island, from the vicinity of Yadorihama beach.

Ōshima tsumugi kimono fabric is a vibrant traditional product of this southern island.

(Originally published in Japanese. Photos by Kuroiwa Masakazu, 96Box. Video by Fujii Kazuyuki, 96Box. Banner photo: Cape Ayamaru, famous for its scenic views.)

Okinawa tourism festival Kyūshū Kagoshima Amami Ōshima