Awashima is an island in northern Niigata with 365 inhabitants, the island has two main settlements: Uchiura on the east coast and Kamaya on the west coast. The island lies far off the beaten path for both international and domestic tourists but has many nice beaches and can provide an escape from the urban centres of Tokyo and Osaka.
First settled in the Jomon Period, Awashima was long the last frontier for many of Japan's northern clans and inhabited by the Emishi, an ethnic group comprised of non-Yamato and Ainu people. The Emishi were slowly pushed out by pirates and traders, causing Awashima to become a hub for trade heading to Tohoku. Awashima was also greatly impacted by the 1964 Niigata earthquake, as many structures were destroyed due to the subsequent flooding. Now Awashima is an Important Birding Area and its economy is centred around seasonal tourism and fishing, leading to its reputation for fresh fish. Like most rural areas in Japan, its population is declining.
- 1 Awashima Information Centre (粟島観光案内所) (Turn left at the first intersection from the port, 100-meter walk), ☏ +81 254552146. Tourist imformation centre on island's east side, bike rentals
The only way to access Awashima is by ferry or catamaran from Iwafune in Murakami. They depart regularly and are operated by Awashimakisan ☏ +81 254-55-2131. The journey by high-speed catamaran takes 60 minutes and costs ¥3860 for adults and ¥1940 for children, the slower ferry costs ¥1910 for adults and ¥960 for children, the journey takes 85 minutes. 1 Awashima's port is in the centre of Uchiura and the rest of the island is accessible from there.
The Awashima community bus ☏ +81 254-55-2146 is the only bus service on the island and runs two routes. Due to the number of tourists outnumbering the bus capacity reservations are required from April to the end of October, reservations are not required from November to March. There are two routes across the island. The main one is the prefectural road route which connects the 2 Awashimaura Village hall in Uchiura to the 3 Kamaya community centre. This route costs ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children. The entire journey takes around 15 minutes. The second one is the northbound route which connects Iwafune and Kamaya via 4 Yatsubachi Observatory (八ツ鉢展望台) in the north. This route costs ¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children regardless of where one gets on. All bus journeys must be payed with cash.
Both settlements are so small one can easily around them. One could probably circumnavigate the island in one day.
One can easily bike around the island in three hours or less, tourist information centre offers bike rentals from 8:30-17:00. it is 500 for less than 4 hours and 1,000 for more than four hours. Bikes can be brought on the car ferry for an additional ¥460 and on the catamaran for ¥560.
Although a car ferry connects Awashima with the mainline, tourists are not allowed to bring cars onto the island.
- 1 Awashimaura Village Museum (粟島浦村資料館), 158 Uchiura, Awashimaura, ☏ +81 254 -55-2111. Jul-Aug 09:00-16:00, September-June 10:00-16:00.. On display are ancient wooden fishing boats and fishing gear, Jomon pottery and stone tools that tell the history of the island. ¥200 for adults, ¥100 for children.
- 2 Hotokezaki Observatory (ほとけざき天文台). All times. Observation deck with views of coastline, often called the best sunset spot on the island. Free.
- 3 Kanon-ji (観音寺), 158 Uchiura, Awashimaura, ☏ +81 254552222. Awashima's main temple, home to an Itabi, an ancient stupa. Free.
- 4 Makihira (牧平.). Former horse pasture turned bird watching area. Free.
- 1 Awashima Farm (あわしま牧場) (Just south of uchiura campsite), ☏ +81 80-8492-5869. 09:00-12:00 14:00-19:00. Awashima used to have many horse stables but only one now remains. This is the horse stable closest to the in Japan. ¥200 per minute if staff are pulling your horse, ¥2000 for farm tour, ¥100 per minute for lessons and independent riding.
- 2 Otohime no Yu (おと姫の湯), 1513-20 Hinomiyama, Awashimaura,, ☏ +81 254-55-2030. 11:30-19:00, closed Tuesday and Thursday. Large onsen in the centre of town. ¥400 for adults, ¥200 for children.
The main attractions of Awashima are its numerous beaches. The most popular beaches are 3 Kamaya Beach (釜谷海水浴場) and 4 Hatazaki (旗崎海水浴場)
- 1 Awashimabaitenkumiai (粟島売店組合) (Beside village hall), ☏ +81 254552550. 7:30-15:00, everyday. Souvenir store with fishing gear, locally harvested seaweed and sweets.
- 2 Shop Kinbei (おみやげ きんべい), 1085 Kamaya, Awashimaura. Shop with local seaweed, dried octopus and other souvenirs. The only store on the island's eastern side.
As fishing remains a large industry on the Island fresh most local specialities involve the island's local seafood. Wappani is the island's number one dish and people say it can only be found on Awashima. Wappani is made of cooked fish, miso and negi (Japanese onion) and served in a Wappa (bowl made from cedar), the chef then adds hot water and a burnt stone that boils the water. Sashimi can also be found all around the Island with the speciality dish being sea bream as Awashima is a spawning ground for them, sea bream is usually freshest in May and June. Most guest-houses serve dinner.
- 1 Cafe Sosodo (カフェ そそど), 1513-10 Hinomiyama, Awashimaura, ☏ +81 254552800. 11:30-15:30, 18:00-21:00, closed on tuesday. Awashima's most fashionable cafe, serving cutlet, curry and croquette.
- 2 Kamome Shokudo (かもめ食堂), 1099 Kamaya, Awashimaura Village, ☏ +81 254-55-2533. 11: 00-22:00. Shokudo with various soba dishes ¥1000 for a bowl of soba.
- 3 Mikayoka (みやこや食堂), ☏ +81 254552420. Serves the islands specialities of Wappani and Sashimi along with ramen ¥700 for ramen.
- 4 Zensaburo (善三郎). 11–14:00, 18:00–23:00. Shokudo with large menu, features local ingredients Daily set meal: ¥850.
There are very few nightlife options in Awashima though there are options in Murakami, there are vending machines around the Island. Sake Awashima is the island's only sake brand and potato sucho is also produced. Both are said to have a clean taste.
- 1 Izakaya Menko (居酒屋 めんこ), 15 Uchiura, Awashimaura, ☏ +81 254552441. Izakaya with various bar snacks
The number of accommodations are limited to due to the island's small population and many will do it as a day-trip from Murakami due to there being being more options there.
- 1 Kamaya Camping Ground, Kamaya, Awashimaura,, ☏ +81254552111. Considered the dirtier of Awashima's two campsites it is also much less touristy. It is on undeveloped coast and is a perfect urban escape. Lacks basic amenities. Free to set up.
- 2 Uchiura Camping Ground (内浦キャンプ場) (Directly south of Uchiura). The more touristy of the two campsites as its closer to the main town of Awashimaura. On flat land unlike Kamaya camp ground. There are toilets and showers Free.
- 3 Goto (後藤). Minshuku on the Island's eastern side has a bath open from 15:00 - 20:00 ¥7700 per adult with meals, ¥6600 per children with meals, ¥4500 per person without meals.
- 4 Kanehira Ryokan (かねひら旅館), 10 Uchiura, Awashimaura Village, Iwafune District, ☏ +81 254-55-2448. An inn where tradition and the sensibility of the present generation shine. Peaceful dishes, which have been refined outside the island are served. Adults with meal ¥9,000, Children with meal ¥6,600, Person without meals ¥4,500.
- 5 Kohagi (小萩), ☏ +81254552504. Hotel with private rooms, good food made from locally harvested ingredients and sea inspired motif ¥7700 per adult with meals, ¥6600 per children with meals, ¥4500 per person without meals.
- 6 Minatoya (みなとや), 121 Uchiura, Awashimaura,, ☏ +81 254-55-2427. A minshuku ran by a former chanko chef and his wife who returned to their hometown, this inn serves the best (and only) chanko on the island has free wifi and has communal bath. ¥8000 per adult with meals, ¥5600 per children with meals, ¥5000 per person without meals.
- 7 Miyoshi (三吉), 136 Uchiura, Awashimaura, (7 minute walk south of port), ☏ +81254552240. Minshuku with food and communal baths in the centre of Awashima. Comes with yukata and has amenities like Wifi and a drier. ¥7700 per adult with meals, ¥6600 per children with meals, ¥4500 per person without meals.
- 8 Omusubi House (じんきち), 117 Uchiura, Awashimaura,, ☏ +81 254-55-2525. Opened by a woman trying to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life, Omusubi provides views of Awashima's coast and has a spa room. ¥4500 person on weekdays, ¥5000 per person on weekends.
Pocket WiFi works on the island and can be rented in Niigata. Most accommodation options have free WiFi.
The only way to leave is on the boats to Murakami, from Murakami one could head south and explore the rest of Niigata prefecture, Niigata City is only one hour south of Murakami and from there one could depart to the less remoteSado for another island adventure. To the North of Murakami lies Tsuruoka and Sakata in Yamagata Prefecture, both cities are about an hour north on the Uetsu Line and can serve as jumping off points to Dewa Sanzan. From Sakata one could depart to the even smaller Tobishima, another remote island. Yamagata Prefecture also lies east of Murakami and when travelling east one must always depart from Sakamachi station (rather than Murakami station). Yonezawa is the largest city directly east of Murakami and is a two hour journey from Murakami on the Yonesaka line.