The timeless charms of remote Okushiri Island



 Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands, is known for the incredible quantity and quality of its beautiful powdery snow, which is enjoyed by ski and snow activity enthusiasts every winter. Japan’s second largest island is also often praised for the grandeur of its unspoiled national parks, incredible wildlife and fields of flowers that attract many tourists each summer. But in the common imagination, few people would associate Hokkaido with paradise islands. Well, Japan has 6,852 islands, of which about 426 are inhabited, and Hokkaido itself incorporates several smaller islands. Among these is the remote island of Okushiri: a quiet, isolated island where time seems to stand still.

 This article will be dedicated to Okushiri, a charming and secluded island still unknown to the general public: a true hidden gem that will meet all your expectations as a selective visitor! With its unique landscape of strangely shaped rocks and beautiful emerald sea, known as “Okushiri Blue”, Okushiri is the ideal destination for nature lovers who want to travel to relax away from the crowds. This island of well-being where time flows at its own pace will not leave you indifferent! Okushiri is definitely an ideal island for relaxation but also for outdoor activities, be it water activities like Stand Up paddle boarding or kayaking or land activities like hiking or cycling. Explore postcard-perfect landscapes, have fun, enjoy the gastronomic delights the island has to offer, from its vineyards producing quality wine to its delicious fresh seafood and why not after an active day in the open air, relax in one of its many hot springs.

 Let’s start! Let yourself be transported to Okushiri, to discover the many charms of one of Hokkaido’s remote islands. After reading this column, the island will hold no secrets for you.

 To say that the pandemic has disrupted the travel industry is an understatement, and travel trends post-Covid are different from those before the pandemic. Many travelers are now looking to reconnect with nature through simple pleasures such as hiking, biking or forest bathing. We are now looking for wellness trips where we can breathe fresh, pure air and experience the beauty and benefits of unspoiled nature, away from the crowds. Many of us want to travel to escape the stress of the big cities, to relax and enjoy more rural and off-the-beaten track experiences. The pandemic has also led to a general awareness of the need for tourism that respects the environment and local people.

 And it seems that remote islands are embracing all aspects of this new way of thinking about travel and holidays, whether at home or abroad. In people’s imaginations, remote islands are idyllic places where the rules of everyday life do not apply and where time seems to stand still. On a remote island, far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is much easier to disconnect from reality. Who hasn’t dreamed of escaping to a remote island, away from the stress of everyday life, to simply enjoy a true retreat in a postcard landscape of fine sand and turquoise waters?

 The exotic names of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Seychelles, Mauritius, Santorini are all dreamy but still seem relatively inaccessible to a tourist traveling on a budget. Yet the world is full of lesser-known islands that are just as heavenly and have this timeless charm of hidden islands. Just think that Japan is made up of 6852 islands stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the Philippine Sea in the south! If Okinawa and its neighboring islands remain the reference in terms of Japanese paradise islands with their fine sandy beaches and clear turquoise waters, Hokkaido is not to be outdone and also reserves some beautiful island surprises! We have already written about the beautiful northern islands of Rebun and Rishiri (the alpine flower islands  ) and this time we have chosen to introduce you to Okushiri Island, located in the south of Hokkaido. Known for the incredible beauty of the surrounding waters of the Sea of Japan, an exceptionally clear turquoise water proudly dubbed Okushiri Blue, this secluded place where time seems to slow down is perfect for relaxing and enjoying a wellness retreat while discovering and exploring the charms of unspoiled nature.

 Okushiri, like many other places in Hokkaido, takes its name from the Ainu language, and was originally called Ikusyun-shiri before being simplified to Ikushiri, with “Iku” meaning “other side” and “Shiri” meaning “island”.

 Okushiri is a triangle-shaped island 11 kilometers wide, 27 kilometers long and about 84 kilometers in circumference. Located in the southwest of Hokkaido, about 61 kilometers northwest of Esashi (if you are curious about this town, I recommend you read this article: ), this coastal island surrounded by the Sea of Japan is easily accessible. Indeed, you can reach the island by a 30-minute domestic flight that connects once a day to Hakodate and Okushiri airports or by ferry (there are 1 or 2 trips per day depending on the season and the trip takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes) from Esashi port, which is a little over 2 hours from Hakodate city.

 With less than 3,000 inhabitants (and no bears!), this island is truly an ideal retreat from the stresses of everyday life to relax in a paradise-like setting, away from the mass tourism that is unfortunately often associated with island tourism. Okushiri has two main villages: Okushiri village, on the eastern side of the island, where visitors arrive by ferry at its port, and Aonae village, on the southern end, which houses the island’s small airport. The inhabitants live mainly from fishing; abalone, squid and sea urchin (uni in Japanese) being the island’s speciality, served in all ryokan, inns and restaurants. Not surprisingly, the island’s mascot is a very cute sea urchin named Unimaru and one of its iconic landmarks is the Unimaru Monument, located in “Unimaru Park”. At night, the 120 spines are beautifully lit.

 The best time to visit Okushiri, Japan is from July to September. During this period, temperatures are pleasant with little rainfall. The warmest month is August with an average of 23.5°C and the coldest month is January with an average of 1°C. Although it snows in winter, the island is warmer than the main island of Hokkaido due to the warm Tsushima Current. This mild climate contributes to the natural benefits of the island. 

 Let’s discover some of the best places on this “island time” of slow life.

 On Okushiri Island, time passes differently, more slowly, as if nature is reclaiming its rights and grandeur. Here we are the humble spectators of a marvelous show where the horizon of Okushiri Island becomes the scene of an island tale in which the sun, the sky and the sea are the protagonists. Time slows down as if to allow us to take full advantage of the sun’s cycles and to recharge our batteries by refocusing our internal clock on the solar cycle. The sunrise that announces the awakening of the island is a natural ritual in which the fishermen are the second actors; their fishing boats blending gracefully into this postcard landscape. The sunset, which we recommend you watch from the west coast of the island, is equally impressive, with the Sea of Japan turning red as the setting sun disappears into the distance.

 Okushiri Island cannot be mentioned without mentioning its symbol, a unique natural doughnut-shaped rock called Nabetsuru-iwa Rock (鍋釣岩). Its name refers to its arched pot handle shape. This strange andesite rock is located near the Okushiri ferry port in the eastern part of Okushiri Island. Easy to reach, it is the island’s iconic viewpoint and should not be missed!

 The rock comes from volcanic activity at the bottom of the sea, as lava about to erupt cools and hardens. At 19.5 meters high, this natural arch is believed to have been formed by the gradual collapse of the soft parts of the rock due to wave and wind erosion. It is difficult to believe that this perfect doughnut-shaped rock was created naturally. However, it should be noted that after the 1993 earthquake off the southwest coast of Hokkaido, part of the rock collapsed and was restored. This rock, on which vegetation grows, including a tree called “Hiroha no hebi noborazu”, a name derived from the fact that it has spines that snakes can’t climb, blends perfectly with the clear, turquoise sea.

 On the side of the island’s coastal road, there is an observatory, an ideal place to take pictures. Sunrise and sunset are great times to take beautiful photos and enjoy a special moment of awareness of the beauty of nature! At sunrise, when the sun rises behind it, the rock is enveloped in a mystical and magical aura. At sunset, the rock melts into an orange postcard background. At night, the rock is illuminated, and if the timing is right, you can see the fantastic spectacle of the fishing lights in the background.

 You can discover this magnificent rock from all angles in the video below:

There are many other uniquely shaped rocks along the coastline and you will have a lot of fun looking for them by car, bike, boat or on foot. Some of the most popular ones are Hoya rock (sea squirt), so called because it looks like a sea squirt living in the Sea of Okushiri; Kabuto rock, named after its helmet shape, although its shape changed due to the huge Tsunami in 1993. Don’t miss Turtle rock either!

 Another charming place on the island is the Miyazu Benten Shrine located at Cape Benten, in the northern part of Okushiri Island. There are 164 steep steps leading up to the small hill from where this little red-roofed temple elegantly overlooks the clear waters. It is said that in the past, a guardhouse was placed here and served as a base for communication with the opposite shore, as well as a spot to keep an eye on fleeing criminals. In 1831, the islanders who lived mainly from fishing made Benten a place of worship to pray for a big catch. Benten-sama is a very compassionate goddess but has a strong temper. When she comes to this island, she has a lot of fun and the locals say that she promises visitors a trip full of surprises!

 Kitaoimisaki Park, located in the westernmost part of Okushiri Island at Cape Kuzure, is a veritable open-air museum housing 8 sculptures made of various materials such as stone and iron, and of varying sizes, by the famous modernist sculptor Masayuki Nagare (14 February 1923 – 7 July 2018). Known as the “samurai artist” for his attachment to traditional Japanese aesthetics, his work was inspired by his early years of training in the martial arts of a samurai, particularly swordsmanship, and by his time spent at various temples in Kyoto, where he observed the rock, plant and water patterns created by traditional landscapers.This place is said to be the westernmost inhabited place in Hokkaido. It is a perfect place to watch the beautiful sunset or the starry sky.  The park also has a golf course and a campground.

 There are also many outdoor places worth visiting: the summit of Mount Tamashima, which offers a breathtaking view of the Niseko mountain range; the Tamashimayama observatory, one of the best places to appreciate the magnificent landscapes of Okushiri Island, from which one can enjoy a 360° panoramic view; or the uninhabited island of Muen, a pyramid-shaped island that stands proudly on the sea and becomes an enchanting place during the breathtaking sunsets that color the sky with warm orange hues in the background. Sai no Kawara Park, located at the northernmost point of Okushiri Island, a sacred place where stones are piled up to mourn the victims of maritime accidents, drowned people and dead children, is also a place to visit.

 In 1993, Okushiri was severely damaged by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Hokkaido. The Okushiri Tsunami Museum bears witness to this damage while commemorating the remarkable determination of the people to rebuild their lives after the tragedy and to work actively to recover the area. Museum staff who witnessed the tsunami will guide you and share their experience with you, making this a very special visit. The island is committed to sharing the records, experience and lessons learned from this natural disaster with future generations and is an example to the world in earthquake protection and recovery. The city continues to focus on promoting tourism under the slogan “The island of happiness that connects hearts” (Minna no Okushiri in Japanese). You can see the monument called Jikusho, meaning the “Time-Space Flight ”, the cenotaph of the Hokkaido earthquake victims. The central hollow faces southwest, offshore, where the epicenter was, and the sun sets in the hollow on July 12, the date of the earthquake. It expresses “heart, sea and wings”, and the scar at the bottom expresses sea spray. 

 Okushiri is an island of gastronomic delights: from fresh seafood such as sea urchins – which are cooked with a special island touch, salted or smoked – abalone and other seasonal seafood (oyster, cod,atka mackerel, squid…. ) to simple and delicious dishes from the land and mountains (Okushiri rice, Okushiri beef, alpine leek, ferns, bamboo shoots, asparagus, shimeji mushrooms, and various other mushrooms).

 Okushiri Island offers its visitors the ultimate luxury of enjoying freshly caught sea urchins and abalone at a reasonable price. Okushiri’s fresh and tasty sea urchins, which can be enjoyed from May to August, are characterized by a slightly salty but richly sweet taste. Okushiri abalone has a firm consistency due to the cold water of the Sea of Japan and a concentrated taste. They are particularly delicious eaten as sashimi or grilled. Okushiri abalone is also cultivated and can therefore be eaten all year round. You can also try to catch the abalone yourself, learn how to shuck it before enjoying it by the sea!

 Okushiri is the northernmost rice-producing island in Japan and the only rice-producing island in Japan! The island has a forest area that covers 70% of its land mass, and the virgin beech forest covers more than 60%. Thanks to its warm climate and abundant water, a wide variety of edible plants grow on the island, and the land is suitable for making delicious sake made from Okushiri rice and local water. Its dry, distinct taste is a perfect match for Okushiri Island’s seafood.

The western region of the island, Yunohama, is home to extensive vineyards. Amidst the bountiful nature, more than 10 varieties of grapes are grown here. These grapes are made into wine at Okushiri Winery, Japan’s only winery located on a remote island. Okushiri wine is rich in minerals thanks to the sea breeze.Okushiri Pinot gris” is the most popular among all. About 60% of the island is covered by virgin beech forest which has a high water retention capacity. Water is therefore abundant and, although it snows in winter, the island is warmer than the main island of Hokkaido due to the warm Tsushima Current. Despite the difficulties caused by sea salt damage, the island’s lush natural environment has allowed the Okushiri wine to distinguish itself by its unique flavor and its content of many minerals from the sea breeze that give the grapes the benefits of the sea.

 The story of this winery began in 1999 with the planting of wild grapes that grow naturally on the island. Then the winemakers started to cultivate exclusively wine varieties on a large scale. They have successfully grown European varieties. The area of the estate is about 27 hectares with about 65,000 grapes. The varieties include Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Zweigeltrebe and Kerner.In 2008, construction of the Okushiri Winery was completed and full-scale brewing began. Wine lovers tend to look for wines that exude the unique characteristics of the land on which they are produced as well as the personality of the brewer, known as terroir. Okushiri wine has its own identity: the grapes grown in the sea breeze of the Sea of Japan are rich in minerals, and when made into wine, the smell of the tide leaves a lingering aftertaste. There is a certain poetry in this wine ! You can also visit the factory to learn more about the production of this special and delicious wine.

 There are so many ways to enjoy Okushiri’s extraordinary nature, from “Okushiri Blue” to “Buna Forest”. Of course you can simply enjoy the wide sandy beach and seashore, Yamasedomari Beach being the most popular beach of the island. You can enjoy the blue sea and why not catch crabs and young gobies ! But the sea in Okushiri is suitable for many marine sports such as surfing, sea-kayaking or Stand Up Paddling. One of the best places on the island to enjoy the beauty of the emerald sea is the Horonai area. The coastline remains pristine and the rocky shores spread out. It is here that you can experience the crystal clear sea of Okushiri during marine recreation such as kayaking and Stand Up Paddling. SUP has really taken off in recent years, fitting in perfectly with the desire for fresh air and a return to nature that has already been expressed in leisure activities in recent years. You can also explore the shorelines by mini-cruise that offers views only available from the sea and is a good option to discover Okushiri from a different angle.

 The charms of the land are not to be forgotten and there are many wonders to explore such as the beech forest, named as one of the [100 most beautiful places to walk in Japan – Forest Road Series]. Okushiri is the northernmost place where beech trees grow on an island, the true soul of the island, a rare and precious forest. Some of these trees are said to be around 250 years old.  Forest bathing, a therapeutic practice originating in Japan of spending time in nature under a canopy of trees, is gaining popularity with those seeking to heal their mental health and connect with nature in a deeper way. Let yourself be charmed by an atypical guided tour focusing on the 5 senses in order to reconnect with nature and chase away all stress! You can also enjoy one of the various footpaths such as the Art and Hot Spring in the Kamuiwaki area, known for its spectacular views of Okushiri Blue.

 If you want to discover the natural charms of Okushiri Island from the mainland, why not explore it by bicycle. Okushiri has developed a wonderful project called Cycleuise, in partnership with neighboring towns Esashi and Setana. This free service offers many benefits, including discounted ferry tickets to Okushiri Island and various coupons. Detailed maps showing the best places to take photos and facilities such as toilets and a drinks vending point are available to all. Okushiri Island is a large island with a circumference of 66 km, with significant ups and downs. The electric bicycle is therefore the best way to enjoy the landscape at an easy and pleasant pace. There are several themed routes for different levels of ability. Okushiri is a dream destination for bike lovers! So don’t hesitate and come and discover this island.

 The remote island of Okushiri is a charming destination little known to the general public. By visiting it you will get a better understanding of the charms and the countless varieties of landscapes of Hokkaido. Easily accessible from Hakodate, by plane or ferry, a very attractive port city that will have no secrets for you after reading these articles:

・Hakodate: the southern capital of Hokkaido( ),

・History of Hokkaido: The war of the last samurai in Hakodate(

・Hakodate: The City of Breathtaking Night Views (

 The remote island of Okushiri is proudly called the Treasure Island, referring to the incredible beauty of its stunning landscapes, the abundance of its seafood and the variety of its local products, not to mention its young but very promising wine! After visiting Hakodate, Okushiri is the ideal place to recharge your batteries in contact with unspoilt nature, whether in its pleasant turquoise waters, in the heart of its silent beech forest or by diving into its hot springs, which will chase away the tiredness of the journey. After nearly 3 years of quarantine, many of us wish to travel again to idyllic places, wide open spaces far from the crowds. Traveling is now part of a quest for retreat, well-being and mental and physical relaxation in close contact with nature and Okushiri is the ideal destination to put on your bucket list! 

 Do not hesitate to contact us so that our team of specialized advisors can help you prepare your unforgettable trip to Okushiri.