A twenty-minute ferry ride from the small Japanese port of Imi on the northeast coast of Kyushu’s Kunisaki Peninsula takes intrepid adventurers to the tiny island of Himeshima. Very few foreigners go to this unpretentious, tranquil town of about 2,500, mostly farmers and fishermen. It felt very off-the-beaten-track to us. My gosh, our inn even lacked internet, which was more than fine with me.
We had already walked a few kilometers on a dramatic narrow path high on the mainland that day. We’d had a good view of our evening destination, including our island’s high point. Later, it was also fun to look back from the ferry to those higher elevations we’d been exploring for more than a week. After we settled our luggage, a few of us headed off to ascend Mt. Yahazu-dake (267m/875ft). Why not?
The island is famous for its seafood, especially the kuruma ebi (tiger prawn) which is both farmed and caught wild near there. It is said to be a staple of gourmet cuisine across Japan, especially when served “dancing-style.” That means they are eaten, uh, right after the diner breaks off the head and the legs kick in protest. We were spared this delicacy, thankfully.
Our host family runs a traditional inn that was rebuilt after a bomb blasted it during World War II. Our beautiful room on the first floor was typical: a low table (with hot water and tea cups), and tatami mats. The futons and covers were laid out while we were at dinner, which was multiple courses delightfully served by the family.
We had time before the morning ferry to walk to the western end of the island. There, we visited Sennin-do, a famously tiny shrine on an obsidian cliff above the water, said to shelter up to 1,000 people hiding from the tax collector on New Year’s Eve! From a vantage point on the way to the shrine, we saw a historical marker with photos from 1864 showing a multinational squadron of Western nation ships moving through on their way to retaliate against the Choshu clan for shelling foreign ships the year before. The remarkable photos were taken by one of the first war photographers, Felix (aka Felice) Beato, who hailed from Italy originally and lived in Japan from 1863-1867 [Source: wikipedia.org].
Today, the temple overlooks a more peaceful setting, in keeping with the overall mood of this delightful island. While we were there, we even got to watch an osprey catch its breakfast in the waters nearby. Then we trundled our luggage back to the wharf for the return trip to the mainland.