Awajishima (Awaji Island) is typically not on the regular tourist’s itinerary and only some would have heard of this place. I only knew about the island when I was invited by a fellow exchange student to join her and her host family on a trip there during Golden Week.
Awajishima lies in the eastern part of the Seto Inland Sea between the main islands of Honshu and Shikoku. I initially thought it was a small island, but it’s just somewhat smaller than Singapore. It was also the epicentre of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake (or Kobe Earthquake) causing devastating damage to the Hyogo region.
Awajishima has a special place in Japanese history. According to Japanese mythology, it is the birthplace of Japan. This island is rich in tradition and culture. It also offers scenic views of vast expanse of onion farms, flower fields and sandy beaches.
Awajishima is connected to Kobe on Honshu Island via the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge. One can take the JR expressway bus from Shin-Kobe station to Sumoto Bus station on Awaji Island.
My friend’s host family drove us around on our visit. Public transport is not very developed on the island, hence it’s recommended to hire a driver to explore the island. Recently, it has become a popular destination for cyclists who can finish touring the island in a few days.
If you’re visiting during Golden Week, the island comes to life with festivities. Across the island, we saw many koinobori (carped shaped wind socks) hung up in celebration of Children’s Day. They are inspired by a Chinese legend of a carp swimming upstream to become a dragon, which is a powerful and revered creature in Chinese mythology. When filled with wind, the carps look like they’re swimming upstream.
Hokudan Earthquake Memorial Park
What was particularly striking was an exposed section of the Nojima fault, whose movement triggered the destructive earthquake. The violent splitting of the ground was enough to show how powerful and destructive the quake was.
In the memorial museum, there was an earthquake simulator room which was set up like a living room, complete with cushy sofas, tables and cabinets. As the simulator was triggered, we experienced how violently the earth shook that day and for the same duration. It was, to say the least, frightening.
While earthquake museums remind us of the losses and devastation, they also highlight the need for disaster preparation, especially since Japan is such a geographically volatile region. The other earthquake stimulator in the country is in Tokyo, which also conducts disaster preparedness courses for locals.
Awaji Hanasajiki (Flower Garden)
This huge flower garden, which occupies an area the size of 4 baseball stadiums, is one of the best flower viewing sites in Hyogo. It’s located on a hill, which offers visitors an amazing view of a vast expanse of colourful blooms set against the Osaka Bay in the background.
In Japanese mythology, Awaji island is known as the birthplace of Japan. It is said that the divine couple, Izanagi and Izanami descended from Heaven and created a series of islands, eventually forming Japan. The first island created was Awaji Island.
The Izanagi Shrine is dedicated to the divine creators and it is Japan’s oldest shrine, holding a special place in Japanese history.
Awaji Puppet Theatre
Awajishima is also known for the traditional performing art of Awaji Ningyo Joruri (Awaji Puppetry) which has a history of over 500 years. It has staged performances all around the world. Awaji Puppetry is known for its onstage quick-changes in costumes and sets as well as its beautiful puppet costumes.
While we did not manage to watch a full puppet show, our hosts arranged for a short demonstration and witnessed the level of skill, effort and thought that goes into executing every action made by the puppet.
I did not get to visit the Yumebutai while I was there but I later read about it. It is a complex of conference centre, hotel and memorial designed by famous Japanese architect, Tadao Ando. It occupies the site where earth was excavated for reclamation in the Osaka Bay. The architect started this project prior to the earthquake and wanted to transform the land damaged by excavation into a park. However, the Hanshin earthquake struck before its completion and that previous plan was revised to building a memorial.
In the words of Tadao Ando, “Yumebutai commemorates death and devastation by celebrating their opposites – life and beauty”. A new addition to the plan was the beautiful Hyadudanen (100 Stepped Garden) where 100 colourful flower beds are arranged in square grids over several levels. (Source)