Four Foreigners, One Rental Car & Twelve Hours!
With its long, sandy beaches and lush mountain forests, Itoshima is the perfect summer getaway from Fukuoka, located just 45 minutes away by car. What is less well known is that many of Itoshima’s main attractions start their season in the winter, and it has become especially popular for its winter oyster season.
Itoshima’s beauty is found in its relative isolation from the metropolis of Fukuoka, meaning it is best explored by car. With the help of Budget Rent-A-Car, Fukuoka Now sent four adventurers into the field for 12 hours to explore the best of winter in Itoshima.
Here’s their report.
08:00 – Budget Tenjin Kita
At 8am sharp, we met at Budget Tenjin Kita, conveniently located just 10 minutes walk away from Fukuoka’s main Nishitetsu Fukuoka (Tenjin) Station. Documents* at hand, the paperwork was quickly and easily out of the way, even with our non-existent Japanese, and we soon had our car: an B-Class Mercedes-Benz (¥7,000 for 12h) For those on a tighter budget, Budget also offers small cars (660cc) for as little as ¥4,860 for the same 12 hours. We plugged in our first destination into our English speaking built in electronic navigation system and were then ready to roll!
Budget Rental Car
• Tel: 0120-054-317
(*Documents: Driver’s Licence, International Driving Permit, Passport)
09:00 – Forest Adventure Itoshima
A 45 minute drive on the highway took us to the center of the Itoshima Peninsula. From the coastal road we took a long, winding road high into the mountains, the view becoming more and more impressive as we ascended. Eventually, in the heart of a dense pine forest, we reached our first destination: Forest Adventure. Forest adventure is an aerial assault course suspended high above the forest floor with swinging logs, high wires and impressively long zip lines. Fear not, however, for you are safely secured by an easy to use system of carabiners attached to your harness.
We were guided through the basics of fun and safety by the exceptional English and devilish cool of Chikarashi Tetsuori, a two-year veteran of the forest walkway and amazingly, for someone who spends their day 15m off the ground, a former acrophobe. The course itself was great fun, even for the vertigo prone of us, and it was only the thought of an early lunch that eventually pried us away. Reservations not required, but we recommend you call before heading out especially weekends.
Forest Adventure Itoshima
• 312-390 Nijo Ikisan, Itoshima
• Open: 9:00~14:30 *until 12/24 this year (open dates for Jan & Feb not decided, call in advance)
• Price: Adult (over 18) ¥3,600, Children (Under 18) ¥2,600
10.30 – Itoshima Vista & Shiraito Waterfalls
We descended the mountain towards the coast intending to head straight to the oyster huts. However, we were stopped in our tracks by the panoramic views. Just below Forest Adventure was a raised viewing platform which gave us a vantage point over the whole of the Itoshima Peninsula, stretching east all the way to Fukuoka. From the viewpoint we followed signposts to the Shiraito Waterfalls, an impressive 15m cascade nestled in the forest a short distance from a pleasant looking restaurant that offered great views over Itoshima.
• 360-1 Shiraito, Itoshima
• Tel: 092-323-2114
11.00 – Sumiyoshi-maru Oyster Hut
The panoramic views continued almost to the coast where they were replaced by the picturesque Itoshima coastline. As we entered the small fishing town of Kafuri, the smell of seafood cooking in the oyster huts made our stomachs growl in earnest. The kaki-goya (oyster huts) themselves are full of character and each is family owned and run. Each hut is a temporary structure, built specially for the winter oyster season. We chose the highly recommended Sumiysohimaru Oyster Hut. Inside, benches surround hot coal barbecue pits (one per table) over which the seafood is cooked.
Surprisingly for a country renowned for its consumption of raw fish, oysters in Japan are eaten cooked, and are more delicious for it. Even more surprising was the size of the oysters. This year’s rainy summer is thought to have increased the nutrient content of the sea meaning this season’s oysters are gargantuan specimens. The oysters were served alongside Sumiyoshimaru’s speciality ‘hamaguri’ and bowls of oyster rice and shrimp too.
The oyster season continues until March so be sure to check it out before the season’s end. Prices: 1kg ¥1,000~, hamaguri ¥100~200, Oyster rice ¥300, etc.
• 1196-18 Kafuri, Itoshima
• Open: 9:00~17:00
12.30 – Mataichi Salt Factory and Kalaku Handmade Soap Making Studio
With our appetites sated, we drove along the coast to the Mataichi Salt Factory. By this point in our adventure, we had discovered the bluetooth audio on our car’s stereo and were in high spirits as we drove beneath the clear blue sky. The salt factory was located on a spit of land on the eastern shore of Hikitsu Bay. The factory used traditional manufacturing processes to make its salt, first running seawater through a bamboo structure for 10 days until it becomes highly concentrated with salt. It is then left for two days at high heat and then for one more at a slightly lower temperature as it absorbs flavour from the wood furnace beneath. This produces fine, white salt that has become a local speciality, used by many high-end restaurants to flavor their fish. The salt factory has a small shop and cafe, selling ‘my salt is very, very tasty’ t-shirts and the odd-sounding but delicious salt pudding (¥350~ / takeaway also available) , similar to a crème brûlée but infused with factory’s salt crystals.
Mataichi no Shio Salt Factory
• 3757 Shima Keya, Itoshima
• Open 10:00~17:00 *Closed in bad weather
Within walking distance of the salt factory was another local boutique, The Kalaku soap Studio. The studio’s shop sells a wide collection of soaps and bath salts which can be sampled in store and make a perfect souvenir or gift for family or friends.
Kalaku Handmade Soap Making Studio
• 3728-6 Shima Keya, Itoshima
• Open: 11:00~17:99 *closed: Wed. & Thu.
14.00 – Keya’s Roadside Market
Our day was set to finish on one of Itoshima’s beaches, but once again we were diverted. We soon spotted a roadside vegetable market in Keya where we were able to sample and buy local produce to take home in the car. Itoshima is internationally renowned for its fresh fruit and vegetable produce and was recently visited for this very reason by Rene Redzepi, head chef and owner of Noma, voted the best restaurant in the world. The market neighboured a sumo practice ring giving us an opportunity for a quick wrestle before moving on. If we had more time we would have taken a short tour boat out to the seaside caves of Keya no Oto (http://www.keyaotokankousha.jp/ / Tel: 092-328-2012) – next time!
15.00 – Meoto Iwa
Next up was the Meoto Iwa, also known as the husband and wife rocks. Visible from Itoshima’s coastal road, the two rocks are united by a rope and have become known as one of the most romantic spots in Fukuoka prefecture. Despite the high tide, we were able to skip out to the tori gate for photos in front of this spectacular landmark.
16.00 – Sakurai Shrine, Dover
Meoto Iwa has links to the Sakurai Shrine which lies in the mountains above the rocks. The shrine is both ancient and tranquil and is known as a local ‘power spot’. A walk in the forest of massive camphor trees is supposed to imbue the walker with power. Certainly the car seemed to drive even faster after the visit. Here we were taught the correct rituals for praying to the shrine’s gods and tied our fortunes beneath the shrine’s ancient wooden auspices.
• 4227 Shima Sakurai, Itoshima
Shortly after leaving the shrine we happened across Dover, a crafts shop set up and run by American-artist James Dover in a former miso factory. The building’s lofty glass ceiling and open plan layout floods the studio with light making it a beautiful location to display a wide variety of local and imported craft products. Dover also runs art an art school for kids and adults alike and the studios far wall acts as a canvas to the art of wildest imagination. Dover is another great stop to pick up gifts and souvenirs for friends and family and its beautiful array of products.
• 4656 Shima Sakurai, Itoshima
• Open: 12:00~17:00 *Closed Tue.
17.00 – Nogita Beach & Hinode Cafe
We finished on Nogita Beach where we played frisbee, collected shells and paddled in the sea. Nogita beach is next to one of the best surfing beaches in Itoshima and we watched with awe as the surfers road massive waves, protected from the cold sea by nothing but a wetsuit and their own skill. As night drew near, we were treated to a beautiful sunset, the clear blue sky turning deep shades of amber and red, mirrored in the sea below. Just above the beach was the Hinode Cafe, a homely joint with a roaring fire. The fresh vegetables of Itoshima reappeared inside the cafe’s speciality tacos, packed tight with a choice of meat, fish or cheese.
• 2457 Shima Nogita, Itoshima
• Open: 11:00~ Sunset *closed: Thu.
19.00 – Back to Budget
After gorging ourselves silly at Hinode, we returned to Fukuoka and to Budget Tenjin Kita to return our car and finish our days adventuring.
Itoshima is an area perfect for a day trip but also one that could be enjoyed for much, much longer. Over 12 hours we were treated to some of its best attractions, food and natural spectacles, but there is still much to explore. We can’t wait for our next Itoshima Adventure!
Author: Oscar Boyd
Oscar is a student from London, UK and is a keen hiker aiming to summit every mountain in Fukuoka visible from his bedroom window.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now (fn192, Dec. 2014)