From Fukuoka, the faraway is closer than you think. Within a direct plane or ferry ride lie some of Japan’s best-kept secrets: outlying islands that look and feel a world apart. Whether it’s spectacular landscapes, mouthwatering local produce or unique culture you’re after, you’ll find it all across the water – plus a warm welcome to boot. Courtesy of the Re-TO Project, which aims to help the rest of the world rediscover these hidden treasures, come with us on a video tour of five islands within easy reach of Fukuoka: from otherworldly Iki to the tropical Goto Islands, mysterious Tsushima to magical Yakushima. You’ll wish you were there.
Re-TO MOVIE: Iki
Our first stop is Iki, an island full of stories and spirits. You can feel their presence everywhere: in the hundreds of monkey statues dotted around the island, in its dozens of Shinto shrines, even – as one local guide explains – in the raindrops that gather on each leaf on a wet day. It’s not just spiritual pleasures Iki has to offer. As chefs will tell you, the local produce is so good it barely requires cooking – from freshly caught squid to tender Iki beef, which comes from cattle raised surrounded by the sound of sea waves. There’s plenty for your other senses too, from watching movies under the stars at the island’s outdoor film festival, to meeting dolphins at its water park, to staying in unique accommodation in the home of a diver and her fisherman husband. Let them show you around.
Re-TO MOVIE: Tsushima
Next, come to Tsushima and take a journey back in time. Visitors have been landing on the island for many hundreds of years: archeologists have turned up a trove of Iron Age artifacts on its shores, including many from other parts of Asia. Today they’re in museums, but you don’t have go inside to see Tsushima’s long history: it’s everywhere on the island itself, whether you’re strolling through the ruins of its 1,300-year-old castle or kayaking between tiny islets dotted across Aso Bay – they were once hilltops, but long-ago geographical shifts turned them into islands. The centuries have left Tsushima with many unique features: a rare kind of leopard cat, wild boar fattened on acorns from native trees, and mineral-rich sea water that makes the locally produced salt and soy sauce exceptionally delicious. We don’t yet know all of the island’s secrets, but there is one we can tell you: what goes into a signature Tsushima burger? All is revealed below.
Re-TO MOVIE: Shin-Kamigoto Town, Goto Islands
White sands, crystal waters, lush vegetation and, peeking through the leaves, statues of Catholic saints… Are we in the Philippines? Nope, this is Shin-Kamigoto in Japan’s Goto island chain. Christian refugees sought sanctuary here hundreds of years ago, which explains how Shin-Kamigoto got its pretty white church. But its other sights are all natural: the rising and setting of the sun over the water, the changing of the weather as clouds descend from the mountains, and a spectacular night view of stars and fishing lamps reflected on the waves so brightly that you can’t tell where sea ends and sky begins. As one of the island’s residents puts it, it’s something that everyone should see at least once in their lives. Watch the video to get a glimpse.
Re-TO MOVIE: Goto City, Goto Islands
Look up Goto in a guidebook and you might find a mention of historic Dozaki Church, one of the oldest in Japan, or Takahama Beach, famed for its pristine waters and soft sand. But ask anyone from the area and they’ll tell you that the best thing about Goto is the people. People like Mrs Shirahama, who welcomes visitors to her shop and guesthouse 365 days a year – and says they never leave without promising her they’ll be back. Or people like the Hiroyamas, who delight in teaching children on their first trip to the coast how to love the sea, and walking guide Ms Nakao, who takes travelers to the centre of a volcanic crater and has them lie down in the grass so that they can feel “wrapped in nature”. Watch below to meet them and more of Goto’s star attractions – its locals.
Re-TO MOVIE: Yakushima
You may have already heard of Yakushima and its ancient forests, home to Japan’s oldest known tree and inspiration for the Studio Ghibli epic, ‘Princess Mononoke’. But visitors who stick to its most-trod trails risk missing the rest of its magic. That’s why one guide says he always advises hikers to take their eyes off the ground: look up and there’s plenty more to see, from the moss that covers the boulders to treetops waving in the breeze. Or venture out of the tree and into the island’s villages, where you can learn its lesser-known stories – and even some new words in the local dialect. Or take to the water: let Yakushima native Mr Mitsuzono (better known on the island as “Mr Topknot”) take you on one of his sunrise canoe tours down the Anbo River with no one but the birds for company and he promises you’ll see the world through the eyes of a child again. Don’t take our word for it: see for yourself.