The golden sun warms your face as the sea breeze blows through your hair.
The thrum of the boat engine lulls you into a state of relaxation as the water's foamy white wake spreads like wings and then disappears into the horizon behind you. This is the typical feeling while on the way to Ojika, a small island in the northern reaches of Goto Archipelago in Nagasaki.
Ojika is not your typical tourist destination.
You won’t find lots of blaring neon, cheap plastic souvenirs, and metro din. Not even the ubiquitous convenience stores Japan is known for are in sight. Not one Lawson, Seven-Eleven, or Family Mart.
This is a deeper, kinder, more thoughtful Japan, one that holds onto the past and showcases what Japan was and still is at heart. Where local shops close early, where Sundays are entire days off, where slow life and connection to family and friends are what matters most. Welcome to the real Japan.
Here are the Top 7 wonders found in Ojika:
1. Wide Open Spaces
Even though Ojika is a small island (the main road circling the island is only about 10-15km long), there is quite a lot of open space to enjoy and feel the power and expanse of the surrounding sea.
Goryodaki, Hamasakibana, and the north side of Madara island are a few of the best places to experience this open scenery and catch gorgeous sunsets. Renting a bicycle and leisurely pedaling from secret spot to the next is highly recommended, as Ojika’s relatively flat topography makes this quite enjoyable and easy.
2. Kominka (Folk Houses)
Ojika still has a fairly high number of older houses, and that really adds to the character and mood of the island. Instead of walking through rows of boring grey concrete structures, you find yourself comforted by natural materials and textures.
Earth walls, wood siding, stone foundations; these are homes that were built from nature by skilled artisans.
The town has remodeled a number of folk houses around the island and converted them into higher end accommodations for visitors. They are quite popular, so reservations are best made well ahead of time.
3. Traditional Food
Ever tried something called “Boburazouse”? I doubt it unless you’ve been to Ojika! Made using kabocha (Japanese buttercup squash), millet, and often azuki beans, it resembles an orangish tapioca pudding. Its striking appearance, combined with the hearty flavor, mimics that of the Ojika people themselves: wild and friendly.
The local dish is in danger of dying out, as farmers in Ojika have nearly all stopped growing one of the key ingredients: millet. So it's a disappearing tradition that needs to be experience before it's gone.
Other local specialties include Kankoro (sliced, boiled, and dried sweet potatoes) Mochi, hand roasted peanuts, and of course being an island… fresh fish and other seafoods.
4. Uninhabited Island
Nozaki is 1 of 17 small islands that make up Ojika. The uninhabited island had three separate settlements scattered across its rugged landscape, a unique blend of one Shinto and two Christian communities. In the center of the island stands the old Nokubi church, built in 1908, which is part of a world heritage site nomination.
Two-thirds of the way up the side of a mountain sits Kojima shrine. It has been watching over Ojika and the surrounding seas for over 1300 years. Behind the shrine are two large stone spires jutting upwards to the sky, with a capstone resting horizontally across the top. Looking very much like a part of stonehenge, it is not known if the majestic formation is man-made or natural. The trek to the shrine can be difficult, and a guide is recommended.
5. History & Culture
The history and culture of Ojika is long and deep. Dating back to stone age times and including more modern history like foreign trades, Christian settlement, whaling and sake brewing.
With abundant farmland and shallow, rich seas, Ojika was relatively prosperous while the surrounding islands struggled with daily life. This led to a history and culture that differs from much of the rest of the Goto Archipelago.
One example of the living history alive on Ojika today is Shinkosha Letterpress Shop. It’s young and energetic 4th generation artist is striving to revitalize the printing business, as well as her home island. Handmade post and business cards are her specialty, and she offers a letterpress experience for those who want to get hands on!
6. The Simple & Slow Life
Life on Ojika is unhurried and free from some of the noise of modern society. You’ll find hardly any advertising signs, no mobile phone shops, and the locally-owned small shop still reigns.
As you stroll along the street you’ll get a smile and a hello from most everyone you pass. Many things are still made by hand, cooked over a fire outside, shared freely with relatives and neighbors. Who needs the bright lights and clamor of the city when you've got the milky way overhead and the lapping of waves at your feet?
7. The People
One of the biggest strengths of Ojika that is easily visible is the sense of community. There is a special energy here, an island spirit that is palpable from the moment you step off the ferry.
There is a feeling of being welcome, at ease. Community members take care of their areas with special work days, and events like the summer festival and town recreation day draw local crowds.
People here still practice rituals passed down for generations, like visiting the graves of their ancestors every morning, or seasonal ceremonies to pay respect to nature, spirits, or their forebears.