A seaside resort that’s a window to the world

Japan always surprises me. In the best way. Two hours from the shiny surface of Tokyo, my plane circles a mountainous green island. It could be the Caribbean but instead, it’s a Unesco World Heritage site that’s part of Japan. 

By Keith Edwards

The island of Amami Oshima, part of the Kagoshima prefecture, shelters an ancient culture, inextricably tied to its geography, flora and fauna but also inseparably part of Japan. Here tourists meet with locals far from the hustle and bustle of every day life.

From a huge window, in my villa-like room at The Beachfront Mijora, there’s a stunning view of the beach and the East China Sea. Unbidden it invites itself in. The polished concrete walls seem to metamorphosize and become part of the jagged rocks. Crashing waves counterpoint the silence. And the sand, deliberately ungroomed, becomes my personal natural Zen Garden. 

A few steps up from the beach, the dining room is similarly startling. A single immense wood counter gazes out to sea. It’s here that a bottle of Amami Kokuto Shochu, rare and unique to this island appears. Distilled from rice and brown sugar, it’s matured to the strains of Beethoven. Really! 

Chef meanwhile consigned to a micro, open kitchen, conjures up his fresh sashimi bedecked with edible flowers. Creatively combining local elements of seafood and tropical bounty, he charms with a tincture of European influence. 

As the sun sets and the clouds hue pink, my guide, Mikiko Horikiri tells tales of the ancient Amami people who believed their ancestor’s souls dwelled somewhere over the horizon. Because of this, orientation to the sea, even now, is an integral element of their culture.  

Mijora Hotel owner, Architect, Yashuhiro Yamashita has been leading a renaissance in this part of Japan: remote, culturally distinct, and overlooked. He’s eager to share the island’s wonders. Tonight, we join a village cultural preservation group performing the traditional Hachigatsu-Odori (August harvest festival) dance. The rhythmic drumming begins and I’m swept into a giant human circle of dancers—I try and fail miserably to execute their difficult dance steps. 

After a couple of exhausting dance rounds, I’m revived by shochu, and ready to dine before retiring to a traditional local house that’s been restored by Yamashita. Here I’m introduced to a good natured, but competitive, game of
Hashiken. One competitor hides up to three short sticks in their palm, the other egged on by bystanders, must guess the number. The loser quaffs more shochu. This is a rarely observed scene—Japan with its hair down. 

I was pleased with Amami’s culture and outdoor adventure offerings. The exquisite, rare and expensive mud-dyed silk weaving of Tsumugi Textiles, kayaking through ancient mangroves, walks in the Kinsakubaru primeval forest and night safari’s to glimpse the incredibly rare Amami Black Rabbit. If, as you will, develop a taste for Shochu, distillery tastings are a must. Sea based adventures include the hotel’s sunset cruise on a traditional catamaran that was custom made. In an increasingly homogenized world, Amami-Oshima is a breath of fresh air. Come! 



Homefront Recommends

Where to stay

Beachfront Mijora has a collection of good size accommodations. Homefront recommends rooms 15 or 16 on the beach or number 19, the two-story villa. Of note: Mijora would be challenging for those requiring accessibility. To explore the 20-kilometres long island, pre-book a rental car with GPS or, better yet, hire a local guide and driver. The roads are well-maintained but actively twist around the valleys. I recommended English speaking guide Mikiko Horikiri.


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