Terrie's Take 915 (Tourism Edition) - Just Minutes from Kobe, but Awajishima Stuck in a No-man's Land

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Sep 24 23:33:49 JST 2017

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Sep 24 2017, Issue No. 915

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+++ Just Minutes from Kobe, but Awajishima Stuck in a No-man's Land

Several weeks ago, as part of our 2018 national cycling tours planning, 
I visited one of Kansai's most popular cycling locations, Awajishima 
(No. 2 for local cyclists after Lake Biwa), located right between Kobe 
city to the north and Shikoku's Naruto to the south. Awajishima is 
popular with cyclists because it has a 150km road system that hugs the 
coastline for most of its circumference, hence offering great views of 
Osaka's Kansai International Airport (KIX) in the morning from the 
eastern side, and flaming red sunsets in the late afternoons from the 
western side. Furthermore, because the island is so small and the waters 
flowing around it are so active, there is seldom snow and thus you can 
cycle even in winter. Yeah, it is chilly though.

So it's ironic that with all the cyclists heading to the island that you 
can't actually get there by bike!

Perhaps because of the timing and the lack of popularity in cycling back 
in the late 1980s when the Akashi-Kaikyo and Naruto bridges were built 
to connect Honshu with western Shikoku by a 6-lane expressway, but more 
likely because of some hidden bureaucratic agenda, the powers that be 
neglected to allow anyone other than vehicle owners and bus passengers 
to gain land access to Awajishima. No trains, no pedestrians. This not 
only seems terribly unfair to tax payers not owning cars, but 
short-sighted as well, since although Awajishima is just mere minutes by 
bridge from the megapolises of Kobe and Osaka, the fast expressway to 
Shikoku ensures that precious few travelers stop at the island, and so 
the local economy is a shambles. And it shows.

I was in Awajishima to visit one person in particular, Yamada-san, who 
is in his early 50's and who chose some years ago to retreat from a 
well-paid job in Osaka to return to Awajishima and open what is still 
the only cycling shop on the island - an eclectic store-cum-cafe where 
you can make friends with his pooch Heizo while sipping on excellent 
coffee and chatting about road and weather conditions. Yamada-san is, 
btw, bilingual and his place, Circolo, is perched right just above the 
sea wall emanating out from the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge area on the eastern 
side of the island.

http://bit.ly/2xy1zwY (Circolo cafe site and some nice bikes)

Yamada's bikes are top of the range carbon bikes, and we often use them 
for upmarket guests wanting cycling experiences in and around the Kansai 
area. Yamada is extremely accommodating and will deliver as far away as 
Kyoto - for a fee of course.

[Continued below...]

------- Gourmet Ride Event in Tohoku - Last Call! ---------

Join Terrie in a new cycling experiment in Japan's far north. These two 
riding-gourmet tours organized by Tokyo's Cuisine Press magazine are 
reminiscent of the Portland and Sonoma Century Gourmet cycling 
experiences - only you don't have to do 100 miles to get a meal! The 
"experiment" here is that if enough people join the events, both the 
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=> Two-day cycling tour in the beautiful countryside of Aomori and 
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and local hosts. Learn more and join us!

Dates: Saturday 30th September thru' Sunday 1st October, tours include a 
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Details & Registration: http://or-waste.com/?p=22

Date: Saturday 14th October
Details & Registration: http://or-waste.com/?p=1177

These events are hosted by The Cuisine Press Inc., email us: 
jointheaction at or-waste.com
You can also contact Terrie directly, at terrie.lloyd at japantravel.com

Anyway, on this particular August day, I was there to join him in an 
informal guided tour of the island, checking out the roads, the 
attractions, the hills to avoid, and the ones that you can't. We got 
lucky with the weather and although gray skies formed from an 
approaching typhoon, it stayed fine the whole day.

I mentioned the local economy being lousy. The thing that strikes you 
about Awajishima is that it's an island that Japan forgot after the 
bubble of the 1990s. The shoreline is pretty much concreted the whole 
way around and the streets are bereft of beautification. This really 
hurts what would otherwise be a superb coastline. My impression is that 
the local economy hasn't recovered since the 1990's boom when the 
national government was paying the island to supply most of the landfill 
for KIX airport, which btw is even now still sinking about 7cm a year. 
As a result, many of the island's residential buildings and public 
attractions are run down and unattractive. The roads themselves are in 
reasonable condition, but you have to look for (and know about) the gems 
that make Awajishima a desirable place to go to.

So what does the island have going for it?

1. Awajishima is really close to both Kobe and Osaka. In fact, the main 
reason I got interested in it as a destination is because recently the 
local authority on the Awajishima side (in Sumoto city) recently decided 
to resume a long-suspended ferry service, that plies a route between 
Sumoto in the middle of the island directly to KIX international 
airport. It's hourly and only JPY1,800, including the free bus service 
to get you to the dock from the nearby airport terminal. Of course the 
service is poorly publicized, and so I didn't see a single foreign 
tourist on the boat, although I did see a few Japanese out-of-towners 
with small "spinner" suitcases. Instead of the Sumoto-KIX connection, 
most inter-island travelers will take the more frequent and reliable 
northern ferry between Iwaya and Akashi (Kobe). This route sails under 
the massive central span of the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge, which is still the 
longest single-span suspension bridge in the world.

2. If you're a cyclist, Awajishima is a perfect two-day excursion, where 
you might hop the above-mentioned Iwaya-Akashi ferry and stay the first 
night at the rather nice Westin hotel at the north end of the island. 
The next day you can ride right around to the southwestern end and stay 
at a luxurious resort/country club called the Anaga. Apparently Bill 
Clinton stayed here some years back, and it's still just as exclusive 
and appealing. The Anaga has a great view from every room of the Naruto 
bridge, and of course access to the famous Naruto whirlpools. Special 
note: there are a couple of BIG hills right on the south end of the 
island, so be ready for those - spectacular views, though.

3. And that brings us to the main reason people come to Awajishima - 
which is the boat trip on the south end to the whirlpools. Now I've seen 
plenty of whirlpools at the other side Shikoku, from the Kurushima 
bridge (the last on the Shimanamikaido before hitting Imabari), so I 
decided to forgo the boat trip this time around, however, the region is 
known as one of the top 4 fastest water passages in the world. On a peak 
spring tide the current draining out through the Naruto Strait into the 
Pacific can be as much as 2m higher than the Pacific side. Needless to 
say, this and the local geography help to create the world's largest 
diameter whirlpool vortex - about 30m across.

I mentioned before that pedestrians are not allowed on the bridges in or 
out of Awajishima. In fact there are tours you can take on the Akashi 
side of the Akashi-Kaikyo bridge, even scaling the massive support 
towers in the center span. Then on the south side on the Naruto bridge, 
the Tokushima local government has managed to install a 450m 
glass-bottomed pedestrian walkway out over the whirlpools - spectacular 
- and a good reason to go to Naruto in Tokushima. But pedestrian access 
to either bridge from Awajishima itself? Forget it. The tourism 
infrastructure on the island dropped dead 20 years ago once the central 
government stopped paying to get its land fill for the airport.

I asked Yamada why the Awajishima tourism folks hadn't woken up to the 
opportunities sitting right on their doorstep. He resignedly agreed and 
said that he has spent years trying to convince local authorities to 
combine their resources and invest in getting tourists to stop over. 
Unfortunately while the island's population has dropped to about half in 
the last 30 years, to just 150,000, there are STILL 3 local authorities 
competing for tax dollars. Tourism is the last thing on their minds when 
they have aged care, schools, bus services, and the other two 
authorities to worry about. Clearly they need help and perhaps a Hyogo 
Prefectural Government mandated island-wide merger of those 
bureaucracies would be just the ticket.

4. Awajishima does have some real gems, once you find them. Take for 
example the 7-hectare Nadakuroiwa Suisenkyo daffodil fields which cover 
the entire side of a coastal hill and number about 5m plants. Or the 
millions of seasonal blooms on display at the England Hill flower park, 
which has some resident koalas too. Or the natural iron-rich onsen, 
large public parks, centuries old temples - including one reputed to be 
one of the country's oldest, incense factories (Awajishima is Japan's 
largest producer of incense and you can stop by and make your own), and 
most importantly some very good sake breweries...! :-) I stopped at the 
Sennichi brewery, which was built about 100 years ago, and hasn't 
changed much over that time. Of course they have a tasting room 
upstairs, and it's completely free to try. It's very much a working 
brewery and the lack of polish really adds to the aura of authenticity.

http://bit.ly/2xpGRQI (England Hill site)
http://bit.ly/2fJbnuY (Daffodil hillside)
http://bit.ly/2wKz7cB (www.japantravel.com's top 10 list of things to do 
in Awajishima)

Lastly, although I'm a vegetarian, Yamada told me that the best burgers 
in the whole of the Setouchi region (Inland sea region) come from 
Awajishima. He's not kidding. The shop in question, the Awaji Island 
Onion Kitchen (AIOK), apparently won first place in a national 
competition in Tottori in 2013. What you may also not know is that about 
70% of the world-famous Kobe Tajima beef actually comes from Awajishima, 
and the AIOK folks are putting a huge slab into burgers for local 
customers. They even have one particular burger that sells for about 
JPY3,500, which inserts a massive 250gm steak in between two buns and 
some locally grown onions and other veges. Apparently the burger costs 
JPY4,000 in ingredients, so they limit  orders to just one a day...! 
Great loss-leader PR, if only more people knew about it.

http://bit.ly/2ym1Pgn (Burger picture is here)
http://bit.ly/2xp1Umr (Competing burger shop)

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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