Little island, big views: Scenic beaches blessed with Okinawa views and Kagoshima culture.
Clownfish swim about as your glass-bottom boat zips over Yoron’s pristine waters out to the “disappearing beach.” Ahhhh, heaven. Secluded sandbars accent the paradise life that awaits at Yoron Island, a beautifully remote part of southern Japan with white-sand beaches and lively festival culture. Yoron is actually part of Kagoshima Prefecture, despite being 600 kilometers from Kagoshima City.
Kagoshima is perhaps most well known outside of Japan for its UNESCO World Heritage Site of Yakushima Island. While Yakushima is renowned for its hiking, waterfalls, and wildlife, Yoron Island is its more southern, relaxed counterpart.
Local island life
Located much closer to Japan’s main tropical getaway, Okinawa, than Kagoshima, the island makes a point to celebrate the many nuances of both cultures.
As part of the Amami Island chain, Yoron is surrounded by coral reefs. Just 5,000 locals live in this subtropical climate that sees hot summers and mild winters. Another local vibe to the island is that the native language is known as “Yunnu Futuba,” according to the Yoron Island Tourism Association. While it is close to Japanese, it actually contains a larger range of sounds.
Yoron Island boasts unreal shorelines with over 60 beaches surrounded by turquoise waters. One of the top reasons Yoron sees visitors is because of its beach that famously disappears, Yurigahama Beach, which makes for one of the most #blessed-able Instagram posts ever.
Yurigahama Beach is a unique and enticing reason to make the trek out to this remote island in the East China Sea. Its marine life is ripe for scuba diving and Yoron can accommodate any level of scuba diver.
Attractions and events
Of course, this is a beachy paradise, but it has a rich history, too. One attraction is The Southern Cross Center, which is the island’s museum. Learn about the island’s unique star-shaped sand granules, its agriculture, and the general history of the Amami Islands. Plus, check out some traditional costumes from Yoron’s festivals, including its awesome Full Moon Festival.
The Yoron Minzokumura (Folk Village) is a traditional village where you try your hands at traditional crafts. Get creative with a few workshops for fabric making and kusakizome (color dying), and learn about making brown sugar from sugarcane. Please keep in mind that guides and workshops here are currently only in Japanese.
The islanders have the Jyu-go-ya (Full Moon Festival) not once but three times a year in March, August, and December where they pray for a good harvest and do traditional dances in the Ryukyu (Okinawan) and Kagoshima styles.
Yet another surprise hidden on this small island is its sumo wrestling matches. Though they are with students from around the islands (not professionals), visitors can watch in October at the culmination of the harvest festival. Last, to celebrate the coral found all over the island, check out the Sango Matsuri (Coral Festival) every August.
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What to eat on Yoron Island
All in all, the island offers about 30 places to eat, with different menus on hand. English is limited but the staff is accommodating, and that is part of the adventure anyway! One of the most surprising features of the island is its white-walled Greek Village. It’s less a village and more a building, but it has a great view of the ocean and you can grab some pizza and visit the local cafe here. (Some English is spoken by a few staff.)
Know before you go
Transport on the island is decent, though there are no trains. However, you can get around daily via public bus, taxi, or by renting a car, moped or bicycle, as long as you have the proper driving credentials. You can also rent boats to do various attractions around the beautiful island.
The drawback to this island is that it is going to be expensive to get to unless you are already in southern Japan, but that’s all part of the adventure.