Matsuyama’s citrus island retreat.
Lost in a world you didn’t expect during a trip to Ehime Prefecture, you’re hit by the fresh air with a hint of citrus while lounging on the beach. Nakajima is one of the remote islands off the coast of the bustling capital city of the Shikoku region, Matsuyama.
The island, approximately one hour by ferry off the mainland, is around 37 square kilometers, or about 3/4ths the size of the British isle of Bermuda. Its streets reverberate with the comfort of slow life, and when you get to Oura Port, the stillness sets in. In its prime, Nakajima had around 15,000 residents, though just about 3,000 locals reside there now, contributing to its main industries of citrus fruit farming and fishing.
At the ferry terminal, sometimes you’ll find obaachan (grandmas) selling fresh produce, but otherwise, you may wonder if this is actually a tourist destination. There are no trains on the island and buses run but not all-that often. Your best modes of transportation are walking, biking or hitching a ride, but that’s all part of the experience.
If you seek nightlife, this isn’t your hot ticket, but if you’re after remarkable pink lemonade sunsets, walks along the beach, swimming and discovering native island life among just a few other tourists, Nakajima is for you. In addition to camping spots, there are a few other cheap inns near the main beach area called Himegahama Beach. Nearby is an English-friendly spot to stay the night called The Bonds, a relatively modern inn owned by a Japanese couple. It is a beachfront two-story property with a massive rooftop area built for barbecues, parties, or just relaxing on a porch chair as the sun dips below the horizon.
During the day, you can grab a beer and food at one of a few nearby beach-side shops at Himegahama. Alternatively, you could walk about 20 minutes to the next door beach called Okushi, passing other small uninhabited islands like Takashima along the way. This sandy retreat is all-but-abandoned and a rare chance for introspection while bathing in the blue-green Seto Inland Sea.
Besides beach bumming it, you can do some hiking (there are a few mountains on the island), visit some temples and shrines such as Kurama Shrine (Map), as well as walk the streets and observe the abundant groves of mikan (mandarin orange) that make up a significant amount of the island. Nakajima is littered with haunting yet beautiful statues, as a remembrance of the historic 88-temple shikoku pilgrimage — an interesting fact considering that the island is not included in the pilgrimage path (according to the owners of The Bonds).
In August, the island gets busier when around 1,000 people gather for a triathlon held on Himegahama. There’s also a small festival in the fall, but the best time to visit Nakajima is in summer for sea-breeze-infused relaxation. While you’re on the island, try the signature dish of the Matsuyama area tai meshi with the freshest raw sea bream. All these sights and sounds add to the quiet relief Nakajima brings from the busy city.
Know before you go
Accommodation on the island ranges from about ¥5,500 to ¥10,000, often including meals. There are tasty-and-cheap restaurants on the island but are not always easy to find. There is a grocery store, Tominaga, about a 2-minute walk from Oura Port, but it closes in the early evening.