A remote treasure island with a long military history.
Head to a unique Japanese island that’s physically closer to South Korea than it is to Japan and you’ll find yourself on Tsushima. In fact, it’s only 49.5 kilometers from the Korean Peninsula, compared to being 138 kilometers from Fukuoka prefecture. Rather than falling under Fukuoka’s domain, however it is actually a part of Nagasaki prefecture.
Tsushima has long served as a prime location for assisting trade between the two countries, as evidenced in its history, architecture, and dialect.
Who owns Tsushima?
In 1905, the Tsushima Strait was the location of a decisive naval battle in the Russo-Japanese War. After the Japanese navy surrounded the Russian naval forces, only 10 of Russia’s 45 warships survived. You can still see remnants of Tsushima’s militaristic past, with 31 fortress ruins on the island.
Tsushima city today consists of six towns that were combined in 2004. From south to north, they include: Izuhara, Mitsushima, Toyotama, Mine, Kamiagata, and Kamitsushima. Each town has its own sights to see, so renting a car is suggested to cover as much as you’d like.
In Izuhara, where you’ll arrive first if travelling by ferry, you can check out several places of interest within a 15 to 20 minute walking distance of the port. To get a better understanding of the island, head first to Tsushima History & Folk Customs Museum. Then perhaps check out some of the nearby historical temples, old castle grounds, and samurai homes. Of these, one includes the Banshoin Temple, a temple built in 1615 that features a 100-step stone staircase.
Whether you’re an athlete or a beach bum, you’ll want to head up to Mitsushima town for its beaches. There, you can try out sea kayaking in Aso Bay or lay down a towel and tan away your day. Then there’s Miuda beach, Kamitsushima, where you can see one of Japan’s best beaches. With its white sand and lovely waters, it’s a great place to visit or camp nearby.
Tsushima is also a hiker’s goldmine, with its lush, ancient forests. Izuhara has Mt. Ariake and Mt. Tatera. Capture panoramic views atop Mt. Shiratake in Mitsushima. In Kamiagata, there’s the sacred mountain Mt. Mitake. If you do go hiking, be careful of snakes and wild boars.
Tsushima still maintains strong ties to South Korea through its nearest neighbor: Busan. The city can be seen from Tsushima in Kamiagata from a viewpoint near Nodo harbor and Ikuchi beach.
If you’re aiming to play a serious game of “I spy,” challenge yourself to spot a wild Tsushima Leopard Cat, a species unique to the island. Despite being designated a national natural treasure in 1971, the felines remain an endangered species and remain incredibly hard to see in the wild. To preserve them, five zoos spread throughout Japan are now breeding them in captivity. You can see several of them at the free Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center in Kamiagata.
Who owns Tsushima?
Some members of the South Korean government have continued to claim ownership of the island (known as Daemado in Korean) since the 1950s, though Tsushima is internationally recognized as being under the ownership of Japan.