Geography

Awaji Island (淡路島 Awajishima in Japanese) is a not-terribly-large island that marks the eastern boundary of the Seto Naikai Inland Sea of Japan. The southern tip lies a mere kilometer off the coast of Shikoku, and a bridge now straddles the Naruto Strait, famed for the whirlpools that form as the tide flows in an out. Some 50 kilometers away, the northern tip is not far from the port city of Kobe on Honshu, and the immense 3.5 km Akashi Kaikyo Bridge now connects Awajishima to the mainland. Politically (and in geographic terms somewhat oddly), despite its proximity to Shikoku, Awajishima is a part of Honshu's Hyogo prefecture.

History

Awajishima has some claim to being the oldest settled area in Japan; the Kojiki mentions it under the name Onokoroshima and burial mounds (kofun) dating back thousands of years have been found on the island. The ningyo joruri puppet theater, which has evolved into bunraku, seems to originate from Awajishima. Very little evidence of any of this remains though, and today's Awajishima is a typically Japanese densely populated but still rural area, famed primarily for its onions. The current total population hovers around 150,000, and (unlike most rural areas in Japan) is slowly on the rise due to the improved connections to the mainland.

Awajishima made a highly unusual but brief appearance on the world stage as the epicenter of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 that killed over 6000 people. However, Awajishima was (and remains) far less built up than the suburbs of Kobe across the bay, which took the brunt of the damage.

Sights

Aside from whirlpools and burial mounds, Awajishima's main claim to fame are its beaches, especially on the more sparsely settled northern coast. They're nothing spectacular by international standards, but a popular nearby summer getaway for Kansai-ites just the same, and Awajishima has many campgrounds that cater to the budget traveller. There are also a number of hot springs (onsen), the best known of which are Awaji's largest town Sumoto and the mildly radioactive(!) waters of Iwaya adjacent to the northern bridge. Scattered here and there are a number of herb and biwa (loquat) farms. The southern coast, however, is essentially one long semi-urban sprawl filled with the stinkscent of ripening onions; the only breaks in the monotony are a fairly hideous (but huge) concrete statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon and the inevitable Onokoro Amusement Park.

Getting There and Away

By far the most popular option is the cross-island expressway, which will get you from Akashi to Naruto for around 5000 yen in tolls. A more affordable option than private cars are highway buses, which charge around 500 yen for crossing the bridge and e.g. 1500 for a one-way trip from Kobe to Sumoto. Even cheaper and more scenic, but available for the northern crossing only, are ferries that cross from Akashi to Iwaya for a mere ¥310 on the slow boat (all of 24 minutes) or ¥420 for the fast boat (a zippy 13 minutes).

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