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

Japan Travel
* * * * * * * * 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.
(http://www.terrielloyd.com)

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...]

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You can also contact Terrie directly, at terrie.lloyd@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)

...The information janitors/

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Interested applicants should email neil@metropolisjapan.com for details
-----------------------------------------------------------

---------- ICA Event - Friday 29th September ----------------

Title: "Tokyo IT Professionals Networking Party"
Date: Friday 29th September, 2017
Time: 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Cost: $35 USD (members), $60 USD (non-members) Open to all and no
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https://afceatokyo.org/event/tokyo-it-professionals-networking-party/
RSVP: By 5pm on Monday 25th September 2017
Venue: New Sanno Hotel, 4-12-20 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047
---------------------------------------------------------
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