Tanegashima Island Guide
Tanegashima Guide 種子島
- History of Tanegashima
- Museums & Attractions
- Tanegashima Beaches
- Food & Local Produce
- Getting Around
- Tourist Information Offices
- Access - Getting There
- Map of Tanegashima
- Japan City Guides
Tanegashima Space Center, Kagoshima Prefecture
Tanegashima is an island off the southern coast of Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu.
Long, thin and fairly flat, stretching 57 km, Tanegashima has a population of just over 33,000 people.
The highest point of the island is only 282 meters above sea level and the land is just 10 km at its widest point.
The major towns on Tanegashima are the port of Nishinoomote on the north west coast, and smaller Nakatane and Minamitane in the south.
Tanegashima is the second largest after Yakushima of the Osumi chain of islands (大隅諸島 Osumi-shoto) that stretches down to Okinawa in the south.
These include Yakushima (屋久島), Kuchinoerabu-jima (口永良部島), Mageshima (馬毛島), Kuroshima (黒島), Iojima (硫黄島), Takeshima (竹島), Showa Iojima (昭和硫黄島) and Denshima (デン島).
Friendly, beautiful and unspoiled Takeshima is definitely worth your time, however. At present, it remains a relatively undiscovered gem.
The island's relatively few visitors include surfers and space fans, the former come for the great waves and beaches while the latter arrive to see the launches of Japan's state-sponsored space exploration rockets.
Tanegashima (lit. "Seed Child Island") certainly has an explosive history and more of that next.
Monument to the first landing of Europeans in Japan, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Pistol Museum, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Tanegashima has a long history with remains and artifacts from the Yayoi Period found at the Hirota and Yokomine sites. The island is first mentioned in the Nihon Shoki of the Nara Period. From this time on the island was on the early trade route between Sakai near Osaka and Ningbo in China.
The ruling Tanegashima clan later became retainers of the Shimazu in Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima Prefecture) during Edo times.
One single event, however, that occurred in Tanegashima in the 16th century was to change the course of Japanese history.
In 1543 a Chinese junk carrying three Portuguese traders including one António da Mota was shipwrecked off the south east coast of the island during a typhoon.
The island's authorities came to investigate and were fired on with a warning shot by the crew. Communicating in Chinese characters the locals learned that the ship was from China and agreed to tow it by row boats to a safe haven for repair.
The ship's crew stayed on Tanegashima for six months and during this time passed on the secret of making firearms. The island's skilled knife and scissor makers were able to reproduce the weapons in quick time once they had learned the secret of the metal screws that held the pieces together.
This new and lethal technology was to lead to Japan's eventual unification first under Oda Nobunaga, then Toyotomi Hideyoshi and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu after the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600.
The Pistol Museum, in the main port town of Nishinoomote, is constructed in the shape of a 16th century European ship (a common motif seen all over the island). It relates the history of this fateful encounter and displays a large collection of both Japanese and other nations' firearms.
Another shipwreck in 1885 again showed proof of the islanders' incredible friendliness and hospitality. The American ship Cashmere bound for Kobe from Philadelphia was wrecked off the coast in a violent storm.
The 12 survivors were rescued, cared for and eventually repatriated. In return for this act of great humanity the US Senate granted a gratuity to the islanders which was used to establish two elementary schools in Anjo and Iseki. Memorials to the event can be seen in both places.
Tanegashima Space Center
Akaogi Castle Cultural Museum Gessoutei
Museums & Attractions
Tanegashima has several interesting museums in addition to the Pistol Museum (aka the Tanegashima Kaihatsu Sogo Center - Teppokan).
The Tanegashima Space Center on the south east coast of Tanegashima is the island's major attraction for most visitors.
Tanegashima is the largest launch site for Japan's space agency JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). The agency maintains a large rocket launching pad (Yoshinobu Launch Complex), a building for assembling satellites, mission control, tracking stations and other facilities here.
The museum, located south of the main launch site, tells the story of the development and achievements to date of Japan's impressive space industry and its related technology.
Other museums include the Akaogi Castle Cultural Museum Gessoutei in Nishinoomote - a former samurai residence constructed in 1795.
The Furuichi Family House in the Nakatane district of Tanegashima is over 150 years old. It is the former house and garden of the village headman and his family and is designated as an Important Cultural Property.
Located close to the house is the largest sago palm in Japan. The towering tree is now within the small Sakai Shrine and is supported with wooden beams.
The Tanegashima Akagome Museum is a short drive from the Space Center. On display are exhibits related to the cultivation of red rice on the island and the shrine rituals at Homan Shrine surrounding it.
In the north of the island Appoland is a large, pleasant park and children's playground centered around a lake. The island's indigenous deer can also be seen in a fenced compound. The relatively high land here is also used for paragliding at nearby Amamegakura.
Further north at the very tip of the island is Kishikazaki Lighthouse from where there are views back to Kagoshima and Mount Kaimon aka "Satsuma Fuji" on a clear day. Also in this northern part of the island is Urata Beach with its adjacent camp site. Turtles come to lay their eggs nearby.
Also in the north is the small Urata Shrine and areas of natural mangrove. Sugar cane is cultivated here on a large scale along with the island's signature Annou sweet potatoes, used in the production of the local shochu.
Dotted around the island are banyan trees some of which, growing on either side of a road have formed a beautiful, natural arch. One of the most picturesque is in the village of Anjo on the east coast.
Annou sweet potatoes harvested and bagged, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
View back to Kagoshima from the Kishikazaki Lighthouse on the northern tip of Tanegashima
Cape Kadokura is the southern tip of the island near where the Chinese ship carrying the three Portuguese ran aground. Here there are monuments to the arrival of the first Europeans, a small shrine and, of course, a replica of a 16th century galleon.
The island's shrines have an interesting variant of the shimenawa or holy Shinto rope with a single large twist in the middle.
The Matchlock Preservation Society dresses up in period costume and puts on firing displays using replica guns at periods throughout the year. Check with the Tourist Information Office at the port in Nishinoomote for details.
Up the south west coast is Shimama Port which has a daily ferry to Yakushima. It is here too that the huge rockets arrive by ship from the mainland headed for the launch site on the opposite coast.
Shimenawa at a shrine at Cape Kadokura, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Monument to the coming of the gun at Cape Kadokura, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Tanegashima is blessed with some glorious beaches. In general, the west coast is more rugged and more suited to surfing with an open sea and strong winds whipping up some high waves.
The east coast is more sheltered with numerous sandy beaches. It is more favored for swimming and snorkeling. The turtle beaches are mainly on the eastern and southern shores.
Heading south from Nishinoomote on the west coast Yokino Beach is particularly lovely and wild. There's a store selling local pottery here and a monument to the first sweet potato plantation in Japan planted with sweet potatoes brought from Asia.
Further south are a pair of rocks, Otatsu-Metatsu, joined by a holy rope before you come to the vast expanse of Nagahama Beach which extends as far as Shimama Port.
On the east coat Kumano Beach is a superb location for swimming in the summer months. The water is shallow and there are a number of picturesque islets in the bay.
Adjacent to the sands is the Nature Recreation Village which has accommodation in tents and basic cabins from 2,000 yen a night. The center also rents out outdoor tables, chairs and BBQ equipment. Nearby is the Nakatane Town Onsen Resort Center with ocean views from its baths.
Further down the coast is the Tanegashima Mangrove Park on the Oura River. Visitors can kayak along the river to explore the mangroves in a very natural environment.
Still further south is another beach with some interesting rock features. This is Hamada Beach and the natural caves and rock arches of Chikura-no-Iwaya.
Near the Space Center, Takezaki Beach has more interesting rock formations known as the Elephants' Watering Place (Zo-no-mizunomi).
Up north near Anjo is Kanehama Beach, a wide stretch of often deserted beach reached by a steep walk down to the sands and sea.
In Nishinoomote after a hard day at the beach relax at the Akaogi Hot Spring, which is associated with the three star Tanegashima Araki Hotel. There's a variety of relaxing pools and a fearsome sauna.
Kumano Beach, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Chikura-no-Iwaya, Kumano Beach, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Tanegashima Cuisine & Local Products
Tanegashima grows rice, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, green peas and various kinds of exotic fruit including tankan oranges, mango and passion fruit. Add to this the riches of the surrounding sea: flying fish, bonito, broad-finned squid, Tokobushi abalone, amberjack, red frog crab, spiny and locust lobster and blue sprat.
Wash all this down with the local shochu and you can see why the island has a serious reputation for fine dining.
The port and main town of Nishinoomote has some excellent restaurants to try the local cuisine.
There are several shochu distilleries on the island with two in Nishinoomote and one each in Nakatane and Minamitane. Pottery is another local product with a number of kilns and outlets in Nishinoomote.
Ako Banyan Arch, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
There are buses connecting the three main towns and two buses a day run from Nishinoomote to the Space Center, but hiring a car is easily the best way to explore the island.
Prices range from 6,500 yen upwards for a day hire. Taxi is another option but more expensive. In Nishinoomote try Ichimaru Taxi (Tel: 0997 22 1010) or Hayashi Taxi (Tel: 0997 22 1411).
Bicycles and motorbikes can be hired and the island is quite flat. Bringing your own on the ferry is probably the best option.
Tourist Information Offices
There are Tourist Information Offices at Tanegashima Airport and at Nishinoomote Port. They have excellent maps and brochures with information in English for all your travel needs.
Yokino Beach, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Accommodation in Tanegashima
There is a range of available accommodation on Tanegashima from budget minshuku guest-houses to higher-end western style hotels. In Nishinoomote try the recommended Inomoto Honkan Inn (Tel: 0997 22 1100) which has several associated restaurants, the more upmarket Hotel Lexton Tanegashima, the budget Ryokan Miharusou or the three star Tanegashima Araki Hotel.
Elsewhere on Tanegashima are Zeus House, a guest house on the east coast, Minshuku Seiryukyo and the two star guest house Ebinoyu in Minamitane.
Tanegashima Airport, Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture
The island of Tanegashima can be reached by either ferry or by air.
New Tanegashima Airport is located in the middle of the island and has about around six flights a day to Kagoshima Airport (35 minutes). Kagoshima Airport connects to the major airports in Japan including Haneda, Narita, Itami (Osaka), KIX (Kansai International Airport), Fukuoka and Chubu International Airport (Centrair).
Both a Jetfoil and two slower car ferries (Hibiscus & Princess Wakasa) connect Kagoshima Port with Nishinoomote Port. The high speed ferry takes 95 minutes with the slower, cheaper ferry 3 hours, 30 minutes.
A daily ferry plies between Shimama Port in the south west and Miyanoura in Yakushima continuing on to Kuchinoerabu-jima.
Princess Wakasa Ferry bound for Tanegashima at Kagoshima Port
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Tanegashima Island guide: Tanegashima is a beautiful island off the coast of Kagoshima famous as the place where the first Europeans set foot in Japan.