AWAJI ISLAND and TOKUSHIMA
A myth of the birth of Japan and bridge to the sea
The Akashi Strait Suspension Bridge (Akashi kaikyō ōhashi) connects Kobe, on Honshū, to Shikoku via Awaji Island. The longest suspension bridge in the world leads to lands steeped in myth and spirituality.
Awaji Island closes Osaka Bay and opens up to the Inland Sea. It is linked to the myth of the founding of Japan. The Izanagi-jingu shrine is dedicated to the divine couple Izanagi and Izanami, mythological creators of Japan.
As early as the 7th century, Buddhist monks took up residence on the Tomogashima Islands, west of Awaji. They practiced shugendō, a form of asceticism related to the mountains.
While the nation’s primary lands around Awaji and at the gates of Shikoku nourished the monks in meditation, they were also fertile in several ways. The richness of the soils and the abundance of rivers predisposed the region of Shikoku to engage in indigo dyeing.
But the fruitful story did not end there. A class of merchants enriched in Indigo were able to support the performing arts, especially the creation of the folk art of Awaji ningyō, traditional puppets. The Awaji ningyō Joruri, the puppet show, reached its peak in the Edo period. The tradition continues with the Awa-odori ("Awa's dance") festival, celebrated in Tokushima at O-bon time in August. These festivities at the crossroads of popular culture and religion show the importance of traditions on these islands, and the strength of the bond that unites inhabitants to nature and gods.
Izanagi Jingu Shrine in the center of Awaji Island is dedicated to the Kamis (Shinto “Gods”) Izanagi and Izanami, creators of Japan. According to the Records of Ancient Matters (Kojiki) and the Chronicles of Japan (Nihonshoki), after completing the great task of creating the nation and its Kamis, Izanagi spent the rest of his life in the land of Taga on Awaji Island.
This Shinto shrine is the most important on the island and is considered one of Japan’s oldest shrines. It commemorates the Kamis Izanagi and Izanami. According to the mythology, Kamis Izanagi and Izanami created the first of Japan’s islands.
Most of the buildings in the complex date back to the Meiji Era. The sanctuary has been designated as a Prefectural Cultural Property. Nine statues of Kamis were discovered there. They would represent Izanami-no-mikoto and date from the Heian to Kamakura periods. There are some remarkable trees there, including an 800-year-old sacred tree (a camphor).
The Awaji Ningyo Joruri puppet theatre has over 500 years history. Well established as a sacred seasonal event celebrating the blessings of the sea and the safety of fishing, the puppets, valuable works of art, perform stories of joy, anger, sorrow and humor with emotional narration and shamisen accompaniment.
According to mythology, Onokoro Island was the first Japanese island created by the gods. Various legends surround the local islands, Nushima with its giant towering Kamitategami rock, Eshima’s Iwakusu Shrine, Awaji Island’s Onokorojima Shrine, and Tomogashima, said to be the site of Katsuragi Shugen, the first ascetic practice of En no Gyoja, the founder of Shugendo.
The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge, connects Kobe City in Hyogo Prefecture to Awaji Island, while the O-Naruto Bridge connects Awaji Island to Naruto City in Tokushima Prefecture.
For over 400 years, the Awa Odori has been one of Japan’s three major Bon Odori dances, with around 100,000 energetic dancers performing to musical instruments. It is staged at various locations in Tokushima Prefecture on August 9, and the main event takes place over the next four days from August 12 to 15 annually in Tokushima City.
Yusanbako is a three-tiered lunch box unique to Tokushima’s Awa region. Yusan refers to the custom of going to play in the mountains, fields or seashore to honor the gods of fertility.
The whirlpools of Naruto, one of the world’s three largest whirlpools, are a natural phenomenon caused by the violent tidal currents of the Seto Inland Sea and Kii Channel. The whirlpools, which can reach 20 meters in diameter, are at their peak during the high tides of spring and autumn.
The seafood rich Kada region of Wakayama Prefecture is working towards maintaining a sustainable ocean. The beautiful coastline faces the Kitan Strait, where quality sea bream raised in the strong tides are caught in the Tomogashima area. Enjoy the local flavor of fresh sea bream caught one by one in the traditional method.