What kind of places should be considered when doing urban exploration? I think everybody has their own definition – I try to focus on abandoned modern ruins, but every once in a while I make exceptions (security on site, historic ruins), especially when the situation is ambiguous. *Gunkanjima* for example could be considered both a modern and a historic ruin, probably as it is currently transitioning from a classic urbex location to a tourist attraction. Similar arguments could be made for *Okunoshima* and the *Nakagawa Brick Factory*; while the first has proper barriers and information signs, the latter is a historic ruin without historians taking adequate care of it.
Tomogashima and its old fort I always considered a historic ruin that shouldn’t make it to websites about abandoned places as it reminds me of the countless historic ruins back home: More than 100 years old, accessible by public transportation, proper barriers and information signs, mentioned in tourist guides, partly or fully maintained. If you include places like that, you could keep yourself busy writing about hundreds or even thousands of castles in Germany alone. BUT: Tomogashima appears on most Japanese urbex blogs and I receive messages about legal “urbex” spots in Japan on a regular basis, so I guess it’s about time to dig up six year old photos and long repressed memories…
Tomogashima is a small island off the coast of Wakayama, right between Awaji Island and the mainland, in the Kitan Strait (紀淡海峡, Kitan kaikyō) – the fort and its cannons were prtecting the Bay of Osaka with cities like Kobe, Osaka and Sakai as well as quick access to Kyoto and Nara. Well, technically Tomogashima is a cluster of four islands (Jinoshima (地ノ島), Kamishima (神島), Okinoshima (沖ノ島) and Torajima (虎島)) – and when people talk about Tomogashima, they usually refer to Okinoshima (shima / jima = island, hence Tomogashima, not Tomogashima Island); the only one that is accessible by public transportation and the one of most interest to tourists. Take the train to Kada Station (near Wakayama City), walk to the harbor and take a boat to the island – four connections per day from March till November (except Tuesday and Wednesday), two the rest of the year; with a handful of exceptions (for example Golden Week and summer holidays), of course – your can *find the detailed schedule in Japanese here*. 2000 Yen for the roundtrip isn’t exactly cheap, but you are going off the beaten tracks… and those places usually cost a buck or two extra.
The islands were originally used by Buddhist monks for a practice called shugendō (修験道) back in the seventh and eighth century (to develop spiritual experience and power…), but are now famous for their ruins of Meiji era (1868-1912) military fortifications and a beautiful lighthouse.
And while Jinoshima, Kamishima and Torajima are indeed uninhabited, Okinoshima has in fact a low population running both a camping ground and a guest house (including a café / bar!) called Uminoya, making Tomogashima by definition neither abandoned nor uninhabited, no matter how many people on the internet claim differently! I know, the truth hurts sometimes, but Tomogashima is / are NOT ABANDONED! (There are even four (!) public toilets on the island…)
As for the brick fort, I guess you can consider it abandoned, despite the fact that some people still take care of it – putting up information and do not cross this rope signs… But like I said, for my taste those ruins are too old, they are too empty, they have too much historical significance. They are mentioned in all kinds of guides, are too well-signposted and attract thousands of tourists per year. That has little to nothing to do with urban exploration… but I hope you’ll like the photos anyway!🙂
When I made my way to Tomogashima back in 2010, it was much less popular than it is now, and I expected it to be really abandoned and full of spectacular military ruins – instead I found myself amongst tourists in what looked a little bit like an open air museum to me. In addition to that, the mid-July summer heat and humidity, the rocky paths and the fact that Okinoshima is a constant up and down quickly took a toll on me, so my expectations differed completely from reality.
Visiting Tomogashima makes a lovely day trip or even weekend trip though, when you know what you are in for – especially in summer! Okinoshima and Torashima are combined about three kilometers long, there are two signposted hiking trails and countless minor routes you can take, Okinoshima features several more or less rocky beaches, and you can actually learn something about Japanese military history. And if you are an anime fan, you might be excited to hear that Tomogashima reportedly inspired the Studio Ghibli movie “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” – though there are similar island all over Japan, so I wouldn’t bet on it without 100% verifying it…
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