Tomogashima Island: Military Ruins and a “Castle in the Sky”?
On the Kitan Strait just north of Wakayama City is the small island cluster of Tomogashima. While you may think this are just a tiny island with nothing to offer, but in fact, Tomogashima is a quite popular. In 2016, Tomogashima attracted roughly 70,000 tourist from all over Japan. Despite being a great place for hiking, fishing, and camping, the park is most famous for the abandoned Meiji Period military structures present on the island. Many of the island’s artillery batteries are some of the only surviving examples of their kind.
The History of Tomogashima
When a ship, from fishing boat to large cruise ship, comes to Osaka Bay, it has to go through Kii Channel, and then the Kitan Strait. For all intents and purposes, this strait is the entrance of Osaka Bay. When Japan ended its period of isolation at the beginning of Meiji Period the Japanese government remained leery of the Western countries flocking to its shores.
Fearing that of those countries might try to invade Japan, the government built a series of forts throughout the country. Because Tomogashima is located at the entrance of Osaka Bay and because the Kitan Strait is narrow enough to accurately pin point and attack foreign ships, the Japanese government built a large fort on Tomogashima in 1890. The fort stayed in use until the end of WWII and the military prohibited the public from entering the island.
After WWII, the weapons were removed from the island and became a part of national park. However, some of the military facilities, including the fort, were not completely dismantled. These beautiful Meiji Era brick building eventually got people’s attention mostly because they bear a striking resemblance to the floating kingdom of Laputa from Studio Ghibli’s “Castle in the Sky”.
Getting to Tomogashima
Tomogashima is a bit hard to access. From Namba, take the Nankai Main Line to Wakayama-shi Station. After that, change to Nankai Kada Line and take it to the final station, Kada [加太]. It will take roughly an hour and thirty minutes to get to Kada from Namba.
After arriving in Kada, walk west towards Kada Port where you can board a ferry for Tomogashima.
Make sure to check the boat schedule before you go and plan ahead, since the schedule as it changes with the seasons. Particularly in the summer and during Golden Week, many people go to the island. At those times, wait times can easily take an hour or more, because the ferries often fill up. Unfortunately, you cannot book tickets in advance, so all you can do is come to the port as early as possible.
Also, there is no stores on the island and sometimes even the vending machines are out of service. Be sure to buy plenty of food and drinks before taking Nankai Kada Line because there are no stores near Kada Station or the ferry’s port!
While overall not very large, the island is fairly wide. Most of the biggest attractions are on the west side of the island and it should only a few hours to see everything. On the other hand, if you wish to see the entire island it will very likely take an entire day
Once you get off the ship and start walking around, you easily find the former military sites scattered on the west side of the island. However, some structures are badly dilapidated, so you are not always allowed to go in simply because it is too dangerous. Do not take unnecessary risks!
Among the ruins is Battery#3, located on the highest spot on the top of the island. It is the largest and most intact battery on Tomogashima Island, as well as the most iconic spot in Tomogashima.
Battery#3 stored a large number of the island’s cannons. These cannons were stored in a series of underground storage rooms. You can enter these storage room, but you will need to take flash light. Also, be aware that anything could be down there. The island is home to a great number of animals and cold dark tunnels are great places to rest. Specifically, we found a nest of giant crab spiders, the largest kinds of spiders in Japan. One was easily the width of my palm!
Around Battery#2 is the Tomogashima Light House, built by Henry Richard Branton, the father of the light houses in Japan. Surprisingly, the light house is still in use.
Near the light house, is an old military observatory called Sokoengai [装甲掩蓋]. This observatory was especially important because it allows people to accurately measure the angle and distance of opposing ships. Only two observatories like this still exist in Japan today, this one in Tomogashima and another is in Sasebo, Nagasaki.
Beaches of Tomogashima
If you go to the further was of the island, there is a beautiful shores of Tomogashima. While it is predominately rocky and not suitable for swimming, they are good place to see marine life!
One of the most famous shores on Tomogashima is Kosuke Matsu. This inlet is an ideal place to find many different kinds of shells, fish and crabs!