Enjoy the charm of a Mediterannean-style port town without leaving Japan

Not many people know that Oita Prefecture, located on the southern island of Kyushu, is home to a remote island so picturesque it’s been dubbed “The Naples of Japan“.

Called Hotojima, this tiny island welcomes visitors to its shores with a collection of multi-storey houses built up along the mountain slopes around its port, mimicking the beauty of a famous Mediterranean port town.

Home to a population of roughly 700, this sleepy village is yet to be discovered by international tourists. However, having been named as one of Japan’s 100 Select Fishing Industry Fishing Village Historical and Cultural Heritage Sites to be Preserved for the Future, there’s a lot of beauty to be found here for the intrepid traveller.

We took a trip to the area recently to give you an exclusive look at what the island has to offer, taking a high-speed boat from Tsukumi Port in Oita’s Tsukumi City, which cost us 880 yen each (US$7.97) one-way.

▼ There are six boats a day, with a one-way trip taking 25 minutes.

Even though it was a cold day, we couldn’t resist standing out on the deck to feel the sea breeze in our hair as we made our way over to the island.

It didn’t take long for the island to come into view, and as it grew larger on the horizon, we began to feel our sense of adventure heighten.

We’d heard Hotojima was a small island covering an area of ​​roughly four kilometres (2.5 miles), but it looked much bigger than we expected as we approached it.

As we entered the quiet, peaceful bay, the boat slowed and this glorious scene unfolded before our eyes.

▼ The mountainous terrain and its cluster of buildings loomed over our arrival.

Looking around, the landscape made us feel as if we were about to disembark at a scenic Mediterranean port city like Naples or Amalfi. Even the water had a similar crystal-clear, aquamarine sparkle to it.

We got off the boat, picked up a booklet from the information centre, and headed out to explore the island on foot. We were excited to find that the area was a maze of narrow alleys, making it feel like a historic overseas town.

Hotojima is one of the nation’s leading bases for deep-sea tuna fishing, with many locals involved in the trade. As we walked the quiet streets, we came across a post office, some small family-run food stores, and friendly locals who were keen to strike up laid-back conversations by calling out “where are you heading off to?” as we walked by.

One of the interesting finds we came across was a road sign on a footpath that read “Oita Prefectural Road 612“. With the width of this “road” narrow enough for a person to touch either side with outstretched hands, this has to be one of the narrowest in the country.

There are a few small cars on the island that use the narrow roads here, but there are also a lot of hand-drawn carts and wheelbarrows to help transport goods around the area.

Another thing we found during our travels were friendly, relaxed cats that appeared out of nowhere, meowing to us as we strolled by.

Walking around the island was an incredibly relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and as we waited for our return trip back to Tsukumi, we sat by the seaside and ate a leisurely, delicious lunch which was homemade by a local store recommended to us by the islanders.

We’d been hoping to eat at a restaurant that served a local specialty called Hyugadon, but unfortunately it was closed when we visited. We decided to come back another day, settling for a dish of Hyugadon at Tsukumi Port instead.

After arriving at Tsukumi Port, we headed to the restaurant to try “Tsukumi Hyugadon”. The simple dish consisted of a bowl of rice topped with slices of fresh tuna sashimi, garnished with sprouts, sesame seeds, shredded nori seaweed and a dollop of wasabi on the side.

Known as a fisherman’s dish, Hyugadon is said to have filled the bellies of hungry fishermen on board boats out at sea here for 100 years. The dish has been awarded the gold medal at the Oita Gourmet Grand Prix for two years running, and it’s easy to see why. It was fresh, hearty, and absolutely delicious! A perfect dish for a seaside town.

If you’re looking for friendly locals, delicious cuisine, and a laid-back, relaxed location where you can enjoy the fresh seaside air, Hotojima definitely deserves a place on your next Japan itinerary.

And if you’re looking to visit the Venice of Japan, that’s just a short distance away too.

Hotojima / 保戸島
Address: Oita-ken, Tsukumi-shi, Hotojima

Photos © SoraNews24
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