There’s a mysticism to this place that really makes it feel like a turtle could guide you to the Dragon King’s Palace.

A lot of places in Japan like to associate themselves with folktales, which gives them a tourist edge over other places. For example, a number of coastlines throughout Japan claim to be the setting for the tale of Urashima Taro, a story about a fisherman who, after saving a turtle, is invited to visit the Palace of the Dragon King at the bottom of the sea. The end of the story is even believed by some to have taken place in Nagano. As such, it’s rather hard to believe one claim over another.

But our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa thinks one place’s claims might actually be true. Amami Oshima is an island in the Amami archipelago, which is southwest of Japan between Okinawa and Kyushu. And though Ikuna would normally take such claims with a grain of salt, when she visited the island, she could feel a certain magic that made it believable as the setting for Urashima Taro’s tale.

The people of the island, which is so connected to the ocean and ocean life that there is an aquarium in the airport, believes that the Palace of the Dragon King has been bringing good luck since ancient times, according to an inscription on a statue of a “Wish-Granting Turtle” she found at the island’s northernmost point.

“Well,” Ikuna thought, gazing out at the crystal blue waters of the island’s beaches, “If the Palace of the Dragon King had to be anywhere, it’d be an island like this.”

Turtles are an important part of Amami Oshima’s culture, Ikuna learned. Turtle motifs were everywhere, and the word kame, which means “turtle” in Japanese, was used in many of the shops’ names. Ikuna, whose last name also contains “kame”, began to feel closer to turtles than ever before.

But one particular place really caught her eye while she was driving around the island: a building with something that looked like a turtle on top of it.

It was a seaside building about a 10-minute drive into town from Amami Airport. If you’re visiting Amami Oshima, you won’t be able to miss it, as it’s along the road that passes by most of the island’s points of interest. The building was painted in pretty colors, with a blue sea and sky, hibiscus flowers, and sea creatures. A bright rainbow stretched between clouds in the sky, and just above the rainbow was…

A statue of Urashima Taro riding a turtle! This was sufficiently shocking for Ikuna, but even more of a surprise was the stone monument beside the building.

This monument was engraved with “The Legend of the Amami Urashima Villa”:

“Urashima Taro and the turtle rest atop the roof of a villa overlooking the beautiful ocean and white sand beach. Since their placement, this place has been transformed into the Palace of the Dragon King. Depending on your dreams and passions, the doors to the Dragon King’s Palace may open to you. Welcome to the Amami Palace of the Dragon King, a place of peace and luck.”

Ikuna couldn’t tell if there was actually such a legend, or if it was just a joke. When she looked it up, she learned that the brightly painted building was actually a vacation rental home officially known as the Amami Kame House. It was built about 30 years ago by someone named Michiyo Maeda, whose name is listed on the bottom of the stone monument as the storyteller behind the legend.

Unfortunately, Maeda passed away several years ago, and Ikuna couldn’t find any more information about the origins of “The Legend of the Amami Urashima Villa”. Perhaps they are legends themselves. Either way, it made the island’s connection to the Palace of the Dragon King all the more interesting.

Behind the Kame House is a private beach for travelers staying at the property,  but Ikuna got special permission from the owners to take a swim, so she grabbed her goggles and snorkel.

The sky was a beautiful blue color, the sand white, and the water crystal clear–just like paradise. Ikuna thought that no one could come here without wishing to have their own private villa along these sapphire waters.

The day was pretty cold with a temperature lower than 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), but the water was surprisingly warm. The longer Ikuna swam, the colder the air felt, which was a bit of a shock when she came out of the water.

Still, the experience was amazing, because what did Ikuna see after 15 minutes? Sea turtles swimming around her!

The few minutes she had swimming with sea turtles had a strange effect of twisting time, like Ikuna had opened the mysterious box Taro received from the princess at the Dragon King’s Palace. The experience was so strange that she actually began to worry that the turtles were guiding her to the Dragon King’s Palace, so before they could lure her away completely, she scrambled back onto the shore.

Sadly, the Kame House was booked throughout Ikuna’s stay, so she didn’t get to see inside. But she thought that the villa’s beautiful beach was worth even more than the price of a night’s stay, and the place’s tangible yet mysterious connection to the tale of Urashima Taro and the Dragon King’s Palace made it all the more appealing.

If you plan on taking an island vacation sometime, definitely consider visiting Amami Oshima–where you can also find one of the best onigiri you might ever eat in your life–and booking a stay at the Kame House!

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