The island of Nogutsuna is a haven of peace and tranquility in the Seto Inland Sea. The island offers scenic views, plentiful wildlife, and a first-hand account of what Japanese life is like outside of major cities.
Nogutsuna is accessible from the port of Matsuyama, and is technically part of the greater Matsuyama city area. The island is known for producing mikans (a famous local orange variety), and its rustic harbor is a popular fishing destination.
Nature hikes, fishing, and wildlife
After arriving at the Nogutsuna port, it is impossible to miss a tree-covered hill directly opposite the docking area. There is a stunning lookout located at the top of the hill, directly overlooking the harbor and offering a 360 degree view of the surroundings. From the top, you can choose to descend the hill in several different directions. At the bottom of the large wooden stairs, next to the ferry ticket building, is a helpful map of the island, which is only 5.7 kilometers wide and easily walkable.
One outstanding part of the Nogutsuna harbor area is its prolific amount of marine wildlife. Hundreds of tiny fish swim around the dockside, under and around the many small boats in their moorings. Larger fish can be spotted occasionally, but the real prize is the presence of plentiful seabirds, gliding majestically through the air or drifting along with the currents below. The most prominent and bold birds are the grey-faced buzzards, which rule the local skies, and congregate in groups of four on the top of corrugated iron shed roofs, or along the small concrete barriers between the footpath and the sea.
Cormorants and herons of various sizes and colours are also present, with several white herons nesting around the area. The birds take turns fishing in the shallower parts of the water, craning their necks curiously before swooping across the surface of the water and scooping out smaller fish with laser precision. It is fascinating to watch the birds at work, and easy to understand why Nogutsuna is a prime fishing destination for humans and birds alike.
Traditional Japanese life and architecture
The town’s architecture is also a point of interest for visitors wanting to see traditional Japanese buildings. While there are some newer buildings, the townscape has plenty of old houses, occupied by families for generations. There are also several local shrines, which are beautiful and serene. At the Usa Hachiman shrine in particular, the only sound that can be heard is birdsong from the treetops above.
However, despite the natural beauty and traditional value of the area, Nogutsuna suffers from the same malady that many other rural communities in Japan do: depopulation and ageing. While the silence of the town is tranquil and soothing, and the local obaa-chans are happy to greet visitors, there is a certain sense of absence. Occasionally, you’ll come across an abandoned house, its interior now used as storage, with vines and branches growing out of the structure. The most immediate of these feelings of absence, however, comes from seeing the old school, originally established in 1877.
Previously, because of a lack of children on the island, there had been an initiative to bring students from the nearby city of Matsuyama over to the island school on a short-term basis. However, in 2009, the school finally closed. Today, its grounds serve as a reminder of times gone by. An island with a school, but not enough children to keep it open.
Ecotourism and wildlife cruising in the Seto Inland Sea
Nogutsuna is perhaps better positioned than some rural communities to deal with this problem, however. It is only an hour-long ferry ride away from Matsuyama, on the Nakajima line. The boat ride has splendid views despite the cheap ticket cost, and is spectacular on a clear and sunny day. On the way, there is a chance of encountering dolphins, porpoises, and even great white sharks (all from the safety of a large ferry).
While the number of ferries between Matsuyama and Nogutsuna are limited, they are reliable, and the island is a great day trip for visitors who want to explore a different side of Japanese society. It is not difficult to imagine that, if this ferry ride was marketed and priced differently, it would be a popular wildlife and nature sightseeing cruise.
The island of Nogutsuna, despite its proximity to the larger Matsuyama city, is the kind of place where the port’s ticketmaster personally asks you where you’re going, and taps you on the shoulder when the boat arrives. It is a quiet and beautiful retreat for nature lovers and recreational fishers, as well as an example of real Japanese life outside of major city centres. For anyone wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of urban Japanese society and exchange crowded trains for peaceful ocean views, Nogutsuna is a great destination.
How to get to Nogutsuna Island
Nogutsuna Island is on the Nakajima ferry line, departing from Takahama Port in Matsuyama. There are three return trips every day, with tickets costing 690 yen each way. Takahama Port is directly across from JR Takahama Station, which is on the local Matsuyama train line and not far out of the central city area. Tickets can be purchased at the Takahama ferry ticketing office, a small building with a waiting lounge visible after getting out of Takahama Station. Another option is to depart from Mitsuhama Port in Matsuyama.
- Nakajima Kisen ferry timetable:
- Ticket price list:
- Nogutsuna port location:
- Takahama Station location:
A travel writer and wildlife enthusiast currently based in Shikoku, Japan. Having previously lived in New Zealand, I'm especially interested in exploring places with a focus on ecotourism and the natural environment. Highlights of my experience in Japan so far include being mobbed by rabbits on Ōkunoshima, sleeping in a beachside Mongolian yurt on the art island of Naoshima, and countless trips around the many natural wonders of Shikoku.
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