Shiraishi Island, Japan

Credit: Japan National Tourist Organization
This palace located on Shiraishi Island, Japan is believed to house the ashes of Buddha.
Jill Schensul, travel editor for the Bergen Record Newspaper in NJ, wrote an article on May 22 called “Paradise Plus,” about numerous islands that are like paradise. She included Shiraishi Island in Japan in her list.
Schensul wrote, “Shiraishi (population 800) is in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, which separates two of the country’s four main islands, Honshu and Shikoku. You reach the island from a half-hour ferry ride from the port town of Kasaoka, near Okayama. On this one unspoiled chip of the Far East, you can hike to the top of a forested mountain and gaze upon a sea dotted with islands; you can walk the sandy beaches or wander the village streets and admire the magical bonsai trees.
And this remarkable experience is also one of the best bargains in otherwise pricey Japan. Thanks to an innovative program designed to attract foreign visitors to this little-known corner of the Japanese countryside, you can spend a night on Shiraishi for about what you’d spend on sushi for two in Tokyo.
In the early 1990s, six villas were built as part of a government/business effort to promote tourism around rural Okayama Prefecture, to which Shiraishi belongs. Billed as “Japan’s only country-style inns for international exchange,” the villas are reserved for the exclusive use of non-Japanese. The management supplies twice-a-week maid service, linens, kitchen equipment, a washer-dryer and other basics. The price: about $30 per person per night, or $25 if you purchase a $4.75 two-year “membership” in the villa network.
The island is mercifully uncrowded; the peak of peak season (summer) comes during the Shiraishi Odori festival, a colorful nighttime folk dance event that attracts large numbers of visitors Aug. 14-16. Those are the days of obon, Japan’s annual pilgrimage of urbanites to the rural homes of their ancestors.
If you’re not enjoying the beach, you can sidle up to the Moooo! Bar, a rustic establishment operated during the summer months by Ohioan Amy Chavez, or rent a kayak from one of several laid-back proprietors along the beach and paddle out to a tiny islet with a Shinto shrine. For about $70 per person, a local sailboat operator will take you on a two-hour trip to natural hot springs on nearby Sensui Island.
Well-marked hiking trails lead you all the way around the island in a couple of hours – longer if you stop for a picnic. Don’t forget to say ohayo gozai masu (“good morning”) or konichiwa (“good afternoon”) to the folks you meet along the many paths. As in America, country ways are more friendly and polite than those of the big city.
Shiraishi’s population is mostly elderly, and many of them practice the art of bonsai, the uniquely Japanese way of growing miniature potted versions of pines and other large trees. The road into the village is lined with gorgeous gardens. Also popular here is the ancient martial art of kendo, or “the way of the sword.” A stylized form of samurai sword fighting, it is practiced with bamboo poles by combatants in scary face masks and elaborate black body armor. But no one gets hurt. You can watch all day.
And no one will rush you in laid-back Shiraishi.”
Visit the Okayama International Villa Group, or 011-81-86-256-2535 for more info.