Okayama Prefecture is a popular area on the west side of Japan which boasts many islands, islets, and beaches and attracts both Japanese and international visitors. This area of Japan is both picturesque and historical and is a great place to explore and enjoy!
In particular, the Seto Inland Sea region has long been a massive quarrying hub which has supplied stones to build some iconic monuments in different parts of Japan. Let’s visit Kitagishima, which means ‘Granite Island’ or ‘Stone Island’, and has some amazing places to see that look like something straight out of an episode of The Flintstones!
Did you know that stones mined on the tiny island of Kitagishima, which is a part of the larger Kasaoka Archipelago and within Okayama Prefecture, were used in the construction of the walls of giant castles such as Osaka Castle? Did you also know that the stones found here, alongside stones found in Oshima, Imabari and Aji, Takamatsu, are of utmost quality and were once transported to many areas of Japan?
The prefectures of Okayama, Kagawa, and Ehime have long been a famous for supplying amazing stones to build not just castles, but also various other buildings and stations. For example, the ‘Kitagishima Stones (or simply Kitagi Stones)’ can be found in major stations such as Tokyo Station, popular shrines including Meiji Shrine, and many others.
Apart from the naturally formed stone shapes, the whole island is also filled with different rock art. One such piece is a watchtower made of rocks which have been carefully aligned. If you visit this island, you will be welcomed by the stunning stone architecture which showcases the craftsmanship of the Japanese.
You can find perfectly carved rocks that resemble human faces and other various shapes such as a spiral ring shaped structure near one of the piers that is very popular. Usually most of the sightseeing tours here focus on the Toyoura Port as it has several amazing structures to view. However, there is also another district called Kanafuro where you can find fascinating giant shaved rock hills and limestone quarries. There are also breathtaking quarry lakes which look green and amazingly beautiful. This is because Kitagishima had been heavily quarried in the past, resulting in wonderful lakes and pathways!
There is also ‘cat rock’, which has a cat face carved onto it, and has been attracting tourists lately because of its unique story. During the Mizushima War in 12th century A.D., there was a boat that sunk near Kusunoki Port in the East. However, a small cat escaped and it swam across the sea to reach the place where the cat rock currently lies.
In order to commemorate the never-ending spirit of the cat, the rock has been shaped intentionally. However, interestingly, there are people who argue that it naturally formed as a result of erosion. If you want to see this rock, you may have to take a small boat as it is not easily reachable, but its well worth the trip!
Hina Matsuri is a medieval Heian period festival for women and girls. It is celebrated all across Japan, usually in early March. During this event, you can find many dolls made of paper and lanterns floating all across the rivers in different prefectures of Japan. However, this festival has many different variations depending on the place. Nagashi Bina is one such variation, and Kitagishima holds a Nagashi Bina event every year. You should go to the Oura area of the island to witness this fun event, which attracts many tourists.
If you wish, you can simply rent a bicycle and see all the rock designs and stone pits scattered across the island. Although the island has long been the ‘Stonehenge of Japan’, it has not been a massively popular spot perhaps due to its small size. However, it is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Okayama Prefecture and want to combine history with an island break!