A remote island in the Setonaikai National Park, Nakajima is blessed with a rich natural environment, gentle weather, mountains tinged with the bright colors of numerous citrus fruit orchards, and the quiet, retro beauty typical of Japan’s smaller islands still imbued with the comfort of a slow-paced way of life. Not only is Nakajima a great summer retreat offering pristine beaches and water activities, but it is also a nationally-successful model when it comes to sustainable ways of promoting regional revitalization. Jump with me on a Green Slow Mobility cart and tour the island, slowly savoring its many charms and eco-friendly initiatives!

Enjoy the Comfort of Slow Life on the Nature-Rich Nakajima

About 10 kilometers offshore from Matsuyama City, the bustling capital of Ehime Prefecture, is Nakajima, the larger of the Kutsuna Islands, a group of 30 islands of which 9 are inhabited. Measuring only 21.2 square kilometers, the island is a quaint and quiet corner of Japan teeming with retro ambience and soothing sights. As part of the Setonaikai National Park, Nakajima offered me sublime blue seas and panoramas of natural splendor that are renowned for their beauty throughout the seasons. Summer is particularly appreciated, as the island boasts off-the-beaten-path white sandy beaches, perfect to enjoy water activities as well as relaxation infused with sea breeze and spectacular sunsets.

The mild climate of the Seto Inland Sea also contributes to thriving citrus fruit farming and fishing industries, with a speciality of the Matsuyama area being extraordinarily fresh sea bream served as “tai meshi,” featuring delicate sea bream sashimi over rice. All these sights and flavors added to the ease that Nakajima brought me while I was discovering the joys of island life.

As Nakajima is located right in the middle of an east to west sea route in the Seto Inland Sea, it has always been a place full of maritime traffic. In the late Heian period (794 – 1185), it became the base to the powerful Kutsuna Clan’s naval force, the “Kutsuna Suigun,” who extended their influence over the western part of the Seto Inland Sea. They ruled the area throughout the Kamakura (1185 – 1333) and Muromachi (1336 – 1573) periods, dominating vital routes of commerce that supplied the imperial court and taxing everyone sailing through those routes. Remains of their strongholds can still be found around Nakajima!

In recent years, similar to many other remote islands in Japan, Nakajima suffered from a decline in population which went from around 10,000 to about 2,300 in a few decades. To resolve the situation, the local governments started a series of initiatives. One of these is the Triathlon Nakajima Tournament, a nationally famous competition held in August every year which has become a summer tradition on the island and features heated competition in swimming, biking, and running. The event attracts around 300 to 400 participants and about 1,000 visitors each year and allows interaction between visitors and locals while infusing the island with excitement and vitality, showing younger people from urban areas the charms of Nakajima.

Learn About Regional Revitalization and Sustainability Through Nakajima’s Environmentally-Friendly Initiatives

When Matsuyama was selected as the “2020 SDGs Future City” and “Municipal SDGs Model Project” by the Japanese government, the city decided to collaborate with some stakeholders through the “Smart Island Model Project” and tackle Nakajima’s population decline and aging and energy vulnerability by utilizing renewable energy and sustainable mobility.

Nakajima started its sustainable metamorphosis in 2021 with the introduction of a solar power system and green slow mobility vehicles. Charged with solar energy, these electric vehicles can run on public roads at speeds of up to 20 km/h and accommodate up to 4 passengers. Compact and eco-friendly and with no CO2 emissions, they can be used in a variety of ways, positively impacting the island’s livability. Nakajima’s nursing homes take advantage of the vehicles for outings and pick-ups, Hoshifuru Terraceーone of the island’s accommodation facilitiesーrents them out to guests, and they were also used as part of educational experiences about Nakajima’s natural environment, global warming, SDGs, and smart island initiatives.

The solar power system also have the double function of supporting Nakajima’s fragile energy supply system by increasing the amount of locally produced energy dedicated to local consumption, expanding storing capacity, and securing energy that can be used in the event of power outages and disaster prevention. They very quickly became an invaluable resource towards improving wellbeing on the island.

Explore an Island Tinged With the Colors of Citrus Fruit and Breathtaking Marine Views

Taki Shrine’s torii gate

With an island circumference of about 20 kilometers, I could leisurely ride one of the Slow Mobility carts around to fully take in the charms of Nakajima’s numerous natural wonders and sightseeing spots. Roads followed the silhouette of the island, just a few steps away from the pure waters of the Seto Inland Sea. Never too far from that glimmering tranquil expanse, with the peaceful sound of the wind and waves as accompaniment to my exploration, I immersed myself in a scenery dotted with quaint villages of wood and retro allure, little family-run shops, and “torii” shrine gates erected facing the immense blue horizon.

With such long-established traditions of maritime navigation, it’s no wonder many of the island’s shrines were built close to the coastline, enshrining deities granting parishioners safe voyages. One of these is Taki Shrine, where I stopped by because of how fascinated I was by the seamless blend between the marine panorama and the shrine’s sacred grounds. Framing the sea with its torii, this shrine emits a simple sense of beauty and is dedicated to the gods of water, navigation, and the navy.

My fun ride around the island was also enriched by the joyful sight of Nakajima’s citrus fruit orchards, ripe and almost ready to be picked. Cascading from the island’s slopes to the open sea or growing on hilltops, the groves are so abundant that the entire island becomes tangerine-colored and pervaded by the fragrance of the citrus blossoms at certain times of the year.

Here, the brilliant sunshine and sea breeze blowing off the Seto Inland Sea nurture around 30 kinds of citrus fruits, so sweet and rich that Nakajima is considered one of the most famous citrus production areas in the country and most of the residents are employed in the industry.

Spend Your Time By the Sea at These Fabulous Accommodation Facilities

Nakajima also offers some magnificent accommodation options with views of the sea by day and pristine starry skies at night. Renovated in 2020, Hoshifuru Terrace Himegahama is one of these facilities, making for a perfect retreat and sightseeing base.

Not only can visitors stay and eat here, but they can also rent out camping equipment and barbecue sets, indulging themselves in all kinds of year-round enjoyment.

Hoshifuru Terrace Himegahama’s Western-style, Japanese-style, and dormitory rooms all overlook Himegahama Beach, a white sandy beach stretching about 500 meters. It is considered one of the best locations on the island to soak in the beauty of the Seto Inland Sea, swim, or just enjoy the sun. During summer, the beach is even equipped with “Splash Beach the Nakajima,” Seto Inland Sea’s only marine athletic facility with slides and platforms floating over the sea.

Although bustling with beachgoers during the summer months, I visited in autumn and could appreciate a more tranquil version of it, just taking my time admiring the vast sea before my eyes.

Also located near Himegahama Beach is THE BONDS, another great option for those wanting to stay overnight on Nakajima. Opened in 2016, the facility only has 9 rooms.

It is run by a lovely couple aiming to create a new style of accommodation that incorporates the friendly environment of a guest house and the delectable meals of a “ryokan” traditional Japanese inn or hotel. They use seasonal ingredients that are specially sourced in Nakajima or Ehime Prefecture from people and services that the owners personally know and trust.

At THE BONDS, guests can enjoy the Seto Inland Sea from up close at the nearby Himegahama Beach – renting the facility’s stand up paddle boards, floats, boats, fishing gear, and other equipment for all sorts of summertime fun – or from the spacious rooftop area overlooking the sea.

Enjoy a Full Day on Japan’s Sustainable and Smart Island, Nakajima

Teeming with historical and natural wonders, Nakajima is an untainted island renowned for its incredibly delicious citrus produce and breathtaking views of the Seto Inland Sea. While preserving the scenery and the slow-paced daily life of past Japan, it’s also engaged in a wide variety of sustainable initiatives that aim to create a smart model for other remote islands and regions.