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Japan: Kagoshima: Amami Oshima Island (奄美大島)

Situated south of Kagoshima Prefecture is the island of Amami Oshima (lit. Big Amami Island),  famous for its natural beauty and brightly colored coral reefs which make it an ideal diving spot. The island is part of the Amami Island chain consisting of eight islands and has been under the occupation of several domains.

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Initially it belonged to the Ryukyu Kingdom and served as a stopping off point for envoys traveling from Japan to China. In 1609, Amami Oshima was invaded by the Shimazu clan and incorporated into their official holdings in 1624. The island was incorporated into Osumi Province (later Kagoshima Prefecture) after the Meiji Restoration and  was occupied by the United States after WWII.  In 1953, control of the island was finally reverted back to Japan.  Saigo Takamori, was one of the most influential samurai in Japanese history, was exiled on the island in 1859 for a period of two years.  His house has been preserved as a memorial museum.

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Saigo Takamori

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Saigo Takamori’s house

Approximately 95% of the island is covered in forest which includes over a quarter square miles of mangrove. The surrounding waters are a clear, deep blue and home to several species of tropical fish. From June through August of each year, hundreds of sea turtles come up on shore to lay their eggs.  The phenomenon draws hundreds of visitors to the island at nighttime.

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Since 1974, 19,420 acres of Amami Oshima has been designated as part of Amami-gunto Quasi-National Park and the lands have been protected ever since. The northern part of the island, where Amami Oshima Airport is located, is dotted with white-sand beaches and beautiful coral reefs, a popular resort area for divers. The island produces a special silk product known as Oshima Tsumugi silk and there are over 400 factories located within Amami City, the only city among the eight islands.

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The island is easily accessible from Haneda Airport. It is a 2 hour and 35 minute flight from Haneda to Amami Oshima Airport.

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So if you want to experience the unspoiled natural beauty of one of Japan’s remote islands, a trip to Amami Oshima should be on your agenda.  But do be aware of the Habu snake. The venomous pit viper inhabits roughly 70% of the island.

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