Izena Island – Izena-son, Japan - Atlas Obscura

Izena-son, Japan

Izena Island

Ruins and statues dot the landscape of this tiny island rich with royal history. 

Visiting this small isolated island feels like stepping into another world, a serene and beautiful one at that. What it lacks in size it makes up for with its natural beauty and rich history.

White sand beaches and coral reefs surround the island, while lush fukugi trees line the streets of the typically Okinawan villages. The island’s appeal goes beyond its gorgeous scenery—it has a number of cultural treasures, too, many of which are linked to power and royalty.

Izena Castle in particular is a sight to behold. The ruined stone fortress rests atop a bed of greenery. It dates back to the 14th century and was built by the son of a Yogura Chief in the Ryūkyūan gusuku style, meaning its walls are made with limestone and coral. This style of castle is vastly different to the ones found on mainland Japan.

The island was also the birthplace of Shō En, founder of the Second Shō Dynasty and King of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1469 to 1476. Remnants of his legacy are scattered around the island. A bronze statue of the former king can be found in a local park, and his portrait is emblazoned on the side of the ferry.

Know Before You Go

This small island is located 18.5 miles northwest of Okinawa’s main island and takes approximately one hour to reach by ferry. A round trip fare is 3,440 yen. Free campsites are available as well as bed and breakfast type accommodations.Taking the coastal road around the island, by bicycle or car, guarantees spectacular coastal views. As the island is not a typical tourist destination, the beaches are far from crowded. The island’s economy is predominantly agricultural, with sugar cane crops dominating the vegetation in parts of the island.