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Hyogo: West Coast of Awaji Becomes Tourist Hot Spot

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Restaurants and glamping facilities line the coast in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, in early December. The area used to be a vacant lot.

AWAJI, Hyogo — When people hear the term West Coast, many might think of the beautiful scenery in places like Los Angeles. However, there is another “West Coast” that is great for sightseeing on Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture.

Compared to the east coast facing Osaka Bay, the western part of the island was left mostly undeveloped. However, restaurants and hotels have been constructed one after another in this area in recent years. The Awaji municipal government promotes the area by emphasizing its West Coast image while the magnificent ocean views draw attention on social media.

Photogenic places

There are restaurants, sweets shops and other facilities lined up along the coastal road in the northwestern part of the island. Customers can look out on the sea from terrace seats. The area is often crowded with families and young people coming from Osaka and other Kansai areas on weekends.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Women take a selfie by the sea in early December in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture.

The main feature in this area is the sun setting over the horizon, which isn’t easily seen in urban areas. There are many comments on social media about the scenery, saying, “It’s so beautiful and impressive” and “It makes me feel like I’m in a foreign country.” People line up to take pictures with their smartphones in front of a photo spot that extends out into the sea.

A 27-year-old woman from Tokyo visited the area with three friends in mid-November. “I saw pictures of the sunset on Instagram, and it was so moving. I felt relaxed both physically and mentally,” she said.

Courtesy of Balnibarbi
The sunset is seen from terrace seats at a restaurant in the West Coast area of Awaji Island.

Pasona builds attractions

Awaji Island’s eastern area has been the main tourist spot for years with its many hot spring inns. Docks for high-speed watercrafts and ferries connecting Osaka and Kobe with the island are also concentrated there.

On the other hand, the western side had been left mostly undeveloped, with many overgrown vacant lots. What brought new life into the area was the arrival of the Pasona Group Inc. staffing agency on the island.

In 2017, Pasona opened the Nijigen no Mori theme park in the northern part of the island, which allows visitors to experience the worlds of film, anime and games. Later, the company opened more tourist facilities, such as Hello Kitty Smile, and fully embraced the tourism business. In 2020, the company decided to relocate its head office to the island. It also opened a restaurant and a seaside shopping mall in the west coast area.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nijigen no Mori theme park
The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hello Kitty Smile tourism facility

The city of Awaji, located in the northern part of the island, promotes the area using the term “West Coast” in tourist guide leaflets based on the idea of Awaji Mayor Yasuhiko Kado. The description has become commonly known, being used in magazines that talk about the island.

According to the Hyogo prefectural government, about 50 new restaurant business licenses are issued in the city annually. The number exceeded 100 in fiscal 2021 for the first time and reached 73 in the first half of this fiscal year alone.

“Locally produced vegetables and fish are used in the restaurants, creating a virtuous cycle with the local industries,” an official at the municipal government said.

According to national population surveys, the city’s net migration, the difference between the number of people moving into the city and the number of people moving out, turned positive in 2020 for the first time in 21 years. Since then, the figure has been positive each year from 2020 to 2022.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Developed by outsiders

Balnibarbi, which operates restaurants in Osaka, Tokyo and other places, opened an Italian restaurant in the northwestern area of the island in 2019. The restaurant gained popularity for its menu items using local ingredients such as onions, whitebait and cheese. Now, the company operates 17 facilities on the island, including cottages and glamping sites. The annual number of visitors nearly tripled from two years ago to about 350,000 people.

“The sea and the sunset might be everyday landscapes for locals, but they’re great attractions for outsiders like us,” said Tetsuo Yamanaka, 41, the president of Toitoma, Inc., a consulting company which jointly developed the area with Balnibarbi.

“We would like to make use of these hidden tourism resources to further revitalize the area.”

As for the revitalization of Awaji Island’s West Coast, the Tourism Agency’s Regional Development Division says that the situation provides a valuable example as private companies from outside the island took the lead to successfully create hustle and bustle in the local community.

An official at the division said, “Other regions can learn from Awaji’s example in sense that new points of view can help unearth hidden tourism resources.”