As Yakushima’s lesser-known neighbor, Tanegashima often loses out on international hype. Said to be Japan’s northernmost limit for natural mangrove habitats, the island also hosts a slew of stunning beaches and surfing spots, as well as some curious claims to historic fame.
You Can Visit the Gateway to Space
One of Tanegashima’s biggest draws is Tanegashima Space Center, Japan’s largest rocket launch facility, which regularly sends satellites into orbit. Visitors are welcome to take guided tours of the site (reservations are required) and the Space Science and Technology Museum on non-launch days. If you’re lucky enough to be on the island on the day of a planned liftoff, you can view the event from one of three designated areas: Ebinoe Observatory Park, Hase Park and Uchugaoka Park. Check out JAXA’s official Twitter account for English-language launch updates.
Top tip: There is a trailhead just outside of the Space Science and Technology Museum. Follow the mountain path to reach Kamori Peak for a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.
You’ll Find Some of Japan’s Best (and Emptiest) Beaches
Tanegashima’s longest beach, Nagahama, is an approximately 12-kilometer stretch of white sand that draws both humans and other animals. It’s a famous sea turtle nesting spot, with turtles returning to the sands here between May to August every year.
To the east, Hamada Beach is next to Chikura Cavern, a network of caves that you can explore at low tide. Similarly, the Injo Coast boasts some spectacular eroded rock formations, including the Matate Grotto at its northern tip. Surfers will want to check out the Kanehama Coast, one of the main surfing locations on the island.
You Can See Where the Course of Japanese History Changed
Cape Kadokura, Tanegashima’s southernmost point, is said to be the first place where firearms were introduced to Japan. Sourced through a group of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors in 1543, these first matchlock pistols marked a revolutionary change in Japanese warfare. As their skill and technology advanced, they were able to emulate the imported weapons and manufacture their own. The very first Japan-made matchlock gun — known as the Tanegashima Teppo — is displayed at Tanegashima Kaihatsu Sogo Center in Nishi-no-Omote City on the island’s northern side. Visitors keen to see the firearms in action should visit the Tanegashima Teppo Festival, held in the summer.
You’ll Encounter Ancient Legends Brought to Life
On Tanegashima’s west coast, you’ll find the Otatsu-Metatsu rocks, a pair of weathered boulders standing in the sea and connected by a sturdy rope. Much like the legends of similar “couple” rocks around Japan, the craggy formations represent one female and one male entity. Legend states that a husband and wife were thrown into the sea one stormy night, but were reincarnated as boulders — the wife being the Metatsu rock to the left and the husband embodying the Otatsu rock on the right — keeping them together for all of eternity. If sappy stories aren’t your thing, it’s also a prime spot to watch the sun dip beyond the horizon at the end of the day.