Honjima (本島) is the second largest and most developed of the Shiwaku Islands, an archipelago of nearly 30 small islands in western Kagawa Prefecture. Over the centuries, the Shiwaku Islands played a vital role in maritime transportation though the Seto Inland Sea. For most of that time Honjima was the center of power and governance over the islands, and several interesting historical sites from this period have been preserved.
In its heyday, Honjima Island served as the home base of the Shiwaku Navy (Shiwaku Suigun), an organization of some of the most highly regarded and experienced sailors in Japan, who controlled the Shiwaku Islands. In the late 1500s, Toyotomi Hideyoshi recruited them into his service for campaigns in Kyushu and Korea, after which they were rewarded with official governing authority of the Shiwaku Islands.
In this role the Shiwaku Suigun facilitated trade in the region and performed government affairs on behalf of the shogun from their office located not far from Honjima Port. The former government office (Shiwaku Kinbansho) has been preserved and is open to tourists and displays relics of the Shiwaku Suigun, such as their official seal and the logbook of the Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese ship to cross the Pacific Ocean.
Along the northeastern coast of Honjima is Kasashima Town, a beautifully preserved port town that was a center of trade and shipbuilding during the Edo Period (1600-1867). Around twenty wooden townhouses have been preserved and can be seen around the narrow stone streets that wind through the town. Most are private residences, although three of them are open to the public and display household items from past times.
A short walking trail leads up the hill to the east of the town to the ruins of Kasashima Castle (also known as Higashiyamajo), a castle from the era of warring states (15th and 16th centuries) that must have had a commanding view over the surrounding Seto Inland Sea. Unfortunately, there is nothing left of the castle save a monument memorializing the location of the old keep, and even the views have been lost to the forest growth.
A few other attractions can be seen around Honjima, including a uniquely constructed warehouse named Meotogura ("couple warehouse") and the former Mizumiiro Elementary School which served as the set of the 2004 movie "Kikansha Sensei". Both of them are located along the island's western coast. There are also several temples, shrines and beaches spread out around the island.
Honjima serves as a venue for the Setouchi Triennale, a popular modern art festival that takes place over several islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Several outdoor installations around Honjima Port remain permanently installed for visitors to enjoy.
How to get to Honjima Island
From Marugame (on the Shikoku side)
High speed and car ferries operate between Honjima and Marugame Port (about a ten minute walk or short taxi ride north of JR Marugame Station). The ferries take 20 and 35 minutes respectively and cost 550 yen one way regardless of the ferry type. There are eight departures per day. Most high speed ferries make a brief stop at Ushijima Island along the way.
From Kojima (on the Honshu side)
High speed ferries operate between Honjima Island and Kojima Port next to JR Kojima Station, which can be reached from Okayama in about a 30-minute train ride (500 yen one way). The ferry ride takes half an hour and costs 640 yen one way. There are two departures in the morning and two in the afternoon.
Getting around Honjima Island
The island can be explored by rental bicycles, which are available at the Honjima Ferry Terminal for 500 yen per day (plus a 500 yen refundable deposit). The main road which circles the island along the coast is about 13 kilometers long and contains quite a few ups and downs. The island's main attractions, the former government office and Kasashima Town, can also be reached on foot in about 10 and 30 minutes respectively.
Alternatively, an infrequent community bus operates from the port to most of the major sites around the island. It costs 200 yen per ride or 500 yen for a day pass. There are five departures per day which are usually timed to ferry departures and arrivals.