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by The Daily Telegraph, March 14, 2016
13 strange and beautiful Japanese islands you must visit
From a flower-filled heaven for hikers to Japan's answer to the Galapagos, these strange and beautiful spots will fill you with wanderlust
The ghost island from Skyfall
Around 15km from Nagasaki, Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) was used as a coal mining facility between 1887 and 1974, with its population reaching a peak of 5,259 people in 1959. After petroleum replaced coal throughout Japan in the 1960s, it was abandoned, and is now known as "Ghost Island". A small portion of it was opened to tourists in 2009, and sightseeing boat trips often stop here. It featured as the evil hideout of Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem) in the James Bond film Skyfall and became a World Heritage Site in 2015.
This incredible volcanic island
Aogashima, a volcanic island and the most isolated in the Izu archipelago, lies around 220 miles south of Tokyo and is home to 170 people according to a 2013 census. The most recent eruption was in 1785, when around 140 islanders perished.
The islands filled with cats
The preponderance of feline residents on Tashirojima (in Miyagi Prefecture) and Aoshima (in Ehime Prefecture) has led to them both being given the (rather unimaginative) nickname "Cat Island". Locals believe feeding cats will bring wealth and good fortune and on Tashirojima there is even a small cat shrine (Neko-jinja) and 51 stone cat-shaped monuments, while dogs are prohibited from stepping ashore.
These islands that look like they're in the Caribbean
With white sand beaches like these, it's no surprise that the Yaeyama Islands, in the far south of the Japanese archipelago, have been compared to the Caribbean. The waters are home to coral reefs, dolphins, turtles, whale sharks and manta rays - though its dugong population has sadly been wiped out.
The island filled with rabbits
Okunoshima is a small island located in Japan's Inland Sea that has become something of a tourist attraction due to its floppy-eared population. Sources claim they were brought here during the Second World War, when the island (and the rabbits) were used to test the effects of poison gas. They have since flourished in the predator-free environment, and there are hundreds roaming free.
Despite its diminutive size - just five square miles - and off-the-radar location, Naoshima has a contemporary art haul that would turn the Tate Modern green with envy . It was in 1992 that a wealthy Japanese publishing magnate set about transforming Naoshima from sleepy fishing island to international art centre with the launch of the first of a string of galleries. Over the past three decades, a growing number of art projects have sprung up across Naoshima, with the region's status as a major art hub confirmed in 2010 with the launch of Setouchi Triennale, a three-yearly art festival that takes place across 12 fishing islands with the goal of boosting the quality of life of its elderly residents.
The island of the gas masks
Another island of the Izu archipelago, Miyake-jima's most prominent feature is its active volcano, Mount Oyama, which has erupted several times in recent history. Since the most recent explosion, in 2005, the volcano has constantly leaked poisonous fumes, requiring residents to carry a gas mask at all times. Sirens go off across the island when the levels of sulphur rise sharply.
Also known as Miyajima, this island in Hiroshima Bay is home to the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also known for its mapel trees, which turn the island crimson in autumn.
The islands with the elixir of life
A group of islands in the East China Sea, and part of the Ryukyu Arc, the Okinawa Islands are home to beautiful beaches, ruins, rare cats, extensive limestone caves and coral reefs. The residents here also live longer than anywhere else in the world. There are 34.7 centenarians for every 100,000 inhabitants, five times more than the rest of Japan. Explanations have included diet (low-fat, low-salt foods, such as fish, tofu and seaweed are popular here), low-stress lifestyle, and the spirituality of the inhabitants. Head there and some of it might rub off on you. BA flies (indirect) from Gatwick and Glasgow to Okinawa Naha.
This smoking island
Another volcanic island, Sakurajima (Cherry Island), is technically no longer an island. A lava flow following the eruption of its highly active volcano in 1914 created a connection to the mainland (the southern Japanese island of Kyushu). It has been erupting almost constantly since 1955 - yet 680,000 people still live within a few miles of it.
This impossibly green island
One of the Osumi Islands in southern Japn, Yakushima was awarded World Heritage status in 1993 thanks to its unique ancient rainforest and colossal cedar trees. It is visited by 300,000 tourists each year.
This snow-capped, flower-filled adventure playground
Rishiri Island, off the northern tip of Hokkaido, is dominated by a 1,721m extinct volcanic peak, and is a magnet for hikers. Further west lies Rebun Island, known for its alpine flowers.
The Galapagos of the Orient
The Bonin Islands, also known as the Ogasawara Islands, have been described as Asia's answer to The Galapagos due to their many unique species of flora and fauna. They have been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2011. "The islands offer a variety of landscapes and are home to a wealth of fauna, including the Bonin Flying Fox, a critically endangered bat, and 195 endangered bird species," says Unesco .
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