– Part 1 –
Tsushima has lots of fun places to visit. What I like particularly is that, despite traveling on a weekend in the pleasant spring season, there were literally no tourists to be found at all the sites I visited. This post will overview some of the highlights — and save the very best place for part 3.
1. Russo-Japanese War Memorial
The Battle of Tsushima was the decisive naval battle where Japan decisively won the Russo-Japanese War. On the northern tip of Tsushima sits the memorial to the battle, erected a few years later when the locals were in a nationalistic mood. A hundred years later, Russia and Japan together erected a new memorial nearby, commemorating Russian-Japanese friendship. That monument also lists all of the victims of the Battle of Tsushima, and the roster is telling — there are thousands of Russian names, and just a handful of Japanese names.
Both monuments are practically abandoned. The flags that flutter on the poles nearby are in tatters. There is no evidence that anyone ever visits these memorials. Yet to history nerds such as myself, this was a site that I just happened upon on the route I was biking and I was
2. The Toyo Battery
After World War I and the Washington Accords that limited the naval ships to be constructed by all countries, Japan constructed several batteries in Tsushima to block the Tsushima straights. The gun may even have been removed from a battleship that was decommissioned as part of the treaty.
The turret was implanted into the mountain, but a complex of several floors of bunkers and tunnels were constructed to support the
Inside the (unstable) tunnels.
The two-story deep pit where the gun was housed.
We spent a good 45 minutes at this sight and saw not another living soul. It was utterly abandoned — the lights in the tunnels were operated by dropping a hundred yen coin in a slot outside. The tunnels were also in dangerous disrepair.
3. Korea-Viewing Gazebo
At the northwestern tip of the island is a hill, upon which sits a gazebo, inside which is a small museum. On a clear day, and especially in the evening, you can see Pusan — but not before noticing a JSDF base positioned on the most northern shore, a reminder that Tsushima has served as the edge of Japan’s defensive perimeter for 1500 years.
I wrote previously that the Kofun indicate Tsushima’s longstanding cultural ties to the rest of Japan. The yamaneko, or leopard cats, are a wild cat found in Korea and northern China but not in Japan, indicating relatively recent geographic and geological connections between the island and Korea. The cats are endangered and only a few hundred remain on the island, but you can view them in the Tsushima Wildlife Protection Center (marked with #4 on the map). Also, the Shochu produced at Tsushima is called “Yamaneko.”
5. Watazumi Shrine
This shrine in the bay has torii gates that go out into the water. It is also home of unique tri-trunk torii gates that I’ve never seen before.
6. Banshoin Temple
Banshoin Temple is the largest temple in Tsushima, and holds an enormous and fantastic graveyard. Unlike most temples, there is an entrance fee, which I at first felt was inappropriate. Upon entering and seeing the path up to the graveyard, I understood why. The temple is an enormous Buddhist graveyard. It includes the graves of all So Clan members, from the 13th through 20th centuries. There’s a certain “seen one temple, seen them all” aspect about Buddhist temples — there is little variety between them that makes separate temples special. Banshoin is definitely a site worth seeing.
7. Komoda Shrine
In 1273 (and again in 1281), tens of thousands of Mongolian and Korean soldiers landed at Tsushima in the first attack on their way to invade Japan. This force was met by Sukekuni So and a mere 80 cavalry, all of whom perished in attacking the invaders. Sukekuni was the second generation of the So Clan that would rule Tsushima for 800 years — he and his fellow martyrs are deified at Komoda Shrine. The battle is believed to have taken place on the land where Komoda Elementary School sits.
There’s one more place on Tsushima that I’ll introduce in part 3 — stay tuned!