Shodoshima Island: Olives, Noodles, and Kiki’s Delivery Service!
Shodoshima Island, Kagawa Prefecture, is one of the largest islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea. The island’s blissful shores and lush greenery make it an excellent place to visit all year round. Shodoshima is also known as the birthplace of Japanese olive production, and remains the number one producer in Japan! Plus, with deep connections to beloved Ghibli films, along with noodles, soy sauce, and more, there’s a lot more to Shodoshima than meets the eye!
Jun 24 2022 (Jun 27 2022)
Why Is Shodoshima Japan’s "Olive Island"?
Until the start of the 20th century, Japan never grew its own olives. Olive trees can only survive mild winters, and with mainland Japan’s dry and frigid weather, cultivation was difficult.
However, in 1908, the Japanese government started experimenting with domestic olives. This was largely to produce olive oil able to preserve seafood after fishing zones were gained following the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). They opened farms and introduced olive trees across three areas of Japan: Kagawa, Mie, and Kagoshima. In the end, it was only Shodoshima in Kagawa that was successful, and more than a hundred years later, the island still provides delicious olives to all of Japan.
Climate is what makes Shodoshima ideal for olives. The island boasts a pleasant combination of low rainfall and consistent sunshine, bolstered by high-quality air owing to its position in the Seto Inland Sea. This makes Shodoshima similar to countries along the Mediterranean, where olives have been growing for thousands of years.
Nowadays, olives play an important role in the lives of Shodoshima residents. Olive seedlings are commonly given as gifts during important milestones such as marriage and childbirth. Children starting school also get their own olive seedlings. As they grow, the plant grows with them, and once it's ready, olive oil can be extracted for use in home cooking.
How Are Olives Produced in Shodoshima?
Olives are meticulously hand picked by Shodoshima farmers every autumn, specifically around October to November. Despite the hard work, they prefer handpicking over machines to avoid any bruising or loss of flavor right from the start.
After harvesting, the olives go through another round of manual selection, ensuring that only the best reach customers. By keeping everything manual, Shodoshima farmers can enjoy complete control over the quality of their olives.
Shodoshima Olive Park
To fully experience how special olives are to Shodoshima, we recommend visiting the Shodoshima Olive Park. Sitting on the island’s southern coast, the park commands stunning panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea and Shodoshima shoreline.
Idyllic walking trails lined with olive trees are dotted by magnificent Greek-inspired buildings, the most famous of which is the iconic “Greek Windmill.” This windmill was gifted to Shodoshima from the island of Milos, and perfectly complements the surrounding landscape.
Upon entering the “Olive Memorial Hall,” you’ll be greeted by an impressive statue of Athena, the Olympian goddess of wisdom and war. The accompanying gift shop has all sorts of olive-based souvenirs to bring home, including olive chocolate, cider, cosmetics, and, of course, olive oil itself (read more below). There are two restaurants on the park grounds serving scrumptious olive-based dishes, such as olive ramen and a salad pizza with olive oil and sliced olives.
Alongside eating and shopping, Shodoshima Olive Park is filled with enthralling olive-themed activities. Tour the olive tree field and search for a rare (but findable!) heart-shaped olive leaf, which you can then make into a bookmark. Buy a postcard and send it via the one-of-a-kind olive-colored post box. Spend the night at a lodge overlooking the sea, with gorgeous rooms named after famous places in Greece, such as Santorini and Mykonos. And even take a dip in the park’s own natural hot springs - including an open-air bath!
Lastly, Studio Ghibli fans get an extra treat: visitors can borrow broomsticks and take photos recreating scenes from Kiki’s Delivery Service - for free! Just hold the broomstick between your legs, and jump! As the live-action version of the film was shot in the area, it’s the perfect place to live out your trainee witch fantasy, with Shodoshima’s rolling hills and windmill as your background. The set used for the live-action “Gütiokipänjä Bakery” was also moved into the Olive Park, now serving as the “Corico” cafe and store, selling elegant jewelry and herbal tea.
What Else Is Shodoshima Famous For?
Shodoshima is far from a one-trick island – it’s also famous for soy sauce, somen noodles, stunning scenery, and more!
Shodoshima Soy Sauce
While no records remain, soy sauce has been brewed on Shodoshima for hundreds of years - far before olives were introduced. Like olives, the temperate weather and pristine environment is ideal for fermentation, and the thriving salt industry on the island, which has existed since the Middle Ages, made soy sauce a natural follow-up product.
While no longer in its heyday, the remnants of the local soy sauce brewing scene remain deeply rooted in tradition. The soy sauce is still painstakingly handcrafted and matured in giant wooden barrels called “koga.” In order to cultivate thriving fermentation bacteria colonies, these barrels are often not cleaned between batches, and the surrounding streets are colored a charcoal black due to the activity of this microscopic world.
Many Shodoshima soy sauce breweries are open for tours and more, such as the Marukin Soy Sauce Museum, which displays a fascinating collection of ancient brewing tools. For a more up-close and personal look at traditional brewing, head to Yamaroku Shoyu, where you can peer into the barrels of fermenting soy sauce.
The noodle of choice in Shodoshima is “somen,” a thin, light noodle believed to have been made on the island for around 400 years. Like soy sauce, somen is still handmade using ancient techniques throughout Shodoshima today, making for a refreshing meal for hot days.
Another lesser-known Shodoshima delicacy is “tsukudani,” which is made from a variety of seafoods, meats, and more, simmered in soy sauce and mirin. Naturally, this preservable cuisine stemmed from the abundance of soy sauce on the island, and saw particular popularity during the food shortages after WWII. With such a wide range of ingredients and tastes, you’re bound to find a type of tsukudani that appeals to you!
Shodoshima also has plenty of stunning natural beauty, some of which is totally unique from the rest of Japan. One of the most iconic sights is “Angel Road,” a sandbar located on the southwest of the island. You can use it to walk to the connecting island during low tide, which occurs around two times a day.
During autumn, the Kankakei Gorge at the center of Shodoshima is particularly lovely. It’s part of the “100 Landscapes of Japan,” and is celebrated for its stunning red maple trees. While it is possible to drive, the best choice is the ropeway that passes over the gorge.
Alongside Kiki’s Delivery Service, Japanese movie buffs will surely be intrigued by the “Twenty Four Eyes Movie Studio,” dedicated to the 1954 film of the same name set on Shodoshima. With a recreation of the village used in the film, along with the actual wooden school buildings used as sets, you can step back in time and relish retro Japanese nostalgia.
What Types of Souvenirs Can I Get From Shodoshima?
One of the best parts of visiting new places is discovering what souvenirs they have. Fortunately, the people of Shodoshima are quite creative in their olive-based souvenirs, and you’re guaranteed to find something you’ll like! Here are a few examples:
If you’re an olive oil connoisseur, you’ll be happy to know that Shodoshima takes its olive oil very seriously. Olive oil producers make dozens of adjustments – ranging from the cultivar of olive used to when the olives were harvested – in order to present their customers with a wide selection. Along with the Shodoshima Olive Park, olive oil is available at a multitude of stores all throughout the island - you won’t have trouble finding any!
Olive cider is a popular drink amongst both locals and tourists on Shodoshima. It combines olive juice with the sweetness of green apples to create a refreshing, fizzy beverage perfect for those hot summer days.
Shodoshima’s olive cosmetics prove that olives can be useful outside of food. The moisturizing power and gentleness of olive oil are said to bring out shiny hair and healthy-looking skin. A wide variety of cosmetics come from Shodoshima, such as soaps, face creams, sunscreens, shampoo, and hair oil. They have everything you’ll need to make a full hair and skincare routine with olives!
Since Shodoshima is famous for somen noodles, why not combine the two specialties with olive-flavored somen! Olives are kneaded into the noodle dough, adding a subtle but noticeable accent.
Last but not least, you have olives picked straight from Shodoshima olive groves. These olive-filled jars come in easy-to-carry sizes, so you can bring them home without trouble. Dine at one of Shodoshima’s many olive-based restaurants for some extra cooking inspiration!
How Do I Get to Shodoshima?
Okayama City provides the most accessible routes to Shodoshima. You can get to Okayama from Tokyo via the shinkansen bullet train (JR Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen, 3.5 to 4 hrs one-way), plane (Haneda Airport to Okayama Airport, approx. 1 hr 15 mins), or by overnight bus (departing from the Tokyo or Shinjuku Station bus stop to the Okayama Station bus stop, 10 hrs).
From Okayama, there are three ports with ferries that will take you to Shodoshima: Shin-Okayama Port (70 mins), Uno Ferry Terminal (60-90 mins), and Hinase Port (60 mins). If you want to travel around Shodoshima by car, all three ports have car ferries that can accommodate different vehicle sizes.
Shodoshima can also be reached from Takamatsu, the capital of Kagawa, on the opposite side of the Seto Inland Sea. The ferry from Takamatsu Port to the Tonosho Port Terminal takes around 60 mins.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Shodoshima?
While pleasant all year round, the best seasons to visit Shodoshima would be autumn and summer. Autumn (mid-September to November) is when olive harvesting takes place, and you can visit Kankakei Gorge for a colorful display of maple trees. In summer (June to early September), you can sunbathe on the beach while keeping cool thanks to the refreshing sea breeze.
Shodoshima: More Than Just Japan’s Olive Island!
Despite a relatively short history, Shodoshima olives have become an integral part of the island’s character, and the remarkable quality would give even traditional olive regions a run for their money. Combined with delicious somen noodles, authentic soy sauce, and more, it’s a well-rounded culinary destination. Plus, you can recreate scenes from Kiki’s Delivery Service, enjoy unique Greek architecture, and adventure deep into the great outdoors! For such a small island, it has a little bit of everything!
If you want to give feedback on any of our articles, you have an idea that you'd really like to see come to life, or you just have a question on Japan, hit us up on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.