Miyazaki Prefecture is located on the island of Kyushu in Southwestern Japan—about an hour and a half by plane from Tokyo. It has a warm climate that makes it well-known as a resort destination. It is also the setting for Japanese myths that have been kept alive for more than two thousand years, and retains many of its historical shrines and traditional culture to this day.
Paul Zikan moved from Australia to Miyazaki twenty years ago. In addition to being a prolific photographer, he also enjoys an active lifestyle that includes surfing on his days off. He also has a friendly personality that makes him well-loved by the Miyazaki locals.
Paul is so satisfied with his life in Miyazaki that he even misses it when he travels home to Australia. We asked him to share his favorite Miyazaki spots with us as well as his secrets for taking great photographs.
Miyazaki Prefecture has a warm climate, and its people are open and friendly
ーPaul, what made you first move to Miyazaki?
Paul: I was originally working as a salesman in Sydney, but when I reached my late 20s I started having doubts about continuing with my work. I wanted to challenge myself to do something different. I had always been interested in the food and culture here, so I thought I might like to go to Japan.
You can only apply for a Japanese working holiday visa through age 29. Two weeks before my thirtieth birthday, I just went for it and made up my mind to go.
ーIt’s unusual that you chose Miyazaki rather than somewhere like Tokyo or Kyoto.
Paul: I grew up near Blue Mountains National Park in Australia, and Miyazaki is also known for its beautiful mountains and ocean. Plus, at the time, they had just built the Sheraton Hotel in Miyazaki, so I thought it might be an area with some potential. I also play squash, so the fact that they had a squash court in Miyazaki also helped drive my decision [laughs].
ーWhat was it like once you actually started living here?
Paul: I’m relaxed when I’m here. I don’t know if it’s because of the warm weather, but all the people here are open and friendly, and as soon as I got here I immediately wanted to stay.
I’ve been to Tokyo, but there are people everywhere, the morning trains are packed… it just didn’t suit me. Even when I go back to Australia now, I miss it here.
Miyazaki isn’t just full of natural beauty, it’s also got a lot of great surfing spots. So much so that several of my non-Japanese surfer friends who lived in Tokyo ended up moving to Miyazaki.
ーWhat do you think are the highlights of Miyazaki for a non-Japanese person?
Paul: There’s so much to enjoy here, even with just the food—but Chicken Nanban is a Miyazaki original that definitely tops the list. Chicken is battered and fried in oil and then covered in a traditional sweet-and-sour sauce or an original sauce. Every restaurant does it completely differently though, so whenever I find a new place I always try it there.
Paul: I also love hamburgers made with Miyazaki beef, and the bonito here is insanely delicious when it’s in season during the spring and fall.
ーWhat are some of the other highlights besides food?
Paul: One of the more famous tourist destinations in Miyazaki Prefecture is Takachiho, which has a beautiful gorge as well as shrines that are connected to Japanese mythology. There are several other unique places to go sightseeing besides that, though.
Paul: Some of the places you should definitely get to are Aoshima Shrine, Udo Shrine, and Miyazaki Shrine. These three shrines allow you to experience the unique natural setting of Miyazaki in addition to Japan’s history and culture.
They’re also all fairly close to Miyazaki Airport and central Miyazaki, so if you have a car you can get to them all in one day. You can also drive along the coast and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Aoshima Shrine offers enchanting rocks, southern seas, and even surfing!
ーWhy don’t you tell us about Aoshima Shrine to start?
Paul: It’s about a thirty-minute drive south from central Miyazaki City. The shrine is on a tiny island called Aoshima, but it still got two stars in the Michelin Green Guide Japan.
Paul: You walk across a bridge from the coast to get out to the island, and the sight of the torii gate out on the beach is so beautiful. The shrine itself is surrounded by tropical plants, so it’s a rare sight even in Japan.
Paul: There are spectacular rocks around the island and the bridge that make geometrical patterns. They call them the “devil’s washboard”, and they’re another one of the dramatic features of the area. They’re covered in water at high tide, but you can walk out on them at low tide—so make sure you arrange to go then.
Paul: The waves are also big around here, so it is a famous surfing spot as well. There are plenty of places where you can rent boards or get lessons, so it’s a great way to relax and reset while you’re traveling.
ーThe Devil’s Washboard is quite an overwhelming sight. What’s your secret to capturing it on film?
Paul: First of all, you’ve got to come at low tide. The powerful scene disappears once the rocks are covered in water. The distinctive undulations in the rocks here don’t come out well if you shoot from too low of an angle, so it’s better to take shots from higher up.
Paul: Also, since the ocean is to the east of them, the light creates a glare during the morning hours and the highlights tend to get overexposed throughout the shot. If you want to get richer color, it’s better to come in the afternoon.
If the weather is too clear and calm, it’s hard to tell where the ocean ends and the sky begins—but if you go out when there are whitecaps, you can take shots that emphasize the contrast between the ocean, the sky, and the rocks.
Paul: The fantastic rock views extend down the neighboring coastline as well, and if you go down to Horikiri Pass just a little south of Aoshima Shrine, you can look down on the Devil’s Washboard from above. If you frame the rocks and the vegetation on the ridge in a 7:3 ratio, you’ll get an impressive shot with a lot of depth.
Paul: The ocean views from Horikiri Pass are spectacular as well, and you can also get some local specialty products at the Michi-no-eki Phoenix roadside station that’s right there. The soft-serve ice cream made with Miyazaki-grown hyuganatsu citrus is delicious.
See Udo Shrine tucked below the oceanside cliffs, or have the spectacular scenery at Nakiri Shrine all to yourself
ーThe second shrine you mentioned was Udo Shrine. It’s also a distinctive one located along the coast.
Paul: Udo Shrine is built into a bluff overlooking the ocean, and the main shrine building is inside a cave. You go down stone steps to it while the waves crash violently on the rocks at your side. There’s a red bridge and fence that create a mystical-looking contrast against the huge rocks.
Paul: The roof of the main shrine building is mostly the ceiling of the cave—and it really makes you wonder how they built it. The style is also clearly different from other shrines, so you’re going to be amazed and left asking why it’s there at all.
Paul: Once you’re on the grounds of Udo Shrine, there’s a small shrine called Nakiri Shrine that you’ve got to visit.
The path leading up to it is a little treacherous, and you have to walk through the mountains for about fifteen minutes, but it adds a little thrill of adventure. The ground can be loose, though, so make sure you go when it’s light out and avoid bad weather days.
Paul: You’ll understand more once you get there, but Nakiri Shrine is built inside a cave at the bottom of a cliff with the ocean right up on it. You have to see it to believe it.
Paul: Tourists almost never go there, so all you can here is the sound of the waves. It really has a spiritual feeling to it that’s so magical you’ll want to stay forever. I go there when I want to clear my mind and just focus on the sound of the waves. You can totally immerse yourself in the scenery, the sound of the ocean, and the sea breezes.
ーIt’s not easy to get to, but seeing the ocean come right up to you while you’re surrounded by bare rock at the base of the cliff is truly an otherworldly experience.
Paul: It’s not a feeling you can really capture on film [laughs], but if I had to share a tip, it would be to put the rock surface in the foreground and the ocean and sky beyond it. That will give you the kind of shot that you can only capture at the ocean in Miyazaki.
Miyazaki Shrine, a vortex in the center of the city
ーThe last place you mentioned was Miyazaki Shrine. It’s a shrine located right in central Miyazaki, right?
Paul: The last two shrines we talked about have really unique locations, but Miyazaki Shrine is a more classically Japanese shrine in the sense that it’s an elegant space couched in a thick forest.
Paul: The history of it goes back more than a thousand years. Although the main shrine building went through many repairs and improvements before its current look, it’s still a beautifully simple structure built out of Japanese cedar.
Although it’s located in the city, an incredibly solemn feeling surrounds you once you set foot on the grounds. There’s also a mystical feeling you get from the light of the garden lanterns at dusk. For me, it has a powerful energy to it like Nakiri Shrine does.
Paul: A traditional festival is held there every February, October, and November, and in April, cavaliers dressed in samurai costumes race by on horseback shooting arrows at targets during a traditional event called Shinji-yabusame.
It’s an authentic shrine where you can really experience Japan’s history and traditional culture, so if you’re in Miyazaki, make sure you pay a visit.
ーIs there anything people should be aware of when taking pictures at a shrine in terms of manners and courtesy?
Paul: Some shrines don’t allow photography, so make sure you look carefully at the notices posted there.
The three shrines I told you about don’t have any photography restrictions in the areas that are open to the public. Just keep in mind that photography is frowned upon in areas behind the main shrine building or other places that people are not typically allowed to go, so it’s best not to take shots there.
Cars are a great way to get around Miyazaki, and the coastal trains offer a unique experience
ーWhy don’t you end by telling us some things people should be aware of when they’re traveling in Miyazaki?
Paul: If you want to get around to lots of places efficiently, you really need a car. There are lots of car rental places around the Miyazaki Airport.
That said, the trains are charming and wonderful too. The Umisachi Yamasachi limited-express tourist train on the JR Nichinan Line is particularly nice, as it’s got wood paneling (made of local obi cedar) on the outside as well as the interior. It runs along the coast, so the views are spectacular as well. It’s a wonderfully unique way to get around.
Paul: The people of Miyazaki are so laid back and the streets are so safe that there’s not much to worry about down here. Just make sure you respect the Japanese culture and the way people think. It’s particularly important that you respect Japanese manners and customs when you pay your respects at the shrines.
There are so many wonderful people in Japan, but they have a culture of not showing their feelings, even if they feel uncomfortable for some reason. Everyone has different things that make them feel uncomfortable, but just keep from doing things that you wouldn’t want others to do to you. If you just keep this obvious point in mind, I know you’ll have a wonderful trip.
Miyazaki | Japan Travel | JNTO
The Official Miyazaki Travel Guide
Address: 2-13-1 Aoshima, Miyazaki, Miyazaki Prefecture
Getting there: About a ten-minute walk from Aoshima Station on the JR Nichinan Line
Michi-no-Eki Phoenix roadside station (Horikiri Pass)
Address: 381-1 Miike, Uchiumi, Miyazaki, Miyazaki Prefecture
Getting there: Take the city bus to the Michi-no-Eki Phoenix stop
Address: 3232 Miyaura, Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture
Getting there: About a ten-minute walk from the Udo Shrine stop on the city bus
Address: 2-4-1 Jingu, Miyazaki, Miyazaki Prefecture
Getting there: About a ten-minute walk from JR Miyazaki Jingu Station
JR Kyushu Limited Express Umisachi Yamasachi