Visit Tsushima, Japan in Real Life!
What would you do if you could visit Tsushima?
Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima has recently been making waves in the world of gaming with its massive success. So much so, that a movie based on the game is now officially in the works!
The release of the movie will no doubt raise the profile of the real-life island of Tsushima even further, and some intrepid explorers and gamers might even want to see the place in person.
And if you’re anything like the 6.5 million players that have purchased and witnessed the stunning visuals of Ghost of Tsushima, you’ve probably wondered what it might be like to walk the beaches and climb the mountains of Tsushima.
Do hot springs and lighthouses really exist there? Can you literally walk in the footsteps of protagonist Jin Sakai, when he first stepped on the sands of Komoda Beach to face the Mongol invaders?
All these questions permeate the mind, but our collective wings still remain clipped as of March 2021, thanks to the global pandemic. The makers of Ghost of Tsushima have an open invitation from the officials of the island to visit once it is safe to do so, and fans of the game have been encouraged to do the same and check out this largely forgotten corner of Japan.
Where is Tsushima located?
The events of Ghost of Tsushima occur on the island of Tsushima, a small island in Nagasaki Prefecture, in the far west of Japan.
Wedged in the Tsushima Strait between South Korea and the Japanese mainland, Tsushima lies just 49.5 kilometers from Busan, the second largest city in South Korea with a population of almost 3.5 million people. In fact Tsushima is over twice as close to South Korea as it is to mainland Japan, and on a clear day, one can see the Korean coastline from the top of the island’s cliffs and mountain peaks with west-facing views.
The entire island lies within the borders of the Iki-Tsushima Quasi-National Park, and is therefore designated as a nature preserve and protected from development. Consequently almost nine-tenths of the island is covered by vegetation and wilderness – ostensibly not too different from the lush setting presented in Ghost of Tsushima, back in the late 13th Century.
How to get to Tsushima
Flights to Tsushima depart from Nagasaki and Fukuoka International Airports and land at Tsushima Airport, which is located roughly at the southern tip of central Tsushima (‘Toyotama’ province in the game).
Ferries depart from Fukuoka on the mainland, and also from Busan, South Korea, and arrive at Hitakatsu, in the north of the island.
Ferries and hydrofoils depart from Fukuoka and arrive at Tsushima City (Izuhara), in the south of the island.
How to get around on Tsushima
What became apparent after comparing the map in Ghost of Tsushima to the real island is that Tsushima is in fact, much, much larger in real life!
The distances posted in the game itself amount to a handful of kilometers even across entire segments of the island, but the real driving distances between the two main port cities of Hitakatsu in the north and Izuhara (Tsushima City) in the south stretch out to 75 kilometers, or slightly under 50 miles.
That’s about a 3 to 4-hour non-stop journey by car on relatively good coastal roads today, but I imagine it might have taken Jin several days or a week on horseback, travelling through difficult, almost impassable terrain.
The bottom line is this: you will need to get around on vehicles when you visit Tsushima.
Bus routes and one-day discounted bus passes are available to tourists, but routes are limited and don’t encompass all sights of interest on the island (PDF link to bus routes).
It is best to rent a car for maximum flexibility, and you will need to obtain an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) from your country to do this.
Please note: drivers in Japan drive down the left side of the road, and the driver’s seat is on the right side of vehicles!
There are car rental shops at Tsushima Airport and near the two ports (Izuhara and Hitakatsu), and the going rate starts at roughly ¥5,000 – 6,500 (yen) a day depending on the class of vehicle, while weekend rates are higher.
Where you rent your car will depend on where you disembark on the island (Izuhara Port, Hitakatsu Port, or Tsushima Airport), as you will have to drop it off at the same place.
Select one of these car rental agencies to make your reservations:
IZUHARA (South Tsushima)
TSUSHIMA AIRPORT (Central Tsushima)
HITAKATSU (North Tsushima)
- Yamada Car Rental
- Hitotsubatago Rent a Car: 965 Kamitsushimamachi Hitakatsu, Tsushima, Nagasaki 817-1701, Japan / Tel: +81920886101
Where to stay on Tsushima
There are many commercially operated hotels around Tsushima City (Izuhara) in the South and Hitakatsu in the North. These accommodations are designed with mass tourism in mind, and are modern and very comfortable.
However for a more authentic and local experience, you can try the local home stays/inns run by the island’s residents. These small and cozy accommodations are scattered all over the island (even in small villages), and offer half or full-board to guests. The hosts are often gracious and eager to please, and will offer delicious Japanese meals for breakfast and dinner, often with fresh seafood from the ocean.
Whatever your choice for lodging is when you visit Tsushima, I strongly recommend that you rent a car and use either Tsushima City (Izuhara) and/or Hitakatsu as a southern and northern base of operations (respectively) for exploring the entire island.
When to go to Tsushima
The best time to visit Tsushima is in late fall (October/November), when there is less rain and also a chance to enjoy the stunning fall foliage.
You can also visit in early summer (May/June) to see fireflies and to enjoy the scenic beaches and shorelines.
But these summer months are also the time of East Asia’s characteristic monsoon rain season (especially in June) – so expect plenty of rainy days, which can put a damper on your mountain hiking plans!
How long to stay on Tsushima
A three to four-day tour of the island while staying a night or two in different lodgings on the north and south ends of Tsushima might offer a brief but unrushed sightseeing tour of the island (Note: It takes approximately 3 to 4 hours to drive from one end of the island to the other.).
A short daytrip by ferry from Busan (South Korea) or Fukuoka (mainland Japan) is possible, but you likely won’t be able to take in and appreciate the unique atmosphere of Tsushima on such a short trip.
If that is all the time you can spare, I would recommend that you spend a half-day exploring the historical and cultural sights in and around Tsushima City (Izuhara). But you will have to catch your ferry back to the mainland before you know it!
It is my opinion that you can stay as long as a week and still not see everything there is to see on this island.
But ultimately the choice is yours, and you can see as many of these places as you can or as few as you would like when you visit Tsushima!
What to see on Tsushima
While researching this article, I’ve discovered that the makers of Ghost of Tsushima have taken considerable creative liberties in terms of events, locations, and characters, for the purposes of gameplay.
Nevertheless I’ve investigated and identified 41 locations on the real-life island of Tsushima that are worth checking out in person when you visit Tsushima – for their direct link with events in the game, or for their cultural significance or natural beauty.
And for your convenience and reference, I’ve created a Google User-created map of Tsushima featuring the exact locations of all the points of interest on the real-life island:
(Please refer to the above link while reading this travel guide, to familiarize yourself with Tsushima.)
Note: The real-life regions of Tsushima differ slightly from the game and the island is divided into 6 administrative districts.
From south-to-north, they are:
But since this article refers to the modern-day Tsushima in the context of the video game, the points of interest have been grouped according to the three-act, in-game narrative:
- ACT 1: IZUHARA (total points of interest – 19)
- ACT 2: TOYOTAMA (total points of interest – 8)
- ACT 3: KAMIAGATA (total points of interest – 14)
Check out the next page of our Tsushima travel guide for Act 1, Izuhara.