When Tokyo’s frenetic pace and endless thrills leave you craving a tranquil escape, a quick trip to Ago Bay delivers just that. Three hours from Tokyo -- either by bullet train or a combination of flying and driving -- the bay sits on the coast of Shima, in a lush alcove of Mie Prefecture, along Japan’s eastern coast.
In 1893, Ago Bay attracted the attention of jewelers when Mikimoto Kōkichi cultivated the first pearl there, effectively launching the pearl industry. The surrounding area is known for its seemingly boundless natural beauty, which includes hot springs, Ise-Shima National Park, and a fractured coastline, which forms more than 50 islands of varying size that seem to float over the horizon. An extensive train system and well-trodden roads make traveling around Mie and to Ago Bay easy, providing a gateway to endless adventures.
What to do in Ago Bay
- Pearl factory cruises. Take the 50-minute boat ride that departs from Kashikojima Port and circles Ago Bay, stopping at a pearl factory before returning to port.
- Hike the nearly 4.5-mile promenade to the observation deck at Tomoyama Park to get the best views of the bay -- especially enchanting at sunset.
- Watch a pearl diver demonstration at the Shima Marine Land aquarium.
- If you’re looking for some sun, Goza Shirahama beach is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.
- Explore the nearby Tomogashima Islands for late 19th century fortress ruins and hiking trails.
- Meditate at the Ise Jingu Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu, part of a complex comprising 125 shrines.
- For dinner, slurp down a bowl of Wakayama Chuka soba, the regional variation on ramen, which is based on a strong soy sauce tare and long-simmered pork bones. Here’s a map of the best places to get it.
Where to stay in Ago Bay
From its secluded location within Ise-Shima National Park, the super luxe Amanemu resort has an almost unobstructed view of Ago Bay and the oyster rafts used to cultivate pearls. The name Amanemu is derived from aman, the Sanskrit word for peace, and nemu, the Japanese word for sharing joy -- and here there is an abundance of both of those when you stay here.
At the resort, wellbeing and healing are top priority. The property is surrounded by natural hot springs and the traditional onsen (thermal bath), and after all the treatments there's space to do yoga overlooking a peaceful garden with a Tabunoki tree at its center.