Tuesday, June 17, 2008 Japan Japan

Pacific outpost

Kinen Beach [Enlarge]

The air on Tokunoshima was warm and humid. At the ferry port's little information window we asked the lady for some accommodation tips. She very decisively gave us a map and circled hotel number 16, and also wrote its name in romaji (Roman letters) for us. The town of Kametsu is fairly small and simply laid out—basically it's three roads running parallel to the sea front. So it was easy to find the information desk lady's recommended prescribed place, 'Copo Shichifukujin'. We discovered later that it's the top listed budget accommodation in the Lonely Planet too. That is usually more than enough reason for us to avoid a place, since it usually means that the owner has completely given up making an effort because he now has a steady guaranteed stream of visitors. The hostel was in a side street, and as we turned the corner the owner saw us coming from his third floor balcony lookout point. He was friendly enough and quoted us 3,000 Yen (GBP 14.20 / USD 28.04) for a double room with bathroom. The hostel used to be apartments, so the room's facilities were pretty good, if a little shabby. We had a shower, put on clean clothes and went to find out about renting a scooter so we could see the whole island.

The scooter hire place was across the road, within a hundred metres of our hotel. But the owner had possibly had problems with gaijin before, since he was not interested in renting us a scooter. "Japanese licence only." We showed him our International Driving Permits, freshly renewed while we were still in Seoul and showed him the page written in Japanese saying that it really was OK to rent us a vehicle, but he wasn't having it. He was, however, happy to lend us two bikes—push bikes, that is—for 1,000 yen each for 24 hours. We were out of options and that would have to do, although it now meant an end to our chances of seeing much of the island.

We both got 21-speed mountain bikes, much better than the rickety bikes we'd wobbled round Xi'an city wall in China, Seoul's Yeouido Park, and the Imperial Palace Park in Tokyo on. But in the heat of the beating sun there was no way we could visit the far away fruit farms, spectacular rock formations and cycad tree tunnels, which is what we'd wanted the scooter for. Our aim was much less ambitious now: we would just find a lovely, quiet beach. Half way between Kametsu and Isen, the next town, we found the way to the perfect Pacific island beach. The sand was white, the sea was blue and a shallow reef surrounded the bay. Best of all, the beach was deserted.

We watched sea cucumbers dawdling along the shallow sea floor, and sea urchins hiding in the coral. Tiny crabs scuttled around doing their thing. In the distance out on the reef people were fishing, dressed in traditional fishing clothes. They could have been from any century.

Two fishermen decided to quit the beach at the same time as us. As they got closer they turned out to be a husband and wife. They walked up to the parking area, took off their traditional clothing and got into a little Daihatsu car. It was mid-afternoon and we were hungry, so we cycled back towards Kametsu to visit a small supermarket that we'd passed on the way.

Bull sumo statue [Enlarge]

On the way back we stopped at a monument to one of the island's attractions: bullfighting. Not the Spanish variety. This is bull versus bull: bull sumo. We kid you not. Called togyu in Japanese, it is a sport native to the Ryukyu Islands and involves a lot of horn locking and shoving, and no harming of bulls. Sadly there are no tournaments going on now as we would have loved to see it. Which reminds us, we have also been completely unable to find any human sumo tournaments during our stay in Japan.

We arrived at the supermarket a bit wind-blown, sweaty and streaked with suncream. The shop had some delicious looking bento boxed lunches. We took them back along the coast a little way and ate lunch sitting on the high sea wall which protects the coast from summer typhoons. The whole place was so quiet.

We had intended to spend two days on Tokunoshima, but that was when we thought were going to have a scooter. So instead we decided to push on towards Okinawa on the ferry this morning. We will leave at roughly the same time of day that we arrived, but this time we'll be on the ferry run by A-Line—the Marix Line ship we came in on yesterday is long gone.

Tokunoshima is a strange blend of old and new. In some ways it is just like mainland Japan, with all the services and facilities you would expect. But in other ways it is of another time and somehow feels every bit like the island outpost it is. We're glad we saw this little-visited corner of this fascinating country.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I will be going to Tokunoshima next year with WWOOF and it's rare to find any been-there-done-that information in English or otherwise on this little island. Your journey is amazing!

From a reader in South Carolina, USA

Glenn Livett said...

Hi, thanks for your comment! Enjoy your trip next year.

Tara said...

Hi, I WWOOFed on Tokunoshima Island in 2005. It is a beautiful place and was a fantastic experience. I hope your reader from South Carolina has a wonderful time.

If they would like to read some more info in English, they can look at a website I set up after my return. It includes a section on my WWOOF experience on Tokunoshima. http://www.japan-cheap-travel.com