Sunday, 8 April 2012

An Ishigaki Island Holiday



The Edge of the Blue
Yes, I know, I’ve spent most of my life living on islands. But this one was smaller than my usual islands, all right? 
"Beware of Goats"
I want to visit all of Japan’s major island groupings, and during the spring break we decided to head down to Okinawa. Far south Okinawa, mind you, almost-Taiwan Okinawa.
Ishigaki-jima... still Japan
We flew to Naha then transferred to a smaller plane for the flight down to Ishigaki-jima. From the minute we got on the second plane it didn't feel like we were in Japan any more. We got to our seats (window) to find a family sitting in them, so I called an attendant. She checked their tickets and discovered another family sitting in the first family's seats... basically people had gotten on the plane and sat where ever they felt like. The attendant put us in the first empty seats she found (aisle) without a single apology. My first thought was "this would never happen in Japan"; I had to remind myself that technically it had happened in Japan. The other big thing was litter. I'm so used to clean streets that even though the amount of litter in Ishigaki was about the same as anywhere in Australia, and no where near as bad as the UK, it seemed filthy. Lest this all sound negative, let me say now that Ishigaki is amazingly beautiful and we really wanted to stay longer. The litter and the laid-back attitudes just made it feel like we'd gone to an entirely different country.
Too stormy to swim, but we had the beach to ourselves
The Ishigaki airport is in the middle of town. I've never been afraid of flying, but even I felt a twinge as we flew in over a supermarket so low that I could see the expressions of the people in the car park. I don't have any pictures but here's a great one from the excellent site Ishigaki Japan.
See the original context here
We only had three days, and we spent most of the first day just getting bike hire organised and riding to our accommodation
This little beach was right in front of our accommodation!
The paths used coral instead of gravel
Our lovely hosts dropped in with home-made fish cakes, made from freshly caught fish. Luck the Mr isn't a vegetarian!
We just barely managed to get our Australia motorcycle licenses converted into Japanese ones in time for the trip (a bureaucratic saga for another time, when the wounds are less fresh) and we were very lucky to be granted over 400cc class licenses (we had been warned that because the Japanese test for the large class is more comprehensive than most other countries', we would probably only get a small bike license). Nevertheless, neither of us had ridden in three years and never before in Japan, so we ended up hiring little 50cc scooters with shopping baskets on the front! I think it was a good choice, as we soon discovered that the maximum speed limit for most of the island is 50 kmph. It would have been a waste to pay three times as much for bikes we wouldn't have got to really appreciate. On the other hand, no one apart from us seemed aware of the speed limit... or perhaps they just know that there are no police on the island. This was the closest thing to a cop we saw, and I don't think it's fooling anyone.
Empty police patrol car on blocks beside the road
Is this a warning to drivers to slow down, or a warning to the police to stay away? Something like: "This is what happened to the last lot who came down these parts!"
The scooters cost us a mere $20 per 24 hours! Even though they were tiny and pathetic, it felt amazing to be riding again. When you ride you are part of the scenery, not cut off from it in a air-conditioned bubble and looking out through framed windows. Every smell (mostly cow dung), every gust of wind, every slight change in the texture of the road is immediate and real when you ride.
Sandy lane in the jungle
This road was slightly challenging.
A dead end, but beautiful anyway.
One of the first things we saw on the island was a grave yard with tombs unlike anything I've seen. It turns out that the Ryukyu tradition entombs the bones of the dead rather than cremating them, as is standard in most of Japan.
Okinawan tomb shaped like a turle's back
Ryukyu grave yard


 On day two we took a trip over to Iriomote island, somewhere I've wanted to visit ever since watching Azumanga Daioh. There's a character named Sakaki who loves cats (she dreams of being a vet) but who is hated by all cats. There's a running gag throughout the show about her being attacked by every cat she tries to pat, and she spends a lot of time with her hands in bandages. The girls visit Iriomote-jima, which is famous for an endemic species of large wild cat, on a school trip. 
Yamaneko!
Sakaki bonds with an iriomote-yamaneko kitten, who later turns up to defend her from an attack by a gang of neighbourhood domestic cats. There's a clip of the scene where she meets the cat on youtube, but it is unfortunately a dubbed version.

We didn't see any yamaneko, but we did have a nice time kayaking (that's totally a word) around the mangroves.
Kayak on the river with mountains framing
To boldly go where thousands of other tourists have also gone...
Mangroves cast shadows onto a sandy shore and shallow water
Mangroves and a private beach
Turquoise river with mangroves and forest behind
Urauchigawa... blue or green? Neither I nor may camera could decide.

Although Yakushima remains my favourite island, Ishigaki came pretty damn close. 
Chinese Style Monument
Monument to ship-wrecked Chinese sailors
Orchids by the bucket-load in a local supermarket

So lush and green
Tiny hermit crab on a woman's palm
Cutest little crab I have ever seen
Discarded TV on a beach at sunset
Throw away your TV and get outdoors! But maybe don't throw away your TV while outdoors...
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6 comments:

  1. That looks and sounds like a fun trip and adventure. Wow! That island is almost like your in Taiwan :)

    Japan Australia

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  2. The only sad part of the story is that we caught the edge of a typhoon on day 3, which we had planned to be our beach day. So close to amazing coral reefs, snorkels in hand, but it was too dangerous to get in the water :( Next time, Gadget!

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  3. Hello! I'm an ALT in Tottori and I just found your blog. Your shiba inu is so adorable! I almost wanted to adopt a stray cat when I got here, but I already have a cat of my own back home. Plus I don't want to go through that separation feeling again with a new cat.

    I recently visited Ishigaki too for the golden week holidays! I wished I had gone to Iriomote but I didn't have enough time. It must've been really fun to go aorund in sccoters!

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  4. Hello Ru-chan, I have actually been reading "short, small, & sweet" for a while now ;) It's definitely a big responsibility to commit to pets while overseas. My husband and I planned to stay in Japan for a long time before we even left Australia, so it helped to have that certainty from the beginning. Tottori looks gorgeous, I hope I can make it up there sometime!

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  5. Just came across your blog - I'm a vegan, and I'm headed to Ishigaki for three days next month. Unfortunately, we weren't able to book a hotel with a kitchen in it, and I'm wondering how you did as a vegetarian there. Any suggestions?

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  6. Hey Brizmus. Yes, having a kitchen was a big help. We only ate out twice so if you haven't already, ask the lovely Richard of http://www.ishigaki-japan.com/ he actually lives there and has a wealth of information.
    Both times we ate out was at a lovely little place called Green, in the middle of nowhere on the way to Nosoko along the coast road. The owner was very open to modifying dishes to accommodate me. I'm sorry I can't offer better help, but I hope you have a great trip.

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