|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"|
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
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.
|To boldly go where thousands of other tourists have also gone...|
|Mangroves and a private beach|
|Urauchigawa... blue or green? Neither I nor may camera could decide.|
Although Yakushima remains my favourite island, Ishigaki came pretty damn close.
|Monument to ship-wrecked Chinese sailors|
|Orchids by the bucket-load in a local supermarket|
|So lush and green|
|Cutest little crab I have ever seen|
|Throw away your TV and get outdoors! But maybe don't throw away your TV while outdoors...|