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Saturday, 8 December 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 16 ~ Tropical Tokashiki

3-Nov-2018 – 4-Dec-2018

Having travelled around Japan for pretty much exactly nine months by now, I have finally made it to the southernmost area of Japan, namely…

Officially, Okinawa (沖縄 "Middle-of-the-Sea Rope") is a part of the Kyushu region. However, as I already said, I believe it's easily remote and different enough to be considered an area of its own, and that's what I'm going to do. Since Okinawa is a continuous island chain stretching pretty much the entire 1,200km from the southern tip of Kyushu to Taiwan, it's really difficult to say where the southern Kyushu islands stop and the islands of Okinawa begin. Officially, the dividing line between Kyushu's Kagoshima-Ken and Okinawa-Ken is just north of the main island of Okinawa, but personally I feel that at the very least the islands up to Amami – where the Akehono's first step from Kagoshima was – should be considered a part of Okinawa. Altogether, the total land area of Okinawa reaches about 3,300km² – making it a little bit smaller than French Polynesia – and about 1.5 million people live here, which means that it's about as populous as Munich. However, with an average population density of only 475 people/km², it's significantly less crowded – about as much as Comoros. Being of strategical importance in the East China Sea, it's probably not surprising that the USA have quite a lot of bases there, but learning that with a troop strength of around 26,000 men the USA have more soldiers stationed in Okinawa alone than in the entire remainder of Japan together still gives me pause. In fact, that means that over 1% of Okinawa's population is composed of US-soldiers. Okinawa is also the 5th-largest Island of Japan – after Shikoku (which is 15times bigger) and before Sado (which is 2/3 as big) – and was once its own island kingdom, which is why just like the Ainu Language in the north that can still be encountered every here and there, Okinawa also has the Okinawan language. However, the dominant language spoken here is very definitely Japanese, and if I should hear Okinawan it would be in the context of "By the way, this place is called XYZ in Okinawan" or "In Okinawan, ABC means UVW".

Okinawa stretches over a total length of about 750km, consists of 4 major archipelagos – Amami Guntou (奄美群島 "Beautiful Cover Island Cluster"), Okinawa Shotou (沖縄諸島 " Middle-of-the-Sea Rope Island Group"), Miyako Rettou (宮古列島 "Old Hall Island Chain") and Yaeyama Shotou (八重山諸島 "Eight Heavy Mountains Island Group") – and features a total of 49 inhabited islands, with over a hundred smaller, uninhabited islands. And within all of these, I am currently located on the Kerama Shotou (慶良間諸島 "Happy Good Space Island Group"), which are a part of the Okinawa Shotou, lying about 35km in front of the coast of Naha.

The Kerama Shotou in itself consists of 22 islands, of which a total of five – Tokashiki (渡嘉敷 "Esteemed Crossover Site"), Zamami (座間味 "Sitting Space Taste"), Aka (阿嘉 "Esteemed Corner") and Geruma (慶留間 "Happy Stopping Space") – are permanently inhabited, and a number of others feature temporarily staffed installations, such as the little airport on Fukaji (外地 "Outside Ground"), which is connected to Geruma and Aka by bridges. I for my part should spend the majority of the coming month on the island of Tokashiki, in the little town of the same name.

The island of Tokashiki is easily the closest thing to Rakiura I've ever spent some serious time on (see Book I ~ Chapter 15 ~ Restless in Rakiura). Although the entirety of Rakiura is about two orders of magnitude bigger, the populated and accessible part of the southernmost of New Zealand's islands is actually even smaller than Tokashiki, and with 697 people living on this little island, the population here is almost twice that of Rakiura. Apart from the town Tokashiki, there are also two other populated places on the island contributing to the headcount: the town of Aharen (阿波連 "The Corner where Waves Meet") at the southwestern bay, and the little village of Tokashiku (渡嘉志久 "Esteemed Crossover Long-Time Plan") in a little bay at the central western part of the island.

Latitude-wise, I am now at 26.2° N, putting me at level with the northern reaches of Miami and almost – but not quite – at the Tropic of Cancer. In fact, let's visualize this by activating The Device™ again, and while we're at it also invite New Zealand to the party, creating New Zealantis next to Japatlantis and… hang on a second, I should probably take this call… Yes…? Uh-huh…? Yeah…? …what do you mean: "Broke the gulf stream"??? Look, if your ecosystem can't handle minor fluctuations like the appearance of a few landmasses then that's hardly my fault, now is it?? Look, you can probably just fix this by closing the Drake Passage to cut off the circumpolar cold current and… Oh, sorry, were you still listening to that? Anyway, not saying that there's anything to worry about, but you might want to stock up on winter clothing and firewood anyway. You know… just in case.

Climate-wise, I should stay one step ahead of winter. Technically, the climate here is classified as "subtropical", which is already plenty tropical enough for my taste, and although the temperatures should occasionally decrease ever-so-slightly, it should remain "T-shirt and shorts"-weather for the entirety of my stay. And not just "kinda T-shirt and shorts"-weather, but very, very definite "if you try to wear long clothes you'll overheat and die T-shirt and shorts"-weather. And now before you go and envy me too much for that, please keep in mind that these conditions also mean that there are plentiful mosquitoes around that are just waiting for a chance to drink your blood.

As a result, palm trees are commonly found among the flora of this place, though there are also a great variety of trees from more temperate climes around.

Also, it's not all sunny weather. and although the majority of the days are dry, we should every now and so often experience the occasional semi-tropical downpour.

However, most of the days the weather should end up good, great or fair, and it should soon turn out that the winds of fate have carried me to the right place at the right time, for the island of Tokashiki should turn out to be…

A Happy Good Space Indeed

This time around, I'm helping out at yet another hostel, this one going by the name of "Kerama Backpackers". After my harrowing experiences in the Nozaru Hostel in Yudanaka (see Book II ~ Chapter 11 ~ The Yoke of Yudanaka) I feel highly uneasy about working at this sort of place and am already mentally preparing myself to hightail it out of there should I get abused again… but fortunately, my fears turn out to be completely unfounded, for the Kerama Backpackers turns out to be a tiny little hostel that would fail to keep me that busy even if it were to be operating at full capacity and with only me to look after it – neither of which is the case.

This place is actually relatively recent, and has only been around since 2014. In addition, the owner also runs a marine shop by the name of "Island's Trip" over in Aharen, and thus needs helpers like me to take care of the place while he's away.

Said owner goes by the name of Atsushi Morino Shimaoka, though he prefers the staff to simply call him "Owner" (オーナー) in accordance with the Japanese tradition of addressing people by their position rather than their name.

The staff, that is not only his wife Miki, who can be frequently seen helping out at the hostel, but also a jolly old man by the name of Haruo Yamada, who goes by the very easy to remember nickname of "HAL". Interestingly, it turns out that he used to be Morino-san's high school teacher, and Morino-san's need for staff to look after his new hostel just happened to coincide with a time when HAL was looking for a new job to bridge the time between the end of his last employment and the start of his new job as a Japanese teacher in Taiwan. Unlike Morino-san and his wife Miki – who live in Aharen – HAL actually lives in the hostel together with me, and so he should be the person I would spent the most time with.

Morino-san and Miki also have a pair of children, though I would rarely if ever get to see them since they live in Aharen. Oh well, one way another, it's good to be a part of the team…

…and follow in the footsteps of half a dozen other ex-HelpEx-helpers before me.

One last important thing to mention is that this should be where my Japanese skills should be put to the test. Since the entire staff only speaks a little bit of English, I have to communicate with them in Japanese pretty much all the time (in fact, that was a part of the job description on HelpX), and although this proves to be quite tricky at times, it turns out that all my learning and practice up to this point has paid off, and I am able to communicate reasonably well – if probably somewhat awkwardly – most of the time.

Now then, let me right away proceed to tell you about…

The Place

The Kerama Backpackers is located at the end of a narrow street (note: most of the streets on this little island are narrow)…

…and is notably located right next to Tokashiki Jinja, one of the three Shrines on the island.

Unlike the towering colossus of the Nozaru hostel with its 4 floors, 22 guest rooms and Onsen, the Kerama Backpackers is really, reasonable, stretching over only two floors and impressing with its three different kinds of guest rooms (which is also the number of rooms in total. There is a female-only dormitory with 6 beds, a mixed-gender dormitory with 8 beds, and a Japanese-style dormitory room that can house up to 4 people, for a total maximum capacity of 18 guests. Meanwhile, HAL and I make our homes in little private rooms in containers on the hostel's roof. I imagine that in the high season, these might also be used as guest rooms, but right now we rarely have more than 4 guests per night, and so I once again have my own private room. Anyway, let me quickly show you around.

Unfortunately, my room does not come with its own desk. However, this won't stop me, and without delay, I manage to improvise myself a makeshift desk out of two moving boxes and a wooden board that are conveniently standing in the corner of the room. Although this shouldn't be the most comfortable of workspaces, it should nonetheless prove quite satisfactory for the duration of my stay.

Unlike the Internet, which is reasonably okay for most of the time, but does get its little timeouts every now and then. These usually fix itself with some time, but on one occasion something goes wrong so horribly that we have to call in mechanics from Okinawa to come and fix it – and dragon must something have broken there, for they should spend several hours working in tandem simultaneously on the downstairs router and the upstairs antenna before the network is finally fixed again.

Outside, the town of Tokashiki is located in a valley along the shore of the eponymous Tokashiki-Gawa. It is an idyllic little place barely 8 STEPs long and 3 STEPs wide, and a stark contrast to both Fukuoka and Naha.

At the far end of the valley, there is the port of Tokashiki, which not only does its best to make travellers feel welcome…

…but is also host to a collection of informational boards about Tokashiki, which apparently were put together by the students of the nearby Tokashiki Shougaku (小学 "Elementary School", consists of grades 1 through 6 in Japan).

And then there's also an impressively detailed 1:2000 scale model of Tokashiku and the adjacent islands here, which serves to give me a better understanding of both my immediate surroundings, as well as the island as a whole.

Another thing I take note of during one of my visits to the port is that apparently, it can happen that one or more of the three daily ferries to and from the islands get cancelled. HAL explains me that this is can happen even in good weather due to winds and high waves, and that it's usually the faster Marine Liner Tokashiki that gets cancelled, while the slower Ferry Tokashiki remains operational in all but the most severe circumstances.

Shielding the harbour is the quasi-island of Gitsushima which I suppose one could wade to at low tide. However, that sort of adventure doesn't really call out to me, so I stick to admiring it from a distance.

The next thing I notice walking around Tokashiki are the Shiisaa that are literally all over the place, guarding the entrances of approximately every second building. These lion-dog-like figurines fulfil a similar role as the larger guardian statues of a Shrine and are unique to Okinawa. Though they closely resemble the Komainu which can commonly be seen guarding Shrines, they are distinctly different entities. Traditionally, they come in pairs with the right Shiisaa snarling with an open mouth to keep evil spirits out, and the left Shiisaa having its mouth closed such as to keep good spirits in.

Naturally, since this is Japan, there is no rue against occasionally going for a refreshing little round of "Pimp My Shiisaa".

And after lions, its cats. Lots and lots of cats. In fact, there are probably more cats here on Tokashiki than on the cat island of Tashirojima near Shiroishi (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together). The biggest feline population on the island can be found in Aharen – no doubt thanks to the nearby fishing port – but the town of Tokashiki too is home to quite an impressive number of cats…

…some of which are not above coming right to the door of our kitchen to beg for some treats.

If it's not cats, it's goats. Owing to the semi-rural ambience, quite a number of those ungulates can be found, grazing either on pastures near the outskirts of town, little plots in between roads and buildings, or just tied off at the side of a road.

And to wrap up the section about the local fauna, just like there were little frogs all over the place back in Nagahama (see Book II ~ Chapter 12 ~ The Great Escape), over here its little lizards making their way across the windows, up the walls, and occasionally all the way inside.

Moving on to the facilities of this little island, there is exactly one supermarket, which goes by the name of JA Shop Tokashiki, and as a result of its monopoly I should visit it quite frequently.

Being on a little island, this supermarket is quite limited in both selection and stock – an experience I make for the first time due to Elizabeth doing most of the shopping back when I stayed on Rakiura – and as such I should frequently go on early-morning shopping raids to grab whatever limited supplies are available before they are sold out. Interestingly, one of the bottlenecks to my cooking end up being Aburaage, which I need to prepare Inari-Age for my Yakisoba lunches. More often than not, there are no or only a single package of the fried tofu around, so I buy them whenever I see them and stockpile them until I have enough to cook a portion of Inari-Age.

Interestingly enough, however, even though the selection of meat is highly limited and doesn't even include simple pork or beef cutlets, they do have these.

There is also another store by the name of Niihamaya (新浜屋 "New Beach House") around, but since it's both further away and has an even smaller selection, I should only visit it one time and never again.

Another interesting thing I see walking around the town is several instances of pixel fence art by the riverside. Can you guess which pictures belong together?

By the way, it deserves to be noted that these entire islands are pretty Tsunami-conscious, and as such there are Tsunami evacuation plan maps prominently posted in every city. Here's hoping I won't ever need them.

Likewise, there are signs pointing to the nearest Tsunami evacuation places, which is basically simply the nearest high ground like a hill or mountainside without any actual facilities or anything You have to hand it to them that they keep the paths there well maintained however.

Also, there are color-coded signs all around the island to inform you of your current elevation. 2m – 5m are red (the fuck not safe!), 5m – 19m are yellow (probably not all that safe but better than red) and 20m and above are blue. Green appears to be omitted on purpose on that scale as green is the colour of the psychologically important 30m-mark signs that can also found all around the islands. I really like how they also have those signs on the mountaintops, as in:
"Oh no, a meteor has crashed into earth and a 100m-high Megatsunami is racing around the world, do you think we'll be safe up here?"

On the cultural side, however, this place is a little bit disappointing. While I should eventually find one more Shrine dedicated to the ocean gods hidden behind the school…

…and there's a few places that might be Jizou, or at least somewhat Buddhism-related places of prayer. At any rate, there is incense and donations around, so some people are definitely using them as spiritual focus points. Meanwhile, other such places look like that might once have housed Jizou, but are pretty abandoned by now.

Apart from that, there are these interesting structures along the hillside, which you usually won't get to see unless you walk a bit off the beaten track. I assume that they are crypts since their entrances are permanently sealed. I have to warn you though that these places are surrounded by dastardly fiends that thirst for the blood of the living, so if you go to visit them do yourself a favour and wear generous amounts of insect repellent.

The last piece of historical culture are the stone walls of one of the first buildings to have been built here on Tokashiki. I have no idea how old it is, but I could imagine it dating back all the way to the Joumon-Jidai (縄文時代 "Rope Culture Era") – the time of Japanese prehistory which dates until 300BC due to lack of records from that time.

Actually, that one is a mere 2 STEPs away from the Kerama Backpackers, and interestingly neither the Owner nor HAL nor Miki ever took note of it until I mentioned it. There I go again, inadvertently teaching people new things about their immediate surroundings, and while the other helpers probably were all about the beaches and the sea, I take interest in different things, and thus help people see the world in different ways.

With that being said, I guess it's the perfect time to expand my event horizon here on the island, and go on…

Interlude: The Tokashiki Town Tour

Distance: 26.5km (18.4km ride, 8.1km stray)
Ascents: 742m (386m ride, 356m stray)
Duration: 5h (2.5h ride, 2.5h stray)
2; 3/7🎁︎

At this point, I sincerely wonder at which point I'll have my final cycling tour. I was fully prepared for my rides in Fukuoka to be the last one, but then I find out that it's possible to rent bicycles here on Tokashiki as well at an okay rate of 1000¥ per day. You can also rent cars, motorbikes and motorscooters, and while I have the licence for all of them, I really think they are overkill for a small island like this, and thus decide on a good old bike, mountains or no!

Or so I would, but the shop turns out to be completely empty! I wait around for a bit, and then I gather up all my courage to dial the number printed outside on my tri-Comm (yes, two years abroad and I am still nervous about making phone calls. The only good thing is that since my nervousness is already pretty much maxed out at this point, it doesn't really matter anymore that I have to make the phone call in Japanese on top of all) and call the owner, explaining that I would like to rent a bike and am waiting at the store.

It doesn't take long for him to arrive, and we quickly take care of the formalities, and then I can set up on what must be the cutest little bike I've ever used so far.

My goal for today is to visit Aharen Enchi (阿波連園地 "The Corner where Waves Meet Garden Grounds") – the southernmost point of Tokashiki – as well as the towns of Aharen and Tokashiku themselves. I was originally planning to make a tour of the whole island if I have enough time, but since I only have half a day due to having to help out at the hostel in the morning, and since I need to return the bike by 17:00, I should only be able to cover the southern half of the island… on this particular trip.

As long as I stay in the valley, the going is pretty good even on this cute little Bikey-Puff Jr…

…but with only 6 gears – two of which are not working to boot (fortunately those two are only the fast "downhill" gears) – I have to admit defeat almost the instant I hit the road running up the mountains and switch to pushup-mode.

However, my efforts are soon rewarded as I reach a viewing platform from where I not only get a great view of the town of Tokashiki below…

…but also find my first geocache on the island hidden in a nearby tree stump (after already having failed to find two in the town during the least few days).

A little bit further up the hill there is the Ariran Irei Monyumento (アリラン慰霊モニュメント "Arirang Solace Monument"), with Arirang being a Korean folk song. I don't know why this would be here, but the fact that one of the two stone tablets up here appears to be written in Korean probably means there is a piece of history written here in glyphs that are as of yet too difficult for me to understand.

Eventually, I reach the ridge of the mountains, and from there I can quickly cover a lot of ground with my bike…

…while also getting a great view of the ocean and Maejima. On clear days you can see all the way to Naha from here, but today it's just a little bit too hazy for that. Oh well.

Meanwhile, my main goal for the day lies that's-a-way.

Also, it is worth noting that the entirety of the Kerama Shotou is a Kokuritsu Kouen (国立公園 "National Park"), so a lot of care is taken to protect the environment. In fact, even the streets are built with the smallest of animals in mind, featuring little slopes in the curb stones to allow small reptiles and amphibians such as turtles to climb up.

On my way to the cape, I should interestingly encounter an Inoshishi (猪 "Wild Boar") on the road. The animal is actually a lot smaller than the boars of Europe (probably due to island dwarfism) and ducks into the bushes before I can so much as reach for my camera. Later on I should tell HAL about my encounter with the Inoshishi, and he tells me to be cautious as there apparently have been accidents involving them in the past.

Just a little ways further, and I arrive at Aharen Enchi, from where I safely make my way through the infested hub all the way to the southern cape of Tokashiki (actually, this is another brilliant case of Engrish, with Habu (ハブ, a type of snake) having been mistakenly translated as "Hub").

So, this is it. The southern terminus of my travels through Japan. I should not travel any further south than this cape, making it the opposite of Noshappu Misaki in Hokkaido (see Book II ~ Chapter 6 ~ A Hokkaido Homerun) which I visited over five months ago. Back then, I was at N45.45°, and now – almost 2,500km away as the sparrow flies – I am standing at N26.15°, almost a full 20° of latitude further to the south. A small part of the main island of Okinawa, as well as the Miyako Rettou and Yaeyama Shotou are the only parts of Japan that are further to the south, and that's about it.

So for now, I just take a deep breath and enjoy the wonderful panorama around me, the waves lazily billowing against the shores below, the wind blowing around me, and the Island of Tokashiki stretching to the north, not a soul in sight but me.

Actually, there is a structure further to the south of here: A little lonely lighthouse located atop Un-Shima (the name of which apparently comes from Okinawan and has no direct translation) – the small island south of Tokashiki….

…and I should actually make my way down to the beach with its crystal-clear turquoise waters to see if I might be able to cross the narrow channel separating Tokashiki from Un…

…but it's no good. I come as far as the tide pools, and then a 30m-wide channel of water blocks my path that I would have to swim across, and since I need to return the rented bike by 17:00 and it's already 14:30 by now since I only departed after finishing the day's work and having lunch, I don't really have the time for that. Plus swimming is not really one of my favourite pastimes either. After all, I am a fox and not an otter, and prefer to stray great distances across the land as opposed to frolicking in the sea. =^,~=

Afterwards, I get back onto my bike and return back north towards Aharen, following the road up (read: "push")…

…and down (read: "WHEEEEE!!!!!")

It is at this point that I realise a critical flaw of my plan to visit all three towns in one day, as well as Aharen Enchi: Since all three towns are at sea level (and Aharen Enchi is not that far above), and the roads connecting them all go vover the mountains, that should mean that I inevitably have a pushup-leg to complete after visiting each last one of them – a regrettable fact that should further impede my exploration speed and increase the need for haste.

But for now, I am taking in my share of Aharen, which turns out to be a much more tourist-centred place than the lazy town of Tokashiki. Located on a beautiful bay with a deserted island and wonderful beaches in two directions, I can see why this place would be the primary tourist attraction of this island.

By the way, I'm sure you're wondering about how I've been able to write this much without mentioning manhole covers at least once. Well, the truth is, Tokashiki doesn't have a particularly fascinating manhole cover design, but since I certainly don't want to disappoint you, here you go!

Also, there is another one of those Jizou-like places of worship around here. This time, I can actually observe people paying their respects in front of the three little stones, as well as place some offerings in the already overflowing jars. I guess they don't get emptied often. Actually, that's quite impressive, isn't it? I mean, in essence, this is a pile of money just lying around on the street, and everyone respects the religion and customs enough in order to refrain from just bagging it at night. I guess that says a lot about the Japanese culture (also, it probably means there are no magpies around these islands).

Anyway, moving on. I still have another town to visit, and not much time left. And yet, I still take a moment to appreciate the peculiar songs of the (sub-)tropical island birds as I pass them by along the mountain road.

Before I carry on to Tokashiku, however, I take one last detour to climb the 160m high Teruyama (照山 "Shining Mountain")…

…certainly not only because a Geocache is supposedly hidden there, but also because from there I can get a great panorama view of the Island of Tokashiki, featuring the village of Tokashiku and the town of Aharen, as well as the other Islands of the Kerama Shotou.

The hexagonal Tenboudai (展望台 "Unfolding Aspiration Pedestal" = "Viewing Platform") also features an interesting hexagonal map of the Kerama Shotou, which also informs me that I am at present exactly 1550km away from Tokyo.

One downhill race later I arrive at Tokashiku, a beach mostly known as a good place to watch sea turtles. However, I take note that it probably makes for a bad spot to watch the sunset at this particular time of the year, when the sun sets behind the mountains.

Now, the last obstacle that remains for me returning the bike on time (at this point, it is 16:10, and I only have 50 minutes left to return the bike) is the mountains between Tokashiku and Tokashiki. And yes, this is a red piste again.

In the end, despite stopping to find yet one last Geocache and failing at another one, I should make it back to the rental shop with 15 minutes to spare, and after a little bit of straying around the localfields in the evening hours, return back to the Kerama Backpackers, exhausted but quite happy. Tomorrow should bring another day, and with it a perfect opportunity to tell you about…

The Job

This should actually be the last time as a volunteer helper by any system. I tried finding yet another place here in Japan, but did not get any positive replies. As a result, from here on out, I would largely rely on the combination of Airbnb with my Software Development Job at Netfira, which makes this my grand finale as a helper. Better make it count!

Actually, it's more of a gradual fade out than a grand finale. Since food is not included, the workload at this place is, in one word, relaxed, and in two words, very relaxed. Nonetheless, this last place yet introduces something new that I did not have to deal with at any of my 23 previous places, and that is a contract that I have to sign before starting. Well, actually, it's more of a code of conduct, and the points of it make me seriously wonder what kind of awful helpers these poor people must have had to deal with in the past. As for me, I don't even have to put the slightest bit of effort into following these rules, since my normal modus operandi lies comfortably within their limits.

Also, this is the first time I have to wear a uniform while working, and with "uniform" I mean the official "Kerama Backpackers and Island's Trip"-T-Shirt. Can do!

As for the tasks itself, those are basically normal hostel duties the likes of which I already performed back at the lovely Pension Mutti (see Book II ~ Chapter 9 ~ Amicable Appi-Kogen) and the dreadful Nozaru Hostel (see Book II ~ Chapter 11 ~ The Yoke of Yudanaka). Specifically, my most regular duties include cleaning the kitchen…

…which should sometimes also include drying and putting away dishes in the case of more illiterate and/or lazy guests…

…changing and washing all the towels…

…and then vacuuming, my favourite task of all! I don't know why, but somehow I find the process of systematically cleaning the empty floors of the rooms and hallways quite satisfying and motivating.

After that, HAL and I usually work together to make the rooms, taking out old beddings, airing out the blankets and pillows as needed, and finally preparing new sheets for the next guests. Not a terribly busy task, since this is the low season and on most nights we should only have two or three guests, with a maximum of eight on one particular night I think.

Actually, I find it a bit strange that this should be the low season. After all, what better time to take a vacation on a nice and warm tropical island than winter when it's cold and mushy up north? But oh well, the data doesn't lie, and I guess that just means more spare time for me.

Occasionally, it should also fall to me to clean the toilets and showers, but most of the days HAL prefers to take care of that while leaving me in charge of the kitchen, towels and vacuuming.

Depending on how busy things get (and how the weather is holding up), I also help with hanging the laundry on the roof. Normally, Miki takes care of that while HAL and I clean the hostel, but eventually, she should go on a vacation to her home town, leaving the two of us to handle this task.

And finally, the end of the day should always come with me sweeping the Genkan, the porch, as well as the boardwalk in the back – also known as the Uddo Dekki (ウッドデッキ "Wood Deck").

It is during these sweeping and vacuuming endeavours that I realize the truth of an ancient piece of wisdom.

Yes, since the main leisure activity of our guests includes going to the beach, we get quite a bit of sand indoors every day, and quite a big part of my duties is getting it out again. Fortunately, thanks to modern technology like vacuum cleaners, that's not a big problem at all, and since we only have three rooms to take care of in total with our effective personnel strength of two to three (as opposed to two to three people for twenty-two rooms in the Nozaru Hostel), we usually get everything done within an hour, and never ever exceeding two hours.

Now, even though the accommodation is not luxurious and food is not included, an average of maybe 1.5 hours a day is still way below what I think a fair balance of work is for what I'm getting here, and this is where my Flirial side shines through. Intending to put the balance at least a little bit further towards the right end of the spectrum, I approach Miki and offer up my skills as a mapmaker to her. She considers it for a bit, and eventually says that they could indeed use a map for the National Okinawa Youth Fellowship Centre north of the city of Tokashiki Town, which as of yet is the only area of Tokashiki that does not have a dedicated detail map.

A fox, a word, I should dedicate a sizable portion of my trip up to the National Okinawa Youth Fellowship Centre (see Interlude: The Lucky Lookout Loop below) to mapping out the area…

…and then creating a detailed map with height profiles, isolines, labels, viewpoints and everything, which is second only to the farm map I created for John Donaldson back in Opotiki in New Zealand (see Book I ~ Chapter 26 ~ The Opotiki Opportunity).

Yet even after all that, I still feel I can do more to repay them, so I end up whipping up some informative sheets for tourists about bus and ferry connections, as well as other important facts about Tokashiki that are not covered by the tourist brochures…

…and I cannot possibly begin to describe how deeply satisfying it is to one day walk around the hostel to find that the Owner has actually printed and laminated them, and then posted them at key strategic positions throughout the hostel.

Finally, the Owner, sensing my eagerness, asks me to proofread a book about the Edo-era and tell him what I think. Ever dutiful, I plunge right into the piece of informative and amply-illustrated literature.

It only takes me a few days to devour it all, curtsey of it being quite interesting, and naturally, me being a talented bug-finder and all, I notice quite a few bloopers, the most obvious of which is that it treats "r"s as "l"s most (but not all) of the time, thus turning "Inari" into "Inali" and "Hattori Hanzou" into "Hattoli Hanzou". My absolute favourite, however, is the Neutron-Rice (my guess is they meant to say "Nitrates", but who knows?).

And that is finally all for the job. It might seem like a lot, but it is actually the least I've ever worked at any of the two dozen places I've helped out at in New Zealand and Japan, even with all the extra effort I put in. Oh well, I guess that's for the best, because my next day-trip should turn out to be somewhat of…

Interlude: A Naha-ton

Distance: 14km
Ascents: 130m
Duration: 4.5h
20; 5; 2/8🎁︎

[To be continued…]

The Food

Interlude: The Lucky Lookout Loop

Distance: 13km
Ascents: 350m
Duration: 4h

The Flair

Interlude: From Dawn to Dusk

Distance: 27.8km
Ascents: 686m
Duration: 7.5h
6; 3; 6/12🎁︎

The Retrospective

Interlude: The Tri-land Trip

Distance: 23.2km
Ascents: 620m
Duration: 5.75h
5; 5; 2/9🎁︎

The Road Ahead