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Thursday, 22 November 2018

Book II ~ Chapter 15 ~ Shipping Southwards

1-Nov-2018 – 3-Nov-2018

After having come as far down as Kyushu – and with time to spare – I have decided to extend my trip down to the very southwesternmost reaches of Japan: The islands of Okinawa! Getting there, as you might imagine, is not as straightforward as traveling on the main islands of Japan, and so this trip should take me a total of three days: On The first day, I would get down to Kagoshima and board the ferry bound for Naha, the capital city of Okinawa, the second day would mostly be spend aboard the ferry, arriving at Naha late at night, and on the third day I would finally cross over to the final destination of this trip: The little island of Tokashiki.

I am actually quite excited about this since it contains quite a number of uncertainties. I did my research, and I'm reasonably confident that I got it all right, but being the fox that I am, I can't help but feel nervous, worrying that somewhere along the way I have made a mistake in my calculations. But anyway, there is only one way, and that necessitates setting out…

Day 1: Tabikitsune Densetsu (旅狐伝説 "The Legend of the Travelling Fox")


The first leg of my adventurous journey begins at Chihaya-Eki, where Sumire dropped me off at 5:30 in the morning so that I can catch the first southwards-bound train. This early in the morning, the station is still quite deserted…

…and yet, the train I take is already quite full with people heading to Fukuoka from the north. Fortunately, most of them get off at Hakata-Eki – which is unintuitively the central station of Fukuoka – and I am able to grab a seat.

The railway segment of my trip should consist of a total of four different lines, and take over 8 hours to complete. Along the way, I should ride the following lines:
  1. From Chihaya to Arao with the JR Kagoshima Line Section Rapid for Arao (96 minutes ride; 16 minutes to change)
  2. From Arao to Yatsushiro with the JR Kagoshima Line for Yatsushiro (88 minutes ride; 60 minutes to change)
  3. From Yatsushiro to Sendai-Kagoshima with the Hisatsu Orange Railway for Sendai (164 minutes ride; 14 minutes to change)
  4. From Sendai-Kagoshima to Kagoshima-Chuo with the JR Kagoshima Line for Kagoshima-Chuo (48 minutes ride)

And thus, I should spend the first half of this journeyful day…

Taking the Trains through Kyushu

Much to my delight, I find out that I can use my still considerably charged IC cards on the JR Lines of Kyushu – or at the very least the ones leading down to Kagoshima, and so for once I don't have to go through the trouble of buying a ticket, and can simply tag on with my card at the ticket gate, and then ride the trains down into the daybreak, and down the coast. As usual, I shouldn't see quite as much of the ocean as my route would suggest, with the majority of the ride passing through fields and valleys parallel to the coastline or cutting across peninsulas, but especially between Yatsushiro and Sendai, I should get to see quite a lot of coastline before the train line turns southeast to cut across the mountains and towards Kagoshima across Trails of Cold Steel.

My first stopover is Arao (荒尾 "Wild Tail"), where the majestic 1,359m high Unzen-Dake (雲仙岳 "Cloud Hermit Peak") is just visible in the distance. This volcano is particularly noteworthy for it viciousness, having killed a total of 15,000 people in 1792 by dropping its entire eastern flank on the city of Shimabara (島原 "Island Meadow") – killing the first 5,000 – as well as into Ariake-Kai (有明海 "Existing Bright Sea"), triggering a Megatsunami with waves up to 20m high that killed the next 5,000 across the bay. Finally, the Tsunami rebounded and claimed another 5,000 lives on the other side of the bay. Also, on a more recent timescale, in 1991 it managed to produce a pyroclastic flow that killed another 43 people – including three volcanologists. I for my part am quite content to keep my distance while waiting for the connecting train.

One city further down the line, the city of Nagasu not only features a ferry over to the peninsula of the dreaded mountain, but also appears to have a foible for fishing, or how else would you explain this?

Yatsushiro (八代 "Eight Generations") should be the longest transfer stop for today's train journey, and that's pretty convenient since this is where I change train services to the Hisatsu Orenji Tetsudou (肥薩おれんじ鉄道 "Fertility Buddha Orange Railway"), which I most certainly did not pick only because of its name. It's also a little bit cheaper, involves less transfers, and frankly, the route it takes along the coast is a lot more interesting than that of the JR Kagoshima Line – even if it takes a little bit longer.

Much to my delight, tagging off with my IC card works just fine at Yatsushiro-Eki, and I can am also able to buy a ticket (with a very interesting design) for Sendai at the Madoguchi without any problems for 2,060¥. On top of that, I really dig the uniforms of the Orange Railway employees!

The wait turns out to be not boring at all, since there's a bunch of curiosities to be found in and around the station that goes beyond the typical manga-library in the waiting room…

…such as an instruction sheet about how to use exotic western style toilets in the restroom…

…or the fact that my train is scheduled to depart from track 0. I guess that means that departing from this station, I make my own little version of Eiyuu Densetsu ~ Zero no Kiseki (英雄伝説 ~ 零の軌跡 "Legend of Heroes ~ Trails of Zero", the Japanese RPG for PlayStation Vita I've bought back in Tokyo (see Book II ~ Chapter 4 ~ Action at Akihabara)) and have been playing ever since to further improve my Japanese skills).

I am, however, a little bit disappointed when the train turns out to be neither Orange, nor the advertised Kumamon-train (the bear Kumamon being the mascot of the Kumamoto province), but rather a blue one advertising a trip to the nearby Koshikishima-Rettou (甑島列島 "Steaming Basket Island Archipelago"), which can be accessed from Ichikikushikino (いちき串木野 "Ichiki Spit Tree Field"). I guess that means that I'm incidentally also covering the sequel Eiyuu Densetsu ~ Ao no Kiseki (英雄伝説 ~ 碧の軌跡 "Legend of Heroes ~ Trails of Blue") – which I also bought in Tokyo but have yet to start – with my departure from here.

Inside the train I experience what must be the world's longest train-newsticker display, which meticulously announces every single last stop in advance in both Japanese and English, and while I have to grant that it has some merit, the fact that it takes over two minutes to complete a whole cycle still renders it… uhmmm… kinda impractical if compared to, say, a static printed station chart or something. Especially considering that the Japanese string of characters looks like a ladybug got into the display mainframe and is randomly generating signals while the English version is more reminiscent of a cat performing a step dance on the keyboard. It's also noteworthy how some of the names are too long in their English version to fit onto the display as a whole. Finally, the statement about this being a non-smoking train is not technically correct: Since the Hisatsu Orenji Tetsudou is not electrified, it has to be using diesel, thus meaning that the train itself is actually smoking quite a lot.

Once again, one of the stations along the way features an animal mascot. This time, however, it is not a big fish, but rather a trio of Egrets decorating the platform.

My last railway transfer stop is Sendai (川内 "Three Houses"). Now, those of you who are familiar with Japanese Geography may wonder "Wait a minute… isn't Sendai all the way on the other side of the country?" Well, yes and no. You are thinking about Sendai (仙台 "Hermit Pedestal") in Miyagi-Ken, which is pronounced the same, yet spelled differently. There are actually a lot of places like this in Japan, which is why in Hyperdia – the railway route planning app that I'm using – this particular Sendai is referred to as "Sendai-Kagoshima" (have I recently mentioned that the Japanese language has too many homonyms?). Also, this station is notable for its double-dead end transfer platform, where JR and the Hisatsu Orange Railway apparently made an agreement saying "It's ours up until here, and yours from there on out", resulting in a very interesting platform and track division.

From there, I cover the last part of the distance to my first major goal for this trip using an unusually modern train…

And then, shortly after 14:00, I arrive at the very interestingly T-Shaped Kagoshima-Chuo-Eki (鹿児島中央駅 "Fawn Island Central Station"). The characteristic T-Shape originates from this being the southern terminus of the Kyushu Shinkansen, which hits the city perpendicular to the main line.

And with that, the first leg of the first day comes to an end. Next, I should be up for…

The Terminal March

My next destination is the Okinawa Ferry Terminal… which unfortunately is not only located quite some distance from Kagoshima-Chuo-Eki, but also doesn't have any sort of convenient public transit connection that I can easily figure out. However, it is "only" 10 STEPs away from the station, making it borderline walking distance even with me burdened with both of my bulky backpacks, and since this is one of the two short stopovers I plan to have in Kagoshima during my journey (with me planning the other to be when I return from Okinawa in order to close the circle again), I figure this might be a good chance to see a bit of the city. Who knows? Maybe I'll even stumble across a Shrine along the way?

And it should turn out to be totally worth it! Though I should not find any Shrines or Temples along the way, let me tell you that Kagoshima is one of those cities that you have got to visit, mostly owing due to the spectacular mountains surrounding the city on all the sides which already impressed me as I rode the train into town.

The most impressive of which is Sakurajima (桜島 "Cherry Blossom Island"), which looks like it has been taken out of a picture set and digitally retouched. The puny photographs taken with my humble compact camera cannot possibly due this majestic mountain justice, which is why I highly recommend making Kagoshima a part of any Japan Tour you might be planning to see it in person.

Sakurajima is currently a total of 1,117 high and as of recent a peninsula. I am saying that because it is the most active volcano in all of Japan, and has been a proper island until the lava flows of the geologically recent eruption of 1914 connected it with mainland Kyushu on its south eastern corner. It has furthermore been erupting almost constantly since 1955, and thousands of minor eruptions occur each year, with the last major one having been in 2016. As a result, Kagoshima holds regular evacuation drills, and there are also shelters all around the city for people to take cover from falling volcanic debris. On a larger scale, Sakurajima is the modern vent of the same volcano that triggered a cataclysmic eruption 22,000 years ago, forming the massive Aira Karudera (姶良カルデラ "Quiet Pleasing Caldera") that today forms a 20km-across bay north of Sakurajima.

Anyway, my 45 minute long march to the ferry terminal should turn out to be pretty uneventful, with me getting the best view as I cross Kotsukigawa (甲突川 "Armour Piercing River").

I am quite glad when I finally arrive at the ferry terminal, this march having brought me closer to my limit than I would have liked. At least the temperatures are quite pleasant for such a walk, approaching but not exceeding 20° in a nicely balancing combination of "hey, here comes winter" and "but we're kinda far to the south here".

Now, naturally one of my scenarios for what could go wrong today is that I accidentally walked to the wrong ferry terminal (Kagoshima has quite a few of those), and despite me having planned in a very generous buffer to accommodate for such possibilities, the thought of having to keep on walking after this ordeal does not exactly fill me with blissful delight. That having been said, Imagine my relief when I see the Akehono of the A-Line – the ship I was planning to take – waiting in port next to the terminal.

From there on out, it's mostly formalities and cash. Once again, I have to fill out a boarding application and hand it in at the Madoguchi, before paying a painful 15,030¥ to get my ticket. And that is for a mat in the Tatami-room, the cheapest ticket you can possibly get. Now if you want a dormitory bed or even a single room, then you'd have to be prepared to fork over a whopping 29,640¥ or 36,950¥ respectively. And don't even get me started on how much you'd have to pay if you wanted to get a car all the way from Kagoshima to Okinawa.

After overcoming the sheer gut-clenching terror of paying a Ryokan-night's worth of money for the slow and humble passage, I am quite happy to spend the following hours relaxing from my arduous march here in the quiet ferry terminal, patiently bidding my time until I can board the ferry in the evening.

Oh yeah, and I also finally have the second half of my traditional "Melon Pan and Yakisoba Roll" provisions, the first half of which I devoured during my stopover in Yatsushiro.

The wait should total about two hours, and it's already evening as boarding time begins.

With that, I should now depart Kyushu after having stayed here for more than a month, and now begin my short stay…

Aboard the Akehono

The Akehono (あけほの, possibly meaning "Dim Morning" or "Light Red"), is about the size of the Silver Eight, which I took from Hokkaido to Honshu (see Book II ~ Chapter 8 ~ An East Side Story). It has a total of seven decks, three of which are publicly accessible. Of those, decks 4 and 5 are mostly indoor decks, featuring the rooms and facilities, while the publicly accessible part of deck 6 is the stern section of the top outdoor deck.

Speaking about rooms: I already mentioned it, but there are several types of rooms: The Tatami-mat rooms (2等和室 Nitou Washitsu, "2nd-class Japanese-style room"), the dormitory bed rooms (2等寝台 Nitou Nedai, "2nd-class bed"), the private rooms (1等室 Ittou Shitsu, "1st-class room"), and then there's also four deluxe rooms (特等室 Tokutou Shitsu, "special-class room"), which were not even listed on the price sheet. The latter even have their very own private corridor and saloon.

As I mentioned, I have chosen to take a space in one of the cheap Tatami-mat rooms, which feature cosy bedding for a few dozen people. Unlike the last time, where I had an entire such room all to myself, this time around I have to share it with maybe a dozen people or so. You also have to hand it to the A-Line company that they somehow managed to book the spaces so that all mats on one side are occupied, while the ones on the other half of the room should remain empty for the entirety of the journey, making sure that none of the passengers should feel lonely at night as for a lack of immediate neighbours.

There is also a strict behavioural codex prohibiting excessive drinking, smoking outside the designated areas, hearing loud music, fighting, threatening, vandalism, thievery, sexual harassment and general lewdness. Good to know.

Naturally, the Ship also has its set of Jidouhanbaiki…

…but for once I should not have to use it, since this ship also features a fully functional canteen. Incidentally, this is also one of the points in my journey where I'm really happy to be able to read at least some Japanese, because the menu is entirely composed in that language.

But before I should go and have dinner, I would take the time to watch our departure from Kyushu. As the final preparations are being made, the sun finishes setting in the east, reflecting from marvellous Trails in the Sky.

The ferry departs at exactly 18:00 in the evening, departing Kagoshima port and setting out into the dark blue of the nightly ocean, while the city dwindles behind us and soon is nothing more than a band of lights on the distant horizon.

Afterwards, I hit the canteen where – in order to uphold the tradition I began on the Silver Eight and continued aboard the Akane from Sado to Naoetsu (see Book II ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sadistic Sightseeing) – I order a hamburger. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be of the bread-less kind. Instead of a typical burger, I get a hamburger patty with sauce, a slice of tomato and lettuce. Oh well, at least I tried.

Subsequently, I set up my work station in the common area. Much to my delight, this ship has (painstakingly slow but nonetheless present) internet. However, much to my dismay, it doesn't have a proper laptop workspace anywhere on the entire ship, and so I am forced to make do with what I can get. The biggest deficit is that there are no electric outlets anywhere in the common area, and so I can only work for as long as Liete's battery permits.

As a result, it's not long before I decide to call it a night and curl up next to the other passengers in the Tatami-mat room…

…and quickly fall asleep with the slight, rhythmic swaying of the ship as it gradually makes its way out into the east Chinese sea.

Day 2: The Ryuukyuu Regatta


The journey to Naha should take a total of 25 hours, and along the way the Akehono stops along pretty much every single island of the Ryuukyuu Shotou (琉球諸島 "Gem Ball Archipelago"), except for the ones closest to Kagoshima.

As such, I should have plenty of time to work on my blog and relax while also occasionally going out on deck to enjoy the sight of…

A Chain of Islands

By the time I wake up, we have already arrived at our first port of call (actually, an earlier broadcast announcing our arrival in Japanese and Japanese only woke me up earlier, but I must have dozed off again), which is Amami (奄美 "Obstructive Beauty") on Amami Ooshima (奄美大島 "Obstructive Beauty Big Island"). The ship arrives there at 5:00 in the morning, and leaves by 5:50, and as I watch the proceedings on the dock in the pre-dawn gloom, I realize that the Akehono is more than just a passenger ferry. Forklifts busily zoom in and out of the ship's belly, unloading containers with what must be supplies from mainland Japan and leaving them on the docks. I figure that it's only on the return trip back to Kagoshima that the empty containers are returned to the ferry.

Most of the action is already over by the time I arrive on deck, however, and so it doesn't take too long before the Akehono weighs anchor again, and leaves port well before dawn.

It should be over three hours before we reach the next port, and in the meantime I have a nice, Japanese-style breakfast, complete with fish, rice, Misoshiru, Umeboshi, tea and yummy, yummy Natto....

…and also take the time to enjoy the scenery of the islands passing by as the Akehono weaves its way through Ryuukyuu Shotou. Regrettably, the weather conditions turn out to be somewhat suboptimal, and thus I don't get to see a proper sunrise despite the early hour.

Shortly after 9:00, we make landfall on the next island, this one being called Tokunoshima (徳之島 "Island of Benevolence"), and the respective port Kametoku (亀徳 "Benevolent Turtle"). Lacking a big terminal like that of Kagoshima, the few people getting on and off here have to board via a set of stairs integrated to the Akehono.

This time around, the stopover lasts for only 30 minutes, and then we're off towards the next island in the chain. In the meantime, I have located a power outlet in the Tatami-mat room, and since by now all the people in there have gotten up, I make good use of the extension cord/power bar which I bought all the way back in Tokyo, and set up an improvised and sort of uncomfortable, yet functional workstation for myself. Seriously, though, whoever called this type of device a "Laptop" obviously never tried to work wit it on top of one's lap for any extended amount of time.

Our next stop is the even smaller island of Okinoerabujima (沖永良部島 "Open Sea Eternity Good Looking Section Island") at 11:30, which not only features the little town of China (知名 "Distinguished Wisdom"), but also yet another Mt. Daisen – this one being only a meagre 246m high. Our port of call here is Wadomari (和泊 "Harmonious Overnight Stay"), and once again I am able to observe the forklifts busily zooming around on the docks, delivering supplies to this remote island.

Looking out into the distance, I notice a very hyperactive wind turbine on the coast, completing one revolution is as little as a second, and can't help but wonder if, on a stormy day, this little thing is capable of powering the entire island all on its own.

By now, it's lunchtime, where I chose to go with a bowl of Gyudon, again with complimentary Misoshiru, plus a Natto-treat for a fistful of Yen.

The following leg should feature the best weather of the entire trip, and for a few short minutes I am able to enjoy a relatively blue sky reflecting of the waves and illuminating the island coasts… and then it gets cloudy once more.

Meanwhile, the islands just keep on getting smaller, with each one being roughly a third the size of the last one. Our next stop of Yoron (与論 "Participated in Argument") is barely 20km² big (meaning that any place on the island is within a distance of 10 STEPs at maximum), and doesn't bother making a distinction between the island, and the town which spans pretty much all of it. In Civ-terms, this would be a typical one-space island. It is also here that, despite the clouds, I first witness the typically tropical turquoise water in a part of the bay.

By 14:10, the Akehono disembarks from here, and we are now en route to the last island of the Journey, Okinawa itself, where we are scheduled to have a total of two stops due to its size.

Our next stop, the town of Motobu (本部 "Main District"), is located on the eponymous Motobu Hantou, which is located pretty much in the centre of the island of Okinawa. As a result, we should actually spend the majority of the journey there travelling parallel to the shore of Okinawa before finally making landfall at 16:40 in the afternoon.

It is here that I finally manage to do what I've been meaning to do since the last port, and that is capture the landing sequence in action. It is amazing how well coordinated the sailors and the dockworkers are, first signalling with whistles as they throw over the ropes to moor the ship down, and then quickly bustling about to empty the ship of containers and other cargo in time. A squadron of forklifts stands at the ready in a well-oragnize row at the docks, and the first sailor climbs across the hazardous ramp before it has even been completely lowered.

It is here that the majority of the people depart the ship – I can only reckon that it's probably cheaper to take the bus from here to Naha or to wherever on Okinawa they'Re headed. Either way, the Tatami-mat room is now mostly empty, with only me and a few others still occupying their mats.

As the Akehono closes the remainder of the distance, it is slowly starting to get dark, and before long the coast is once again only discernable as a row of distant lights.

Just in time for nightfall, we should prepare for landfall. However, much to my dismay, night and land are not the only falling things right here and now, and thus I should be in for…

A Wet Welcome

Now, the good news is that the rain started while we were still approaching Naha (那覇 "What Leadership?"), and so I had enough time to gear up for the circumstances, donning Krevyasz, my trusty somewhat rain-resistant coat, and activating the anti-rain cover for my large backpack.

The bad news is that the hostel where I am planning to spend the night is still about 7 STEPs away, which significantly exceeds the distance you'd want to hike in Stage 3 rain. What is Stage 3 rain, you ask? Well, to make it short, that's "average" rain, but if you want the full 5-Stage classification chart, then here you go:
  • Stage 1 Rain: A drizzle or pearlwind. Can be indefinitely staved off by normal clothes. Might be a bit bothersome, but is also not a show-stopper for most outdoor activities.
  • Stage 2 Rain: Light rain. Normal clothes breach after a few minutes. Can be staved off for about half an hour by cloth jackets, and indefinitely by rain-resistant jackets. A show-stopper to most outdoor activities, but won't stop you from doing outdoor work that you mean to get done.
  • Stage 3 Rain: Normal rain. Normal clothes breach within less than a minute. Can be staved off for about half an hour by rain-resistant jackets, and indefinitely by truly waterproof raincoats. You don't want to be outside in this for more than a few minutes if you have a choice.
  • Stage 4 Rain: Heavy rain. Rain-resistant jackets breach within a minute, and even waterproof raincoats might not hold out indefinitely, unless they are one-sheet seamless rubber. The only times you want to be exposing yourself to this kind of rain is if you absolutely have to go outside to catch a train/ship/flight etc.
  • Stage 5 Rain: Tropical Downpour. Any protective clothing breaches almost immediately unless it is absolutely 100% waterproof. The next best thing to standing under a waterfall.

Anyway, my hostel is a good distance away from the port, and much to my initial confusion, I find out that I arrived at a different port than I had originally anticipated. However, fortunately I figure that much out in time, and thus manage to make it to my hostel drenched and tired, but at least no more drenched or tired than absolutely necessary.

The hostel I should spend the night in goes by the name of Hosuteru Chura Kyabin (ホステル美らキャビン "Hostel Beautiful Cabin"), and the rooms are, in one word, cute. Apart from the bed, there is just barely enough space for me to stand in the room after I've crammed in all of my luggage. Oh well, I guess for one night it will do.

Then again, given the circumstances, I guess I should be thankful that I was able to find the room at all. I wonder if they only give this room to westerners, given that 404, pronounced Shi-Zero-Shi can alternately also translate into "Die, Zero, Die!!!".

Then again, do you think I should be concerned that my room appears to be right next to the powder room? Why does a hostel even have such a room?? Are they afraid they might be attacked by the Crimson Permanent Assurance?

My vulpine curiosity getting the better of me, I should eventually risk to steal a glance inside… and figure out that it is just a simple washroom. Now, while I guess it makes sense to call this a powder room from a female perspective, a washroom was one of the last things on my mind when I first read the name. I guess I am just playing too many games set in late-medieval gunpowder setting. Oh well. at least now I can rest easy tonight.

Also, it's interesting how this hostel has entire floors dedicated to females and females alone. I wonder why it doesn't have any male-only floors? Isn't this, strictly speaking, discrimination against males?

Finally, while the rooms in this (admittedly rather affordable) hostel are kinda sorta the smallest ones I've ever seen, the common area is pretty nice, and features elaborately carved crab-chairs, as well as a small but functional kitchen.

However, since I'm only staying here for one night, I don't really feel like cooking. Instead, I head out once again, determined to find a place to get some food nearby, not yet realizing that this particular short stray should turn into the opening sequence of…

Kira and the Masters of the Universe

Much to my delight, the rain has weakened to Stage 1.5 in the meantime, meaning that using Krevyasz, I have little problem leisurely strolling through the conveniently nearby Naha Kokusai Douri (那覇国際通り"What Leadership International Street") shopping street in search for a place to eat…

…and before long, I find an adequate solution.

"Oh for the tail of Dragon the Ravager!!! Why in the name of the abounding lights of heaven would you go there of all places when you are literally surrounded by all sorts of amazing and exotic Japanese and other Asian food?", that's approximately what you are thinking now, right? Now then, I realize that my choice of dining place may appear to be a bit perplexing at first glance, but if you give me just a moment to explain then AHHHHHHRGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

[The Travelling Fox Blog Team would like to apologize for this delay caused by the untimely expiration of Kira at the hands of a murder of pigmy shrew assassins supported by berserk combat hamsters. We will be back with you shortly as soon as our ritualists finished reviving the poor little fox]

As I was trying to say, I have tonight chosen this particular establishment for a variety of reasons. Maybe most importantly of all is that during my time in New Zealand, on my trip through Northland 15 months ago, I stopped for dinner at New Zealand's northernmost McDonald's in Kaitaia, making this the antipodal equivalent to that visit: The southernmost McDonald's I should visit during my trip to Japan, and with it the closest one to the equator (actually, there are a few branches even further south in Okinawa, but I should not get anywhere close to them, so I guess this one will have to do). Also, despite having been in Japan for almost 9 months now, I have not actually seen a McDonald's here from the inside, and so am itching for a chance to see what kind of localspecialties they have on offer here. In the end, I decide to order an Ebi-Filet Burger Set with Chicken McNuggets, and thus accidentally find out that you can use that syntax to replace the fries that normally come with such a set by Chicken McNuggets, despite this not being written anywhere on the menu. Next time I guess I have to order an Ebi-Filet Burger Set with Fries and Chicken McNuggets. Oh well.

The thing I'm actually most curious about is how you can even make an Ebi filet (Ebi being Shrimps). Turns out the answer is "not at all". Instead, the Ebi are somehow "embedded" in a patty consisting of Something Else™. Not what I would have expected, but tasty nonetheless.

Also, while Sweet-Sour Sauce is the classic to go with Chicken McNuggets in the western world, it interestingly doesn't even exist over here. Instead, you can have either BBQ or mustard sauce to go with your nuggets, and knowing McDonald's there were probably no actual mustard plants harmed in the production of the mustard sauce, even though it tastes pretty much like average mustard to me.

After that, I take a somewhat scenic route back since the rain has almost completely died down by now, and it's actually not all that late yet. As a result – be it by chance or by the guiding hand of the goddess – I run pretty much directly into this mixed souvenir store…

…which, among many, many other things also carries the one thing I've been searching for in vain in Fukuoka: The fourth and final island seal! In fact, it carries so many of them that I have a hard time deciding which one to pick.

After deciding on one version of the Okinawa Island Seal, I return back to the hostel through the at this hour mostly empty nearby walking mall, and past some parks and rather slim buildings. The lodgings in there must be even more cosy than the ones in my current hostel.

Back in my room, mystical powers are revealed to me as I attach the final Island Seal to my trusty Omega Daypack and speak the words: "By the glory of Greytail… I have the power!!!"

The Daypack of Flames became the mighty Battlepack.

And I became He-Fox, the most powerful fox in the universe!!!

With this new found power, I am easily able to dispatch of those pesky pigmy-shrew assassins, though my tails tell me I'd better wai before taking on the hamsters. At the very least, I think I'd need some allies, such as a Sprite capable of casting Celestial Star and/or Meteor Swarm, a Cat-Celinne who is swift on his feet, as well as a Draykin-Gunner of the Jylcra-Clan. Any takers?

Anyway, with this, today is coming to an end, and I might quite possibly already be dreaming. Tomorrow, I should finish the last leg of this extended journey by…

Day 3: Crossing to Kerama


By now, I am already pretty close to my destination – Tokashiki of the Kerama Islands – but the ocean still divides me from my goal, and so I should have to take yet another ferry to make it from Naha to my destination of Tokashiki.

Regrettably, my morning in Naha should turn out to be…

A Downpour Departure

The weather for this morning consists of lovely Stage 3 rainfall mixed with gusts of wind to make sure the water goes absolutely everywhere, and you don't even have to think about using an umbrella. On top of this, the city of Naha has some sort of weird sidewalk tiles that get really slick and slippery in the rain, making it excessively fun to walk on with 30kg of luggage strapped to your body. Summed up, it's exactly the kind of situation in which you don't really want to walk 7 STEPs to the port.

Incidentally, this morning I should have to walk 7 STEPs to the port, in spite of the situation.

This time, the target terminal turns out to be the Tomari Port, which is sort of the central hub for local ferry services, servicing all the little islands within the general region of Naha. Naturally, I take care to arrive there extra-early such as not to miss my boat, and find out that the ticket office is actually still closed this early in the morning (read: 7:45).

In the meantime, I fill out the obligatory boarding application form (by now this doesn't even seem weird to me anymore), and before long I hold the ticket to the island in my hand. Interestingly, a 100¥ environmental tax is levied with each ticket purchase, and so the ticket turns out to be 100¥ more expensive than what it says on the price chart. Unexpected, but it's not too big a part of the 1,760¥ total, so I guess it's okay.

Since the ferry only departs at 10:00, I subsequently have plenty of time to eat my humble Konbini-bought breakfast…

…and coincidentally, I should soon meet a young lady from Germany, who is not only travelling to Tokashiki as well, but in fact is going to be staying at the same establishment where I am going to start working as a helper from here on out. We talk for a bit, but we really don't hit off with one another, so I eventually just leave her to her own devices.

There is actually two different boats going to and fro Tokashiki Island: The fast Marine Liner which runs twice a day and takes 45 minutes, and the slower Ferry Tokashiki which runs only once and takes 70 minutes to cross. Since I am not in a hurry, I have elected to take the bigger, slower and cheaper Ferry Tokashiki, which is a whole size category smaller than the Akehono.

About an hour prior to its departure, I am allowed to board the ferry, and thus I make myself comfortable aboard the moderately-sized ship, looking forward to be transported…

Across a Misty Ocean

Now, the Tokashiki Ferry Company says they'd like you reserve prior to crossing, but looking at the size of the ferry compared with hom many people end up being on it in the end, I think that's somewhat overkill. Maybe in the high season, yes, but today, I don'T think the Ferry Tokashiki reaches even 10% of its 450 person capacity.

While waiting for the ferry to depart, I have ample opportunity to browse through all the complimentary reading materials, such as the flyer for the Kerama National Park, which promises a 1:30 chance to win a digital gift for participating in a survey (probably along the lines of: "I completed a 30-minute survey and all I got was this stupid desktop background image").

Meanwhile, looking out of the window, I notice a very peculiar building. I guess that is what happens if you use an online service to commission a construction firm and check the "Gift Wrap? It's Free!"-box.

Eventually, the Ferry Tokashiki sets out, and owing to the somewhat suboptimal weather conditions, the journey is somewhat lacking in scenic display due to the rain obscuring all, even before the winds start blowing it across the roofed reeling and against the ship's windows. Theoretically, one should be able to see up to ten little islands looking out to the north during the crossing, but as things stand I am only able to observe the two we pass closest to: Maejima (前島 "Before Island"), which is located like a barrier before the bigger island of Tokashiki, and Gitsushima (儀津島 "Ceremony Haven Island") a small island just in front of Tokashiki's harbour. At least the sea is pretty calm despite the weather, and so the voyage is not particularly rough or anything.

Nonetheless, the intensifying downpour should mean I'd be in for…

An Aqueous Arrival

By the time we make landfall in Tokashiki Port, the rain has escalated to Stage 4, leaving both me and the young lady from Germany already quite wet from the short un-roofed walk from the ferry to the little terminal building. Fortunately, we don't have to walk all the way to the hostel since my next host has kindly come to pick us up. It's only 5 STEPs away from the port, but that's still not the sort of distance you want to cross in Stage 4 rain.

We quickly make it the hostel, and I am shown to my room where I can make myself comfortable and dry off, quite drenched despite only having been exposed to the mighty deluge for a short amount of time. The young lady from Germany complains about how she ordered good weather, but I take it in stride as I settle into my new home for the next month.

A little island, and a whole month to spend on it. Should it turn out to be as relaxing as I expect it to be? Or should I somehow manage to keep myself busy as always despite the confined landspace? That is for the future to tell, and for you to find out in the next chapter of the Travelling Fox Blog!