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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 1:5000 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🎁︎

When compared to New Zealand, the Furry-culture of Japan is the next best thing to nonexistent. Unlike down under where I always found lots of furries all over the place to cuddle with, I didn't really get to enjoy any furry cuddles during my entire stay in Japan thus far. All the more reason for me to accept the invitation of local US Fur serving in the US Marines in a base on Okinawa. Thus I scheduled a day off to meet in Naha today, and just to be absolutely sure I reserved a seat on the Marine Liner to and from Naha on that day (not that I think it will get anywhere close to full in this season, but better safe than sorry).

Unfortunately, however, said furry should not be allowed off-base on that particular day, so I end up having to spend the day fur- and cuddle-less after all. Oh well. I've got this ticket now, might as well use it. At least, in consolation, it should hold a number of Shrines, Temples and Geocaches in store for me.

Anyway, I have chosen to ride the Marine Liner both ways today as opposed to the Ferry Tokashiki for the very simple reason that it’s the only way to make a day-trip off the island. Just like the Akane which I took to get off Sado (see Book II ~ Chapter 10 ~ Sadistic Sightseeing), the Marine Liner Tokashiki is a catamaran, which I suppose explains how it can go almost twice as fast than the ferry, crossing the 33km in about 45 minutes (note: All advertisements say 35 minutes, but I took the actual time both ways, and it's really more like 45 minutes all things considered).

Just as I expected, the Marine Liner should turn out to be spectacularly unoccupied at this time of the year, which means that I don't have any trouble finding a good seat for the ride in the belly of the metal beast.

Oh well, I guess the other practical use of making a reservation is that they could have called me if the Marine Liner had been cancelled, which as I noted before happens if the waves get too rough, and as we make our journey to Naha, I realize why: Even though the ocean looks really calm, the overall swell of the less obvious long waves is still high enough that the Marine Liner skips over them like a stone at the speed at which it is going. I can perfectly understand why they would not want to operate this Kousokusen (高速船 "High Speed Ship") in waters any rougher than this.

Interestingly enough, the airport's takeoff corridor goes directly overhead our route, and as chance would have it one of the steel birds should pass directly overhead as we approach the city, granting me a good shot from directly below (and if you're now thinking "Yeah, great, so what?", then I'd like to see you taking a picture of a plane going at 500km/h upwards from aboard a heavily bouncing high-speed ship at 6.3x zoom using a tiny display on which you can't see the plane).

Not much later, we arrive at the Tomari (泊 "Docking") port of Naha. Since the weather was rather unpleasant when I departed from here, I did not really get to appreciate the design of the port building, but today is a fine day, and since the Tokashiki Liner actually makes landfall on one of the sides of the U-Shaped port, I get a good look at the arcs decorating the Tomari Terminal today.

Without anyone but myself to set the pace, I should naturally soon make a run to visit as many Temples, Shrines and Geocaches as possible within the time limit of five hours, which is what I have before the Marine Liner departs again for the return trip. This race against time should first lead me southwest more or less along the beachfront, then along the shores of the mighty Kokubagawa (国場川 "Country Place River"), then into the eastern foothills (that really don't look like hills on the map and yet sport some seriously steep street slopes once you get into them), and finally back towards Tomari port again.

One thing I soon realise is that in addition to Shiisaa, dragons are quite prominent design elements in this city, be it on bridges…

…or as colossal pillars flanking the streets. The latter one is actually known as Ryuuchuu (龍柱 "Dragon Pillars"), and was erected to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of Naha's friendship treaty with the city of Fuzhou in China, which is located pretty much directly to the west of Naha across the East Chinese Sea. The 15m-high pillars themselves are carved from granite from Fujian – the region around Fuzhou.

Also, I should finally be able to visit substantial amount of Shrines and Temples again here in Naha, although it deserves to be mentioned that the density here is significantly smaller than in most other big cities of Japan I've visited, such as Tokyo, Nagano or Fukuoka. Sapporo, meanwhile, is probably on an approximately equal ranking as far as Shrine-density is concerned.

Meanwhile, the cat-density here clearly exceeds that of any of the other big cities I've been to, with felines present at almost every other corner.

Naha generally seems to be a rather pet-friendly city. At the very least, it's the first place where I see drinking fountains with explicit options specifically designated for our four-pawed friends.

And not far from said fountain – which is located in Ounoyama Kouen (奥武山公園 "Warrior Within Mountain Park") at the southern turning point of my stray – there's a "children's dream" playground stretching all down an entire hillside on the top of which a Shrine is located. Now that's what I call great design!

By contrast, the manhole covers of Naha are of a rather simplistic abstract repetitive fish pattern. Oh well, can't have it all I guess.

Incidentally, on my way through the city, I should quickly realize that today has to be a special day of sorts, for not only are all of the major Shrines and Temples rather busy with adults and their children…

…but I also appear to have run right into the Tour-de-Okinawa…

…and Ounoyama Kouen is literally flooded with kids partaking in a multitude of athletic events all over the place.

I should eventually find out that today is Taiiku-no Hi (体育の日 "Health and Sports Day"), one of Japan's national holidays, which I guess explains all the athletic events and people about. Also, since today is a Sunday that means that by means of the national holiday banking system, the Monday tomorrow automatically becomes a holiday as well. As a result, the city is up in festivities, and entire roads are closed to traffic to make way for people.

Meanwhile, I should prefer to take to the quieter side streets and enjoy the presence of exotic and quiet trees over that of scores of boisterous humans.

By the way, as it so happens, most of the area I'm walking today is actually reclaimed land. A picture series at one of the entrances to Ounoyama Kouen nicely illustrates it, and today the only remains of the old coastline are occasional hills in parks and outcroppings of volcanic rock.

Today, what was once a river estuary is mostly covered by a city so modern it has its own monorail route zig-zagging its way from the airport half the way to the opposing coast (and the city spans all the way over to the coast. In fact, the entire southernmost third of Okinawa Island is pretty much one big metropolitan area.

On my way through Ounoyama Kouen, I also realize that the Order-of-Monks-who-Drive-May-Peace-Prevail-on-Earth-Pillars-into-the-Ground has paid this place a visit…

…and also come across something entirely new at Ryuukyuu Hachisha (琉球八社 "Jewel Ball Eight Shrine"): Inflatable Torii! Now, I do not consider myself an expert on Japanese history, but I am almost entirely sure that these do not date back to the Edo-period.

After leaving Ounoyama Kouen behind me, I proceed into an area of the city that is considerably more hilly than anticipated. Good thing I am on foot this time around, but even so the inclines somehow decelerate my rate of exploration.

By now, it's already well past noon, so I make haste, stopping only for the occasional wayside Jizou, Shrine, Geocache, or octopus-slide…

…while heading for the aptly named Sunrise walking mall in hopes of finding an appealing place to get a quick yet tasty meal.

Alas, none of the shops in there appeal to me, but once outside I pretty much run into this neat place that advertises in big, friendly letters "Okinawa Soba (沖縄そば), Gyuudon (牛丼), Katsu (カツ), Curry (カレー)".

It turns out to be a nice and rustic little shop inside with a Jidouhanbaiki-ordering system – much like in the Nakau restaurants – and to my delight, the Okinawa Soba that I naturally order turns out to be filling, delicious, and very reasonably priced at that. It doesn't get much better than this! Oh wait, it does! For only a few yen more, I also get a big glass of tasty Melon Soda to drink. Did I lately mention that I am going to miss that sweet, neon-green coloured soft drink a lot when I leave Japan?

After that, I weigh very carefully how much time I have yet remaining, and decide that it should just be enough to make a beeline up the next hillside to visit the last few Shrines and Temples that are more or less conveniently placed within the reach of my current trajectory…

…and then race to the finish at the Tomari port, but not without stopping to appreciate some very colourful curb stones.

Having hurried, I actually find the time to visit one last Shrine that is conveniently located just a short distance north of the Tomari port…

…and then it's time to board the Tokashiki Marine Liner again, and prepare to return to the island. Well, the smaller island.

Having sat below deck on my way to Naha, I decide to sit on the upper, quasi-outdoor deck for the way back, just to see what it's like. The first obvious difference is that the seats up here are, by necessity, a lot harder than the ones inside.

On the way back, the sea is not quite as rough as in the morning, but it's still not what I'd call a calm journey. However, unlike during my initial journey to Tokashiki, today the weather is nice and clear, and so I get a good view of all the little islands along the way, including Kamiyamashima (神山島 "God Mountain Island") and Nagannushima (ナガンヌ島 "Nagannu Island" (Okinawan Name)), which are actually little more than sand banks, barely visible in the distance – although the latter one prominently features a dining terrace. Compared to those little specks of land in the ocean, even the barely 1.5km² big Maejima seems pretty imposing.

And with that, this little trip to… uhh… "Mainland Okinawa"… comes to an end. Maybe it lacked for furriness and the cuddles associated with it, but at the very least I got to see more Shrines and Temples in a single day than during the entire rest of my stay in Okinawa combined. Of course, this little race was quite exhausting, which now makes me more than happy to talk about…

The Food

With food not being included, it's up to me to look after myself. No problem! Since I'm staying in this place for one month, that warrants the acquisition of a complete suite of condiments to put on toast, and over the course of the first week I should already try out all possible combinations of strawberry jam, mustard & mayonnaise, chocolate cream as well as Natto on toast.

And since that only amounts to a total of six different combinations, I also spice it up by gradually sampling my way through all the different types of Natto in the shelves of the supermarket. That's something I've always wanted to do, and now I finally got the chance!

To go with that, I usually have a glass of fruit juice and a cup of tea. With the juice, I cycle through apple juice, orange juice, multi-vitamin juice, as well as more exotic vegetable juices that taste pretty much exactly like a hearty bite into the front lawn. On the tea-front, meanwhile, HAL should introduce me to an Okinawan specialty by the name of Sanpincha: This Jasmine Tea is quite tasty, and should soon replace my favourite Ocha for the duration of my stay here… and beyond. Even better, Sanpincha tastes great both hot and cold, so HAL and I should frequently cook up entire pots of that stuff and consume it over the course of several days.

Moving on to lunch, since I am staying in this place for a while I should naturally cook myself up a stash of my beloved Inari-Age using the stockpiled Aburaage…

…and use it as a condiment for my all-time favourite lunchtime meal here in Japan: Yakisoba. Here on the little island, my choices are just a little bit limited, and so I should pretty much end up eating the plain Aruchan Yakisoba all the time.

Since that naturally is a bit monotone, I should spice it up by adding some easy non-Yakisoba dishes every other day or so, such as cup-noodles…

Also, I come across a new brand of Kitsune Udon that I have got to try out. The verdict: While it is refreshing to have actual thick Udon instead of the thin wannabe-Udon that the cup-Kitsune Udon generally use, the taste is nothing special, and the portion size is way to small. Oh well. Too bad. Nice try though!

Interestingly enough, although the food selection is rather meagre, I should come across not one but two new brands of Lemon Tea here and here alone. The UCC "Lemon Tea Drink" turns out to be nothing special, but the "Garden Lemon Tea" made by the Coca Cola company is so good that from here on out, I should keep my eyes peeled for it whenever I enter a supermarket (no luck so far though). I should usually consume one glass of this tasty beverage for both lunch and dinner.

Speaking of which, dinner should naturally be the one dish of the day where I put in all the variety, and m culinary escapades here range from Naleiayafero and Gamm Ligeral over Instant-Udon and Cup-Yakisoba up to Hamkatsu (deep-fried ham) and Gyouza.

Interestingly enough, on one night I manage to cook up the equivalent of the inner-tropical convergence cycle in my pot: Don't ask me how I did that, but for some reason the Soba just starts conveniently stirring itself in the pot. I imagine it might be due to the fact that the gas stove heats only the sides of the pot, but not the middle, thus causing the hot water to rise at the sides, and by necessity converge in the middle and sink back under. I wish I had had something like this as an interactive illustration during geography class in high school.

Also, since I'm staying here for a month, that means I can also afford to buy the smallest available pack of rice and hope to get through it during the time I'm here. As a result, I should regularly add curry-rice (with added cheese) to my diet. Two interesting variants being sold at the little supermarket here are Oufuu (欧風 "European Style") Curry (with mushrooms!) and the highly patriotic Naha Air Base Curry, which regrettably does not pack quite as much of a punch as you might expect.

It is also here that I fashion a new… uhhh… let us generously call it a "recipe" for a sauce. Basically, you take – from left to right – some milk, Katsu-sauce, Dashi, Shouyu, and what I think is some sort of pancake-flour mix, put it in a pot and heat it up while stirring occasionally. The result is surprisingly tasty and in honour of me probably never being able to reproduce this result which was achieved by combining a wild mix of ingredients that just happened to be available in the kitchen, I come to call it Konran-Tare (混乱垂れ "Chaos-Sauce").

So much for the food. Well-nourished as I am, I should now feel more than ready to explore the remainder of Tokashiki by means of…

Interlude: The Lucky Lookout Loop

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

I covered the southern section of Tokashiki by bike, but since the northern part is smaller, I figure I can get it done in an afternoon on foot. Going up these inclines by wouldn't be much fun anyway, and since the secondary goal of theis trip is to map the National Okinawa Youth Fellowship Centre, I figure that a bike would only get in the way.

The first challenge along the path is ascending up to the summit via the dreaded tri-Bridges. Those are not inclines you wish upon any bicyclist, no matter how much you hate him/her.

However, it has to be mentioned that you get a pretty great onlook on the town of Tokashiki from atop the bridges.

Along the way, I come across the Shiratama-no Tou (白玉之塔 "Tower of White Jewels"), which appears to be a war memorial of sorts…

…as well as a concealed little Solar Farm that probably provides the lion's share of energy on this little island during sunny days. Meanwhile, the hydroelectric plant near Aharen probably covers the nights and cloudy days, making energy on Tokashiki 100% clean and sustainable.

And then, I reach the National Okinawa Youth Fellowship Centre. Having once been a military base, it occupies a strategic position at the top of Tokashiki's highest mountain, though by now the military buildings have mostly been repurposed as lodgings and activity centres.

Apart from those, there is also a bathhouse that probably has a great view…

…as well as a restaurant with very… interesting opening times. Now, I don't have a psychologist, but if I had, then I'm sure he would like those as well.

Naturally, since this is a military base, there are still remnants of that time, such as old embankments for mobile artillery on the hilltops…

…and whatever the hell that is.

Most importantly, however, being on the top of the island means that I'm getting a great panorama of the surroundings from up here.

Apart from that, there is also a piece of slightly grim history lying around here for those brave enough to approach it. On 28-Mar-1945, following the landing of Allied troops on Tokashiki Island during the previous day, a whopping total of 394 inhabitants of Tokashiki (which is more than half of its current population) gathered up here for a lovely little round of Shuudan Jiketsu (集団自決 "Mass Suicide"), turning grenades on one another to immolate themselves. Death before the dishonour of falling into enemy hands, I guess. However, the truly tragic part here is that this event served as the forerunner to many, many more rounds of Shuudan Jiketsu over the following months. Monkey see (or hear via word of mouth and propaganda), monkey do. Or maybe it was just easier for those people to accept death than to accept a worldview in which the ever-glorious Japanese Empire was not undefeatable. Either way, it's a real shame.

Moving on from there, I make my way to the former base's back gate, which I find closed… but not locked.

Following my good old logic of "I really like circles", I find myself bold enough to open the gate and make my way down the back road, which should eventually loop around to take me back to Tokashiki…

…but not before leading me to an absolutely nondescript point along the road from where I get the most amazing outlook on the entirety of the other islands of Kerama Shotou in the history of awesome…

…as well as the one Geocache I should actually find today.

Along the way back to town I also come across a palm tree with the most interesting hexagonal pattern…

…and then it happens! All of a sudden I have a face-to-face encounter with an Inoshishi, right there, right then! This time around, I even have enough time to brandish my camera and take a picture before it continues on its way.

Okay, so maybe "face-to-face" is a bit exaggerated. Actually, the boar is still quite a comfortable distance away from it, and even the picture I've taken of it only appears relatively close because of the maximum possible combination of optical and digital zoom I can apply before the picture gets pixelated. The real distance I have from the little wild animal is more like this.

The Inoshishi is also quite small – probably due to island dwarfism – and it's also neither mating season nor the time of the year when sows would be over-protective of their piglets. Nonetheless, I decide to play it safe and make sure to walk rather loudly on my way back to town.

In the end, I manage to reach the outskirts of Tokashiki unharmed and without any further close encounters of the furred kind. As such, I consider myself lucky in triplicate: Not only did I get to see the wonder panorama of Kerama Shotou that few others will ever get to behold, but I was also able to see and photograph an Inoshishi, and finally make it back all the way to town unharmed. Lucky me!

That's enough excitement for one day, and with all of Tokashiki now having been officially taken care of, I consider it time to proceed to…

The Flair

Small though this little island should be, there is still a good amount of curiosities around if you keep your eyes peeled and your ears perked, and it all starts with the morning bell ringing at 6AM every day (except on Sundays), when it's still pitch-dark outside at this time of the year.

Within the next hour or so, dawn arrives and paints the sky above the valley in in wondrously warm, and welcoming colours.

In fact, on one of these mornings, I should walk the 5 STEPs to the harbour in an attempt to capture the sunrise on the island. I should be out of luck, however, since distant clouds block the rising sun that day. Yet in compensation I get to behold a cloudy corona of sorts that is not without its own sense of ephemeral beauty.

From there let us start on the streets, where more than once I find cars parked overnight in positions that seem to say "eh, no one is going to use that particular road anyway."

Way to go, guys! It's not like this little town has all that many streets to begin with. I guess some people should rather listen to Hello Kitty's advice and "Don't Drink and Drive" (or park, for that matter).

It would be much healthier to follow the example of some people jogging around the island in preparation for the grand Tokashiki Marathon that's going to take place in January. By my calculation, that marathon is going to encompass at least two loops around the island using the longest possible continuous path, and with those mountains all over the place is also going to result in a total of 1.5 km in ascents. I am simultaneously admiring and pitying the people who are willing to pit themselves against those odds. Either way, the islanders seem to be quite hyped out about this, and even have a countdown in front of the Tokashiki city hall counting the days until the big event.

And then there's the one trash car that regularly makes its rounds around the island and delivers the garbage to a secluded garbage disposal plant north of Tokashiki. Interestingly, you can always hear it coming thanks to it playing a catchy little tune in order to remind people that if they want to get rid of any garbage, now is the time.

One thing that personally surprises me a little bit is the large selection of pesticides they have in the supermarket, just above the cat food. I suppose despite all the felines, critters must be quite of a problem here. My personal favourite of these brand names is probably the "Dethmor" mouse and rat poison bait.

Among the other interesting things on sale is strawberry jam that somehow appears to take on an octagonal shape within a round filling…

…and child-proof… margarine… with visual instructions on how to open it… riiiiiiight… I can see the marketing department right now:
"What can we do to set our product apart from our competitors'?"
>"Well, we could make it more annoying to open…"
"Perfect! Let's do that and sell it as a perk!"

Back at the hostel, I should occasionally get to interact with the guests as well, such as playing cards in the kitchen…

…and also befriend an guy from India by the name of Vipul Aggarwal, who would gift me 50 Indian Rupees, which is about the equivalent of 80 Yen. I don't think I'll ever spend them. Their emotional meaning as a memento of this meeting is just so much more valuable to me than that.

Moving on to the topic of laundry. I don't know if I already mentioned this, but here in Japan there's a type of combo-clothespin rack that is used all over the place, including here at the southern tail end of Japan.

However, since there's only a limited amount of them available, and the wind here does have the habit of pushing together anything I put on a hanger so it can't dry properly, I have to get a little bit creative and invent a self-spacing clothes hanger matrix to keep my shirts and shorts apart.

Now, since all the laundry is hung up in public here, that naturally means I also get to see the guests' laundry, including some rather interesting T-shirts.

As for some of the laundry that happens as part of my work here, perhaps the most notable thing worth of mention here are the old-school duvet covers used for the Japanese-Style dormitory, which utilize not a zipper, not buttons, but tied-up laces to keep the covers inside.

Naturally, no place is perfect, and as you might know, I am quite skilled at finding bugs. So here's quite a big one that I find in the kitchen one day, much to the dismay of our female guests. I alone am brave enough to pick up the huge Mantis with my bare hands and taking it outside, consequently learning that the force of its scythe-arms equals about that of a hearty pinch, yet is not strong enough to draw blood.

Meanwhile, HAL should also find a bug, this one even bigger, yet considerably less aggressive. He tells me that these particular critters, which go by the name of Nanafushi (七節 "Seven Nodes" = "Walking Stick") are quite a rarity, and we're lucky to see one.

As the day nears its end, the coming of evening is announced with a song playing over the emergency broadcasting system at 17:30 each day, not unlike back in Daisen (see Book II ~ Chapter 13 ~ Daring Daisen).

Time to wrap things up for the day and go hit a bar or something, I guess. Good thing there's a place that's open until… 25:00?!?!? Cor blimely, I think I'm going to file this right in the same category as the delivery date on the 30th of February and the location at 91°N.

One evening, as night falls, I am privy to the most amazing glowing clouds in the sky…

…and a little later, a beautiful tropical moon rises, lying flat on its side in a manner that is privy to the more equatorial latitudes alone.

Of course, all of this should happen over the duration of the whole month. There is, however, one particular occasion when I gather up all my energy for one day, determined to go on an epic adventure that should last…

Interlude: From Dawn to Dusk

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

Early during my stay in Tokashiki, I should find out that Tokashiki is very loosely connected to Zamami and Aka by means of a little passenger boat that goes by the name of Mitsushima (三ツ島 "Three Islands"). I am sure that by now you know me well enough to guess that the very existence of this ferry connection means that I am going to make use of it and visit the other islands of Kerama Shotou.

The Mitsushima is a quasi-on-demand-service: Normally, the boat only traffics between Aka and Zamami, but you can call them a day in advance to make a reservation to be picked up in Aharen Port on Tokashiki, and while the Mitsushima commutes between Aka and Zamami several times a day, there are only two options for trips to or from Tokashiki: Early in the morning, and in the afternoon. Still, that's plenty of time for exploring either one island, I reckon, and summon up all my courage and Japanese skills in order to call the company and make a reservation. On a related note, the Kerama Backpackers also offers a shuttle service to its guests to take them to the various beaches of Tokashiki, as well as Aharen Port in time to catch the morning boat to Aka and Zamami. Thankfully, that offer also extends to me, and so I soon enough write my name upon that board, looking forward to an inter-island adventure the next day.

However, as the day arrives, my vulpine side should urge me to make so much more out of it than just that. For one, it should urge me to wake up, get up and get out there at first light, making my way past Tokashiki's one traffic light…

…in yet another attempt to capture the sunrise at Tokashiki port. This time around, however, I am not disappointed, and get to witness quite the awe-inspiring Hinode (日の出 "Exit of the Sun" = "Sun comes out" = "Sunrise") over to sea despite clouds trying in vain to block the spectacle yet again.

On my way back to the hostel, I come across a little Corgi who may or may not be a stray. One way or another, we somehow keep crossing paths as we both walk inlands, away from the port.

Eventually, however, I take a path the Corgi can't follow, and that is across a bridge that is almost, but not quite completed, and allows me to return to the hostel via a slightly different route.

But now to the main event. About 15 minutes before the Mitsushima boat is bound to depart from Aharen Port, the owner picks me up along with two guests who are wishing to go to Aharen, and takes us across the mountain road…

…and up to Aharen Port, where I alone get off to wait for the boat. The owner warns me that due to strong waves today, the boat might get cancelled, but since I did not get a call about that I try to remain optimistic, keeping my fingers crossed as I wait at the port, the designated departure time coming ever closer and still no Mitsushima boat in sight.

But then, precisely at 9:05 and not a minute sooner, the Mitsushima arrives to pick up me and only me as its only passenger.

It really is a tiny little boat featuring seating for a maximum of 18 passengers. Since it's low season right now, that is not a problem, but I can imagine that it might be hard to get a place during high season. As it is, I figure they're running the boat at a loss since my fare only amounts to a meagre 800¥, 100¥ of which are an environmental tax, which leaves 700¥ of income that is yet subject to "normal" taxes. And since the trip to Zamami lasts 35 minutes and you also have to consider fuel costs, I sincerely wonder if they come out ahead. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

On board I also glimpse an invitation to the Three Islands Stamp Challenge, inviting visitors to visit the islands of Zamami, Aka and Geruma to collect the stamps at various key points. This naturally appeals to me, and even though I figure that the reward is probably going to be pretty lame, I decide to make this another part of my endeavour to visit the various islands of Kerama Shotou.

Anyway, as the Mitsushima crosses the expanse between Tokashiki and Aka, I see the truth in the owner's words: Despite the waves not being all that high, they are still pretty rough on the little vessel, and as we repeatedly get battered by fierce lateral waves coming in from the north, I sincerely hope that the Mitsushima doesn't end up capsizing. That would be a rather unfortunate and anticlimactic end for my journey.

The roughest patch is the north-south channel separating Tokashiki from the western half of the Kerama Shotou, which is due to the fact that the island of Tokashiki is actually the top of a north-south facing ridge with a relatively deep channel between it and the western islands, allowing wind and waves to plunge right through. By contrast all most of the western islands – including Aka, Zamami and Geruma – lie on a single island shelf with relatively shallow and thus quieter waters. Also the constellation of the western islands does not present the wind or waves with any really convenient straight path to rush through like the one just west of Tokashiki.

Eventually, the Mitsushima reaches its limit as a huge wave capsizes the boat and throws both me and the driver into the ocean before we can react. My clothes and backpack quickly get soaked with the surprisingly cold water and start dragging me under, and before I have time to react, a huge shark comes out of the middle of nowhere and devours me with a single bite.

And then I died.

Okay, so actually that's not really what happened. Instead, we eventually make it past the dreaded sea channel an into calmer waters, to the port of Aka, and from there on all the way to Zamami. I guess if the waves had been any higher than this the boat would have been cancelled – and with good reason too – which is why I am doubly happy to have made it safe and sound to the island of Zamami now.

So, here I am at the port of Zamami island, quite happy to have solid ground under my feet again.

The first thing I do here is get the stamp for Zamami Island and then purchase a ticket for the return trip later this afternoon at the ferry ticket office.

Interestingly, whereas I was able to buy the ticket to Zamami aboard the Mitsushima from the captain, I have buy it at the office here. I guess that is the case because there is no ticket office for the Mitsushima on Tokashiki, and they really like their laminated re-usable tickets which you need to give back upon boarding the boat.

Anyway, naturally I already have a good idea of where I want to go on the island, having taken note of a single Shrine, as well as a number of Geocaches, which would eventually lead me on a clockwise circuit around most of Zamami over the course of the six hours I have before the Mitsushima departs again.

Aforementioned one Shrine is quick to find since it is located only a short distance away from the port. Interestingly enough, its name – Ibinumee – is definitely not Japanese, and so I assume it must be Okinawan.

Another thing I find out quickly is that unlike Tokashiki, Zamami has a proper creative manhole cover design, this one featuring a whale breaching the surface of the ocean, surrounded by a circle of sunfishes.

In fact, the whale seems to be the icon of Zamami, since there is also a giant whale statue prominently displayed in the harbour basin. Quite an interesting idea, I must say. At least, I can't remember seeing anything like it anywhere else during my travels thus far.

And yet, the whale in the harbour should not be the one thing on the island that I would keep in mind more than anything else. That price goes to her.

The statue of Marilyn is located on the cape of Zamami that is closest to Aka, and is one of the two focus points of a romantic story of two dogs in love, the tale of an unusual and heartwarming event that truly happened in the not so distant past.

The story begins in 1986, when Nakamura-san, the owner of the white dog Shiro, moved from Zamami to Aka, naturally taking his canine companion with him. One day, however, Shiro went missing, and Nakamura-san was looking for him all day. It was only at night that Shiro came back, drenched and dripping, but seeming without a care in the world. This strange behaviour persisted for some time, with Nakamura-san becoming more nad more curious about where Shiro went and why he was always wet when he returned.

One day, Nakamura-san followed Shiro when the dog left the house early in the morning. Shiro first walked over to Nishibama (北浜 "North Beach"), where he jumped into the ocean and make for Zamami island. Nakamura-san then returned to the port and got on his own boat, followed his dog across the strait, just in time to see Shiro arrive on Zamami and observe him walking into a particular house where Marilyn was already waiting for him, and the two dogs happily started to play with one another.

Over the time to come, Shiro could frequently be seen paddling across the strait between Aka and Zamami, and while I naturally was not there to see it, I assume that he would have taken one of the two following routes, using either of the two small uninhabited islands of Kahi (嘉比 "Esteemed Ratio") or Agenashiku (安慶名敷 "Peaceful Rejoicing Distinguished Spread") as a stepping stone and swimming for a total distance between 1.5km and 2km.

He kept up doing this amazing feat for several months until Marilyn eventually died in 1987, and Shiro himself continued to live together with his owner on Aka until the advanced age of 17 years. This amazing feat did not go unacclaimed, and in 1988, a movie by the name of "Maririn ni aitai" (マリリンに逢いたい "I want to meet Marilyn") about the love between the two dogs was made and published in Japan.

And here I am standing now, looking out across the expanse that Shiro so bravely crossed on a regular basis. Looking out at the sea, Aka does not seem all that far away, and I guess Shiro, having a mindset not much unlike mine, must just have thought "oh, let's just start swimming now and worry about the rest later" as he started paddling and making for the beach of Zamami.

Oh , and speaking of beaches, there is one amazing thing worth mentioning here, and that is that most of those beaches are just full of old coral fragments that make hollow sounds not unlike little baubles of glass when walking on them.

This is owed to the fact that the Kerama Shotou is also the location of one of the world's most-intact coral reefs, and as such there are many and strict regulations in place about protecting it. For example, it is forbidden to take even dead corals from all but a few select beaches, such as the Tokashiki harbour basin and the Ago-no Ura (安護の浦 "Safe Protected Bay") of Zamami.

A little bit further down the coast I also come across those crypt-like structures that I also found on Tokashiki. These, however, seem to be of significantly more recent make, thus indicating that the custom is still being upheld up to this day and age.

From there on out, the road continues up into the mountains, giving me many great views of the Kerama Shotou…

…and eventually leads me up to Unaji-no Sachi Tenboudai (女瀬の崎展望台 "Female Shallows Cape Viewing Platform"), the western terminus of my stray today…

…from where I am actually able to see over all the way to Tonakijima (渡名喜島 "Distinguished Rejoicing Ferry Island"), another island of the Okinawa Shotou, lying yet a good 20km northwest of Zamami.

And boy let me tell you it's windy up here. I almost end up losing my favourite sun cap which was given to me by my father and has already seen at least five continents.

From there on, I continue east along the mountain road, and once again get a number of amazing sights of bays, valleys and the islands along the way.

Along the way, I also come across scores of wild rice that just seems to be growing along the wayside all over the island, easily recognized by its streamer-like seed pods blowing in the wind. At first, I get into the habit of grabbing the vanes and let the brush through my fingers as I walk past, taking pleasure in their soft and fur-like texture. However, I soon learn the hard way that they apparently produce juices that irritate the skin, and thus eventually just let it be.

Befittingly, I eventually arrive at Inazaki (稲崎 "Rice Cape"), which would be the northernmost point of my stray on Zamami today, and with it the entirety of Kerama Shotou. Regrettably, there is no Inari Shrine to be found up here however.

In consolation, I get a great panorama view of Zamami's northern coast from atop the Tenboudai…

…and can in fact see all the way to Agunijima (粟国島 "Millet Country Island") from here – another island of the Okinawa Shotou, about 40km north of Zamami. This one is a large, round, flat island that is of particular interest to me, since another host I contacted in Okinawa is living on that island. Had things turned out differently, I might now be on that island looking south towards Zamami instead.

It is here that I almost lose my cap for the second time today while going after a Geocache in a nearby thicket. Regrettably, I should not find the cache, but fortunately I am at least able to retrieve my cap upon daring the thicket a second time.

After that, I feel that I have earned my lunch, and since it's about noon anyways, I use this opportunity to sit down and eat the ham.-and-cheese sandwich that I prepared earlier while gazing out across the wide blue expanse.

Afterwards, I continue along the mountain road, taking in many amazing sights along the way…

…and also finding one or the other Geocache, thus leaving my mark on the island.

As the clock keeps ticking, I make my way to the highest point of Zamami at 131m, from where I once again get even more amazing panoramic views, this time into the southern and eastern directions, that is, towards Tokashiki, Aka and the unpopulated Amurojima (安室島 "Peaceful Room Island") in the middle, as well as the town of Zamami below.

From there, I continue down the path to Ago-no Ura, and hurrying as I do so, I discover a new vulpine technique within me that has apparently just been waiting to awaken: I call it "loping", and it allows me to proceed down the slope that is just a little bit steeper than what you can comfortably walk at an accelerated and very fox-like pace, that is nonetheless not all that hard on the legs. It's hard to explain exactly how I do it since I rely mostly on instinct, but it's a lot like running, only without expending any energy since you're going downhill, and once I have a good pace going, its actually easier to just keep going than to stop. Naturally this technique only works on relatively straight paths.

From Ago-no Ura, I continue south across another small mountain pass until I reach Furuzamami Biichi (古座間味ビーチ "Old Sitting Space Taste Beach"), which is located just north of Amuro, only a narrow and shallow strait separating the two islands.

It is, in fact, so narrow and shallow that some people might (and are) tempted to wade right across to Amuro…

…however, no sooner than two people of the troupe have made it to the island, a cutter of the coast guard arrives and intercepts a third member just as he is in the process of crossing. I take that as my cue that it's "exit stage left" 'o clock and take my leave, and what a good judgement that turns out to have been. As I walk back the road up along the beach, a police car approaches from the town side and passes me by, thereby answering the question of whether you can wade to Amuro with "Yes you can, but you probably shouldn't".

And with that, my tour around the island comes to a close as I return to Zamami town from the east.

However, it turns out that I actually still have a little time remaining, and thus I decide to go on a little exploratory romp through the town. And what a good call that should turn out to be, for I should not only end up finding a veritable treasure trove of little Shrines and Jizous in the little alleyways…

…but also run into what I can't possibly call by any other name but "Guesthouse Ghibli".

After that, however, it's finally about time for me to return to the port, where the Mitsushima is already waiting…

…and board the boat together with one other passenger, who should only go as far as Aka, however.

By now, the waves have somewhat calmed down, and so the way back to Tokashiki is a good deal less nerve-wracking than the trip this morning.

However, I am not done yet! Having staked out all of Tokashiki Island by bike and on foot today, I have come to the conclusion that the best place to take sunset pictures would be the little spit to the southwest of Aharen, on top of which a Tenboudai is erected. And yet, autumn though it may be, sunset is yet some time away, so at first I watch for a bit as the Mitsushima takes its leave and returns back to Zamami via Aka…

…and subsequently slowly start walking the kilometre from Aharen port to Aharen town, along which I come across what appears to be a fishing-web whirlpool. My best guess is that this is how they clean their nets or something.

Also, on my way to Aharen town I come across a little Shrine at the port that is located precisely in the blindest of all spots: It's located exactly at the point in the road where everyone looks the other way to the irresistibly beautiful beach and misses the Shrine on the mountain side. I should actually try that out during my second trip via the shuttle to Aharen port, and even knowing that there is a Shrine here and that I have to look to the left to see it, I should find my eyes instinctively drawn to the right at that very time, and miss it yet again.

In Aharen itself, I should have some more time to stray around town, during which I find what I figure might just be a little Buddhist temple…

…but the main event are clearly the cats, which are literally lying around all over the place and easily put Tashirojima to shame.

Meanwhile, as I pass the School of Aharen, I witness what I figure must be a rehearsal of the traditional Japanese drumming class, which reminds me of the Sansa Oodori Matsuri back in Morioka (see Book II ~ Chapter 9 ~ Amicable Appi-Kogen).

But back to the reason why I'm here: Taking a sunset picture. As dusk starts creeping closer, I eventually make my way to the Aharen Tenboudai, and a proceed past it down a flight of stairs until I reach a place that I decide is going to be the ideal compromise between "a clear view" and "close to the ocean".

Unfortunately, there is little I can do about a distant band of clouds obscuring the sun just before it would sink into the sea between the rocks just south of Fukaji, but I am nonetheless not disappointed by the beautiful sunset that I get to witness, bringing a long and strenuous day to a satisfying close.

Or so it would have been, if I didn't yet have to pay the price for my ambition, aka I now have to walk back all the way to Tokashiki as night inevitably creeps closer, and eventually plunges the road into deep darkness too sinister for my camera to pierce. Fortunately, I have the eyes of a fox, and thus apart from another close encounter with a boar rustling and grunting awfully close in the bushes, should be able to make my way back to Tokashiki unharmed.

Still, after that nightly escapade through the dark heart of the island with wild animals around, it sure feels good when I finally see the lights of Tokashiki again.

So much for that exhausting episode. I should be quite beat for the next few days and glad to have a chance to rest. So now, instead of continuing right with my final adventure here, let us instead take a little break and proceed with…

The Retrospective

As my stay nears its end, the owner invites me and HAL to a little bar called Riverside by the riverside (duh!) together with his eight-year old son Yamato for a goodbye-dinner. The bar owners' black dog should also end up keeping us cheerful canine company. Regrettably, Miki and her daughter are currently away on a visit to her hometown, and as fate would have it are only scheduled to return after my upcoming departure.

There, in classical Japanese manner, we end up ordering all sorts of different foodstuffs – such as fish, salad, Yakitori, sausages, tofu and fried chicken – putting it all into the middle of the table for everyone to help himself to however much he wants.

Looking back on my experience here, this has once again been a very nice place that I feel sad about having to leave behind. The accommodation was okay, a bit detached from the rest of the house (which would suck on rainy days) and with a bed and workspace that's just a bit uncomfortable, but thanks to air conditioning, the temperature should always be acceptable, and it was a private and quiet room. The food was mostly not included, but every now and so often I would be treated to some snacks, and some of the kitchen ingredients were free for me to use, and also let us not forget about above mentioned goodbye dinner. It might only have been one out of 93 meals I should eat here, but it's still a nice gesture. Work-wise, this place was again one of the best I've ever had, with work that was at the same time relaxed and fulfilling, and also allowed me to bring in my own particular strengths. The atmosphere was nice and welcoming too, possibly one of the best I've ever had, mostly thanks to HAL and his cheerful, easygoing attitude. The facilities, again, were okay, with WiFi that was neither fast nor reliable, and showers that were adequate, and recreation wise, this place had not much to offer in itself apart from the free shuttle service, leaving it up to the amazing surroundings tospeak for themselves. All aforementioned shortcomings, however, should easily be compensated by the extremely light workload at this place, and despite all my efforts to make myself more useful, I still feel that in the end, I should maybe have put in 12 more hours of work or so to make us even. Oh well. I guess that just means we have a new winner for the best work-value ratio. =^,^=

Naturally, I also prepare a piece of gift artwork for the owner, Miki, and last but not least, HAL, depicting the former two as Flirials (due to them not having a preferred animal), and HAL as a Corgi. In absence of Miki, I present it to the owner and HAL, who takes a picture of it and shares it via the LINE chat so Miki can see it as well.

Apart from that, there is one last shocking revelation to be made about this place, and I am going to jump ahead a little bit here by disclosing that including on my final stray, I should find…

Oh well, what a shame. No matter. I'm sure I'll be able to make up for it during my upcoming stay in Kyoto. That, however, is still one month in the future from now. Now, by contrast, it is time for my last big adventure here on the Kerama Shotou, namely…

Interlude: The Tri-land Trip

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

My final stray on Tokashiki should lead me onto not one, not two, but three different islands, which are connected by bridges. I am talking about Aka, Geruma and Fukaji, and as thus, my name should once again end up on the whiteboard with a big "Z" next to it. This time, however, I am not the only one bound for another island.

Accompanying me on the boat today are a pair of Japanese girls by the names of Ikuyo and Chinami, who are bound for Zamami today, so I end up telling them a lot about my day on the island, and after we arrive at Aharen Port, the owner also gives them a rundown of their options.

The Mitsushima arrives close on schedule as always, and this time around we make for a total of three people on board. I wonder if we'll be four on our way back? Probably not, but that would be so cool. =^,~'=

Today, the waters are relatively calm, and so we quickly arrive at Aka without any further complications. As we pull into the port, I get a good view of the approximately 300m-long bridge spanning the distance between Aka and Geruma, and already look forward to crossing it later today.

And then I say goodbye to Ikuyo and Chinami as I get off at the port and they continue on towards Zamami, where I'm sure they're going to have a day at least as good and probably a whole lot more relaxing than mine.

Looking at the port, my first impression of Aka is "Colourful and Welcoming"…

…an impression that is only further reinforced as I enter the harbour office in order to get both my return ticket, and the stamp for Aka island. Two down, two to go.

Now then, for my trip today I have planned to first walk west to Kushibarusaki (後原崎 "Back Meadow Cape"), then return and cross over to Fukaji via Geruma, and finally go back again. Unlike my Stray on Zamami, this one should be rather linear owing to a lack of circular routes across the islands.

But before I truly disembark, I first go and collect the third step at the nearby new tourist information centre. I really don't get why they put two stamps so close to one another. My best guess is that they just want to direct attention to their shiny new tourist information centre.

By the way, in case you are wondering why the second stamp depicts a deer: The Kerama deer is an endangered subspecies of the Japanese Shika Deer, and is native only to four of the Kerama Islands: Aka, Geruma, Fukaji, as well as the more remote Yakabishima (屋嘉比島 "Esteemed House Ratio Island") to the northwest of Aka. As such, they enjoy special protection, and are Aka's official mascot, consequently also being prominently featured in Aka's manhole cover designs.

I barely have time to wonder if I'll be able to see one of them before I run right into a doe standing squat in the middle of the road. The most notable aspect of this deer is clearly its small size: Just like the Inoshishi, the Kerama Shika must also be affected by island dwarfism. The second thing is its boldness. Instead of running away, it just keeps standing there, looking at me as if to say "What? You're standing on the road too!"

What an amazing start into the day, and it should get even better as I end up running into one Shrine and Jizou after the next on my way west through the town of Aka. I mean, okay, none of them feature foxes, but it's still more than I've come to expect after being subject to the religious scarcity of Tokashiki island.

After leaving the town, I climb up to the Amagi Tenboudai (天城展望台 "Heavenly Castle Observation Deck"), from where I get the most amazing view of the neighbouring unpopulated island of Kuba (久場 "Old Place").

After that, my path leads me north into the mountains of Aka along an only partially maintained road…

…where I am soon faced with a choice between walking the Trail of Death or the Path of Doom.

Okay, so actually, it's more the question between taking the mountain ridge road, or the path along Agu beach, but it amounts to the same thing since the mountain ridge road has a big barrier and a sign reading "Road Closed"…

…while the path down to Agu beach looks like this.

However, since this time around I have a map, and that map shows a walkable path to Kushibarusaki via Agu beach, I decide to take my chances with the beach path, which – although kinda overgrown – turns out not to be as bad as it could possibly be.

Nonetheless, I am quite happy when I finally make it down to the beach, which turns out to be quite the idyllic little spot indeed.

According to the map, there should be a path here that connects Agu beach to the next beach over, and then to Kushibarusaki…

…and there might once have been, but by now the path looks like this.

Using the power of DETERMINATION, I still push my way through the undergrowth for some time, trying to get around some of the hopelessly overgrown patches, but eventually I notice that I'm just getting furher and further from where the path is supposed to be, so, unwilling to repeat a "lost in the wilderness" incident like the one in Outram (see Book I ~ Chapter 14 ~ Out in Outram), I eventually decide to turn back and retrace my steps all the way back to the fated intersection, where I decide to try my luck with the closed road after all.

By contrast, that one turns out to be a veritable walk in the park. I mean, I can see why it's closed and all since pieces of mountain big enough to give cars a hard time are lying in the middle of the road, but thanks to my pedestrian nature, these obstacles are of little concern to me.

Either way, it's till kind of a roundabout route, but eventually I arrive at the Kushibaru Tenboudai, from where I get a good view of Yakabishima, the fourth island on which the endangered Kerama Shika live. It's incredible that today I should pretty much cover half the habitat of the entire species.

On a more personally important note, just like Aharen Enchi was the southernmost point of my Japan Journey a few weeks ago, now I have arrived at the westernmost point. Once again, there are still some populated islands further to the west of this – the most extreme one being Yonaguni (与那国"What Godsend Country?") over 400km further to the west, and only a little more than 100km away from Taiwan – but the number of those places is negligibly small. And for the record, I am at 127.26°E now, which is approximately the same longitude as the eastern border of Western Australia, and just a bit east of the Philippines (by contrast, New Zealand is another full 50° to the east).

And with that, I have now reached the most extreme points of Japan I would reach during my journey of Japan: Noshappu Misaki near Wakkanai in the north, Nosappu Misaki near Nemuro in the east, Aharen Enchi on Tokashiki in the south, and now, finally, Kushibarusaki on Aka. With that, I have now circumscribed most, but not all of Japan, yet leaving out a little bit on either side (well, maybe not in the east, depending on what your stance is on the contested East Kuril Islands). From N45.45° to N26.15°, I have covered a total of 19.30° of latitude, and from E145.82° to E127.26° that's another 18.58° of longitude. By comparison, to travel the same amount of longitude and latitude in Europe, you'd have to start at the southwesternmost tip of Portugal and keep going all the way to northernmost tip of Denmark. Have I mentioned that Japan is a long country?

Anyway, naturally I take my time to appreciate this momentous occasion and take in the surrounding panorama at the windy cape.

Thanks to my unsuccessful attempt to make it here by means of Agu beach, it's already noon by now, and so I sit down at the Tenboudai and devour another simple yet nourishing home-made sandwich while enjoying the amazing view this place offers me. This time around, fox has decided for me to be a little bit extra-creative and go for raisin toast. However, I think I'll stick with regular toast from now on.

On my way back, I come across what must be the exit of the Agu beach route, and I am almost tempted to try my luck going the other way. However, a quick glance and my watch tells me that while I might have enough time to visit Geruma and Fukaji if I walk back along the Trail of Death (the mountain road), and will probably safe some time if I successfully brave the Path of Doom (the Aku beach route), failing the Path of Doom a second time would almost certainly result in me losing the chance to visit either Geruma or Fukaji. Thus, I decide to play it safe and walk back along the Trail of Death.

Along the way, I make good use of the Loping technique I learnt on Zamami to make up for time lost, startling some Kerama Shika in the process as I lope past. Interestingly, this should result in me getting sore for the next few days, but not in the place you'd expect: My legs are still fine, but my left elbow, which I was using to stabilize my trusty satchel while loping, should feel like a freaking elephant sat down on it. Naturally, the way back being exactly the same as the way I took to Kushibarusaki means that there aren't any new sights along the way (apart from the Kerama Shika, which disappear into the underbrush faster than I can ready my camera).

Within record time, I arrive back at Aka town, where there is yet one last attraction I want to visit before proceeding to Geruma. We already covered its counterpart on Zamami, and now it's time for me to visit the statue of Marilyn's mate Shiro,, which prominently stands in a park just outside of the port building of Aka.

Afterwards, I climb the Aka Oohashi (阿嘉大橋 "Esteemed Corner Great Bridge") by means of a conveniently placed spiral staircase…

…and cross the bridge over to Geruma island.

Most of Geruma is actually quite undeveloped, and the only major settlement is on its southern coast, which means I would first have to walk there along a coastal road that can only be described as "in dire need of repair". After seeing this, I'll never again complain about potholes on German roads.

Along the way, however, I am privy to a wonderful panorama and a great view on Tokashiki on the other side of the strait. Looking down at the waves battering relentlessly against the coast despite the rather calm weather today, I can imagine how the road ended up being in such a state of disrepair.

Shortly after, I arrive at the very cosy little village of Geruma, which is only maybe two dozen houses strong…

…and yet has not only its own manhole cover design…

…but also a humble selection of Shrines.

And then, there's the Takaraie (高良家 "High Good House"), a historic building from who-knows-when (not even the locals were able to tell me), that is also prominently featured on the manhole cover design. You can visit the little house for a humble fee of only 300¥, but after having already visited the historic village of Hokkaido on Sado with Robert (see Book II ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Trip Together), I find that it doesn’t' have much to offer me.

More importantly, however, this is where I can get the final stamp to complete the stamp race challenge. That was a nice distraction! And speaking of which, I should probably also mention that the only two Geocaches that I should actually find on my tri-Land trip today are the two that are hidden within Geruma town.

Moving on, I cross Gerumabashi (慶留間橋 " Happy Stopping Space Bridge") across the really very shallow strait to Fukaji…

…and soon arrive at the incredibly overwhelming Kerama Kuukou (慶良間空港 "Happy Good Space Air Port"), which is pretty much the one structure on this little island. I wonder if there are even any civil flights from here, or if this is exclusively a commercial and/or military structure. I wasn't able to find out anything about flights to or from Fukaji, but the fact that this little airport even has a three-letter code (KJP) suggests that it might be or once have been a valid target for passenger flights.

Anyway, not far from there should be the very last Tenboudai I would visit on any of the Kerama Shotou, and although I would not be able to find the nearby Geocache…

…the fact that Fukaji is a pretty flat island means that I get a great view in either direction. And in case you're wondering why even the little rocks have names, I'm sure that it's this way so that fisherman can complain into which group of rocks their halfwit apprentices rammed their precious boats during their latest journey.

Now all that's left is the way back, and as I walk north along the coast road of Geruma, I spot the queen Zamami departing in the distance and making straight for Naha at breakneck speed.

That makes it kinda sink in that my own days in this place are numbered as well, so I take a little time on my way back to gaze at the beautiful turquoise waves, and look over across the strait to the little town of Tokashiku in the distance…

…at least until I notice the Mitsushima leaving without me.

But don't worry, I actually still have about an hour left to catch my ride back to Tokashiki. Unlike the route between Aka and Tokashiki that is only trafficked twice a day, the Mitsushima actually goes back and forth between Aka and Zamami a total of four additional times. Right now, the Mitsushima makes a sharp left turn and continues on its way to Zamami, where it is going to pick up Ikuyo and Chinami before coming back to Aka and subsequently taking the three of us over to Tokashiki.

Which gives me plenty of time to make my way over to the Aka visitor centre and collect my reward for completing the stamp challenge: A humble little Zamami Island sticker. Personally, I feel like the stamp sheet itself is the more meaningful reward, and thankfully, I get to keep it. I have to appreciate the little applause the lady at the visitor centre gives me for completing the challenge, which nicely demonstrates the typical giddy attitude that Japanese woman of all ages generally display. It might seem a bit childish, but it sure beats the grumpy-grouchy attitudes I get in Germany most of the time.

Another very dire need of mine that has arisen can also be fulfilled nearby: Having hastened through the tropical heat, I managed to completely drain my trusty drinking bottle quite some while ago, which is why I'm etra grateful to come across a fountain where I can fill up not only my bottle, but also myself.

And since I have some more time even after all that, I decide to investigate a staircase that I had noticed earlier on, but passed upon due to not knowing where it would lead or if I would have enough time for it. Now, I get answers to these questions, as it leads me up a little ledge to an abandoned old Shrine…

…from where I get one last good outlook on Aka town and Geruma island across the strait.

After that, however, I have to hurry back to the port, or I really will miss the Mitsushima this time around. As I wait by the port, I notice an interesting posting: Apparently, there is an unexploded bomb shell still lying around from World War II right outside the port of Zamami, and they are going to dispose of it just two days after my departure from Tokashiki. I'm sure that's going to be a blast.

Also, I don't think I've seen those cute drinking water mascots before. The right one is apparently called Mijii (which doesn't mean anything in particular), and the left one's names is Suidouman ("Water Pipe Man").

The Mitsushima arrives not long after that…

…and as we cross over to Aharen Port, Ikuyo, Chinami and I excitedly exchange tales of our respective days. As expected, their day was a lot more relaxed than mine, but that's okay. I for my part could not imagine just lying around on the beach doing nothing when I could be out there exploring.

Anyway, having the two girls around really works in my favour, since the owner comes to pick us up from the port, saving me a hour-long trip back along a road that I already explored…

…but not before Ikuyo and Chinami point out a school of teeny-tiny fishes in the harbour basin that might be mistaken for flakes of loose debris if it were not for their erratic and obviously self-induced motions.

Finally, I get a brief and short glance at what must be another local attraction of Aharen: A yellow submarine lying in the port behind a wall so I could not see it from the Mitsushima during either of my trips. I should eventually read up on it and find out that it's actually only a half-submerged glass-bottom boat to allow tourists good views of the underwater fauna, but I still think it's a pretty cool idea. I wonder if the Beatles had even imagined in their wildest dreams what their song would elicit all around the world. I think this must be the third or fourth yellow submarine I've come across (one on Gran Canaria when I was a kid, another one somewhere in New Zealand, this one, and I somehow feel there was a fourth, but I can't remember where or when for those tails of mine).

And with that, my final stray on the Kerama Shotou should come to an end. With that, my adventures here are complete, and the winds of change are picking up again to carry me on…

The Road Ahead


Parting is such sweet sorrow, and just like back in Fukuoka, I really feel it in this place as well, and shedding no tears becomes a thing of impossibility. Truly, this place has become one of my homes here in Japan. On my final day, I leave a nice little message and picture in the guest book, which is already amply populated with other creative works of art aplenty…

…and then it's time to pack my bags, leaving the room as empty as on the day I arrived. Even my little makeshift-desk is quickly disassembled.

Even the sky is sad that I have to go, and so I decide not to draw out my departure any longer and am on my way as soon as there's a break in the rain.

At the port, the Ferry Tokashiki is already waiting to take me away, though it should still take a little while until I'm allowed to board.

Ample time to fill out my boarding application and purchase a one-way ticket for 1,660¥…

…as well as have more than one look around the ferry terminal, accompanied by the sound of traditional Japanese Enka (演歌 "Performance Song") music playing from the speakers.

Come 14:30, the time to board the ferry along with the maybe two dozen other passengers arrives…

…and another hour later, the ferry weighs anchor and departs the island which has grown so close to me, and as I stand on top of the deck to say my goodbyes to this happy good place, I am in for a heartwarming surprise indeed: HAL has come to the port to see me off, and he has brought with him a guest from Switzerland by the name of Nora with whom I had a good time talking one night, and another guest with whom I'm not familiar, but who must have seen me busily working at the hostel. As the ferry draws out of port, we tirelessly wave our goodbyes to the other, until the ferry turns its closed-to-passengers tail towards the port and blocks our view of one another for good. It might be for the better. I might not have been able to hide my tears for but a moment longer.

They say that every goodbye is the beginning of a new adventure, and yet this one still brings tears to my eyes thinking back about it months from now. And yet, there is nothing to be done. My journey is not yet over, and I still have things to do, places to explore, and Shrines to visit. Where would the winds of fate carry me after this particularly emotional departure? That and more shall be revealed in the next Chapter of the Travelling Fox Bog!

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