At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Southern Point (Hateruma Island)

January came and went.  It's now nearly the middle of February and I've left you all in the dark. Things have been a little busy here, but I have also been quite lazy in posting about life in the Southern Ryukyu islands.  I have a little less than 6 months left on Ishigaki.  Time is flying...

Since my last post I visited and taught on Hateruma Island, the most Southern island in Japan, where I was able to stand at the most Southern point and look out towards The Philippines (you can't actually seen them, they're too far away).

Marking the most Southern Point of Japan

Hateruma is a very remote island south of Iriomote.  It's very difficult to get there as the ocean's current and the deep open water combine to create rough seas which causes the ferries from Ishigaki to be canceled.  I was supposed to visit the island in September but the ferry was canceled then and canceled again in November.  Thankfully, the weather was nice this time around and the waves weren't too high when I set off towards the island.  I suffer from seasickness sometimes so I have a method that seems to work usually.  I prefer not to take the motion sickness pills because they don't wear off for several hours and I feel sleepy and dizzy and that doesn't work well in the classroom.  So instead, I find several seats to lie/sleep on, drink enough water to stay hydrated, put an eye mask on, put my earphones in and try to let go and avoid thinking of food.  This seems to work just as well as motion sickness medication and I don't feel groggy afterward.

Hateruma does not have mountains, but they do have ranches, cows and sugar cane fields
They also had this really interesting sculpture meant to look like a Habu

Hateruma is a beautiful, small island which is best known in the Yaeyama region for being quite difficult to get to, for its gorgeous coral reef and beaches, for its Awanami (a type of Awamori that is produced there and only comes in small batches) and its Kurazato, otherwise known as Black Sugar.  Each island in Yaeyama, and throughout the entire Okinawa prefecture, produces its own Black Sugar.  Some are richer and more potent than others (they taste closer to molasses than brown sugar) and some are more refined and lighter.  Kurazato is very healthy for you and it's available in every teacher's staff room I teach at as it gives a boost of energy to teachers between classes.

The beach on Hateruma.  The water here is the clearest of all the islands in this region.

The students on Hateruma were quite shy, but I felt like I made a great connection with them.  I found out quite a lot about what each of the students liked, what they were interested in and what they thought about life on Hateruma (some of them are new to the island, either coming from Ishigaki or mainland Japan).  They are so sweet and wonderful and I really enjoyed teaching with the English teacher there too.  He was quite articulate and welcoming.  Later on he and another teacher took me on a tour of the island.  It's really a shame I'll only teach on Hateruma two more times before I leave the Yaeyama region because I really enjoyed my time visiting this school and the island itself.

While on Hateruma, I had a strange feeling that at some point I had dreamed about various locations on the island.  I kept feeling this at various places on the island.  Maybe it reminded me of places from my childhood.  It was that vague, nostalgic feeling though that you intuit but cannot quite locate logically within the frame of memory.  Not quite a dejavu experience though...  

The cliffs of the island are different from other Yaeyama islands

I've been trying to learn as much as I can about Yaeyama cultural traditions and how they differ from other parts of Okinawa.  This upcoming Friday (tomorrow) for example is Jyuu Roku Nichi Sai (16th Day Festival) which is a holiday that is celebrated only in Yaeyama.  Families cook a large lunch together and take it bento-style to the graves of their ancestors.  They have a celebratory picnic with songs and a large lunch which they share with their ancestors (they leave a bento for the ancestors to eat).  I think this is such a wonderful tradition.  Ancestor worship is part of the indigenous religion of Okinawa and each of the islands have their own rituals.  I was recently speaking with another teacher on Kuroshima island (where I also teach) about the role of Noro, the priestesses and the Yuta, the women who are shamans, and whether this practice of having community priestesses and shamans still widely exists.  He said it did, but that it is changing as region become increasingly modernized.  You can read more about the Ryukyuan religious practices here.

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