At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Take to Me

About a week and a half ago I went to the island of Taketomi with some friends who are visiting from Miyakojima.   I teach on Taketomi island so I've been there a few times, but I've never had the chance to thoroughly explore it.  When I visited on April 30th, I spent nearly 4 hours walking around the island which, while relatively small, isn't something you can walk in 30 minutes (precisely the reason for my groups last minute sprint from the town to the ferry port to catch one of the last boats at the end of the day).  Taketomi is known for its traditional Ryukyu architecture and its laid back, independent attitude.  There is a rivalry between Taketomi and Ishigaki and from the trips I've made to the island, I've gathered that the people there are very proud of their Ryukyu heritage and hogan language.  During a rehearsal of a school festival, they put on a skit that alluded to "outsiders" coming in to Taketomi island to strip them of their power (their language -- ie the Taketomi dialect/language).

The School

Taketomi is one of the crown jewels of the Yaeyama islands, in terms of tourism, as it has retained traditional Ryukyu architecture fully (there are some houses still built in this style on Ishigaki and I've seen a few on Okinawa as well, but Taketomi deliberately preserves the old way).  It's a nice contract to Ishigaki City as it has a very low key, island life vibe to it and has retained a slow paced lifestyle.

Traditional stone walls outside of houses are everywhere on Taketomi

My friends and I walked into a shop attached to someone's house and the shop owner was actually from mainland Japan, from one of the prefectures in Kanto -- either Gunma or Saitama.  He'd moved to Taketomi nearly 10 years ago after having traveled to the Yaeyama islands as a tourist.  You see this quite frequently in the Yaeyama islands.  These islands attract people from mainland Japan who have rejected the fast paced, stressful (and often, corporate) lifestyle there.  I think they are also the people who need more space and less people. And these islands provide them with that.

The inner town's roads are made of sand
I think this is the garden of a guest house

Taketomi itself is usually done in a daytrip, but I've been told that it's only if you stay overnight that you realize how wonderfully relaxed and lovely the island really is as the little cafes bring together everyone on the island and people play music and enjoy life.  I really wanted to stay overnight before leaving this area, but I don't think I'll be able to afford it.

 Kondoi Beach

Taketomi's beaches are really nice.  There is a star sand beach (made up of ancient skeletons of dead sea creatures) but sadly most of the star sand has been collected as we couldn't find any.  You can buy some in the tourist stands near the beach though.  There are also other islands that have star sand on their beaches (Iriomote is one of them).   While on the Star Beach, we decided to just continue walking around the island to the next beach which is Kondoi beach.  This beach is where most people swim and the water around it is beautiful.  My friends and I didn't swim that day, but we did find numerous hermit crabs while on our beach walk.  I was also amazed at how many Japanese women wore pantyhose, high heels and leggings to the beach.  They are always decked out as if they're on their way to work.  It's nice, but I prefer feeling comfortable when I travel and walk for hours.

Marker that tells you how to get to the two beaches

We ended our stay by visiting a small cafe and drinking fresh squeezed mango juice, then we did one more cursory walk through town as we hadn't really visited every street within town (we'd only walked the main path that I take to get to the school).  We even saw a few water buffalo leading some tourists through town (this is not the local transport, rather it's a tourist attraction).

The water buffalo know the route by heart.  It seems like they are taken care of well.
At the end of the day, we had to utilize one of the girl's Iphone GPS systems in order to make the boat on time.  One of the girls said, "maybe it will leave later" and I said, "We're in Japan. I wouldn't count on lateness especially when it comes to public transport." And yes, we did have to run like hell.  I'm very certain we looked like the Scooby Doo Gang, though we weren't the only people hauling butt.  

Shisa guarding a house.  This one looks like he's ready to play basketball.

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