Summer Bliss at the Izu Peninsula

The Izu Peninsula was beyond anything I had ever imagined. For most people in Japan, Izu is synonymous with beaches and onsens. It’s a popular weekend trip from Tokyo, but I’d only been to the area once before, to see the early-blooming cherry blossoms in Kawazu. Continue reading “Summer Bliss at the Izu Peninsula”

Island Hopping in Japan’s South (Part 2)

The first two days of our Okinawa trip had been a fascinating glimpse into the history of Japan’s southern islands. I had been shocked by the horrors that had taken place there during the war, learned about the Ryukyu Kingdom which existed before Okinawa came to be, and been just metres away from some huge whale sharks at Churaumi Aquarium. The Main Island was lots of fun and a great introduction to Okinawa, but I had no idea of the pristine natural beauty and displays of Okinawa’s unique culture that awaited us on the smaller islands further south. Excited for some island hopping, it was time to hit the sky again!

Day 3: Ishigaki Island & Taketomi Island

Our third day in Okinawa was packed from start to finish. After a 1-hour flight from Naha, we landed on Ishigaki Island, part of an archipelago called the Yaeyama Islands. With Taiwan only 30 minutes away, we may as well have been in a foreign country. Tokyo felt a long, long way away.

Ishigaki is about 140km around, surrounded by a beautiful coral reef and covered in an interesting mix of sugar cane, pineapple farms, banana plants, palm trees and pine trees! Outside of the main town and agricultural plots, the island is largely untouched. Driving down roads lined with overgrown vegetation made it feel like we were exploring a deserted island!

And boy, the sky – it was constantly painted in the most beautiful shades of blue, dotted with bright, snow-white clouds. Everywhere we went, I was always drawn to the vast sky above us. Maybe I’m just too used to the city life, especially in Tokyo, where we are crammed in and there’s always some building obstructing the view. With much less pollution than many parts of the world, the sky in the Yaeyama Islands seemed the purest and most radiant I’d ever seen.

Our first port of call was Yaima-mura, an open-air museum featuring a small collection of traditional buildings set up like an actual village. There were displays explaining the life of the Yaeyama fishermen – including giant sea turtles and giant shells used for cooking over fires. We were kept busy with craft activities, an enclosure full of cheeky and playful squirrel monkeys, and a restaurant where we tried yaeyama soba topped with pork, fish cake and green onions.

After a few hours at the village, we headed to the port to catch a ferry to a nearby island.

Though the smallest island on our itinerary, Taketomi was by far my favourite. I wish I could have stayed there forever! I love going to remote locations and this island couldn’t have been more perfect. The only way in is by boat, and with a population of only 300, it never gets busy.

Taketomi is only 9km in circumference, and the best way to get around is by bicycle. Especially under the intense summer sun, there is no way walking is an option! With loose, sandy roads, the going is not so easy but that’s part of the charm. It was so much fun going from beach to beach, feeling the wind in our faces as we pedalled down palm tree-lined roads.

In the middle of the island is a quaint village of traditional Ryukyu houses – all with “shisa” statues out the front warding off evil spirits. The red-tiled roofs, stone walls, and water buffalo-drawn carts sauntering through the white sandy streets, was the quintessential Okinawa view I’d seen in pictures many times before. It was as though those images had come alive before my very eyes.

Aside from the village, it’s the beaches for which Taketomi is most famous. I can still clearly picture in my mind walking out from the clearing at West Wharf and seeing the crystal clear, turquoise waters for the first time. Ahh-mazing. The sky was dreamy. The air was fresh. In the distance we could see Kohama Island. In the water we could see fish swimming about. Everything just took my breath away!

The crescent-shaped Kondoi Beach was by far the most heavenly, with pristine, shallow waters, and fine, white sand stretching out into the distance in both directions. It was one of those pinch-me moments and a place I’ll never forget.

Kaiji Beach is known as one of only two places in Okinawa you can see ‘star sand’. These stars are actually incredible, tiny pieces of coral that get washed ashore after the coral dies. These days it’s hard to find star sand at Kaiji, but it’s fun to wander the shore searching for them. And if all else fails, you can buy cute little bottles of them from a local vendor.

So far, we had been to three islands – Okinawa Main Island, Ishigaki Island and Taketomi Island. Each were so beautiful and offered something different. The days were extraordinarily humid and boiling hot and the nights also very warm, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to visit paradise!

We still had two more days and one more island, the most remote of all the places we visited, on the itinerary. Stay tuned for Part 3!

Coastal Hiking at Miura

I recently joined a volunteer and hiking group by the name of Jambo. The organization focuses on environmental protection and also supports programs in Africa, hence the name jambo  – ‘hello’ in Swahili. They are a great group of people, old and young, Japanese and non-Japanese, and all with a love of the outdoors and meeting people!
Please check out their homepage: http://en.jambointernational.org/

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We arrived at Arazaki in Miura, about 50km south of Tokyo, mid-morning. The weather was perfect: sunny, breezy, and warm. After a briefing by the group leader, we headed for the coastline. The area is noted for its stunning cliff faces. From a distance, though, it wasn’t the rocks that first caught my eye, but the mass of tents! Families with little kids and big kids alike were camping along the cliffs, BBQ’ing, playing in the water, having a great time! What a great way to spend time with family and friends.

The closer we got to the sea shore, the more extraordinary the rocks became. At a quick glance, the cliffs look messy and dirty, but in fact years and years of wind erosion, water erosion, and faults and folds in the earth have resulted in incredible patterns and carvings. Geologists must go crazy here! The colours in the rocks range from light cream to brown to black. It reminded me of hardened lava pipes. I was so curious that after some research, I discovered it is in fact alternating beds of silt, basaltic gravel, solidified ash and volcanic sand. Could Mt Fuji have been responsible for this??!

Another thing that surprised me was the water… crystal clear, sparkly, cool, refreshing! I could see every little detail on the sea bed, from the tiny fish nibbling on rocks to the bumps on the back of the shells. Although well into spring, it was still a bit too cold to jump in. Perhaps another trip in the summer!?

Well, enough of me describing, take a look yourself…

Arasaki Rock
“Arasaki”
Jambo participants
Jambo participants
Campers
Happy campers
Cave formation
Cave formation. Note the vertical folds!
Rock formations 1
View from the cliffs
Rock formations 3
Looking up at the cliffs
Clear sea waters
Rocks jutting out of the clear sea waters
Rock formations 2
Close up of the folds
Crystal clear
Clear reflections
Rock formations 4
Black and white mounds
Island formation
Island formation
Sea bed formation
Sea bed formation
Hikers
Hikers!