Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Winter trip to Okinawa- the mini does the job!

DSC02505, originally uploaded by vibromama.

With the sea surrounding us on all sides, living on an island in Japan compelled us to purchase two second hand sea kayaks. With a weekend full of instruction on technique, rescue and safety, some kayak books bought and skimmed through, we strapped our 5 meter kayaks on top of our Mitsubishi 660cc mini car and embarked on a zealous adventure to the southern islands in Okinawa prefecture.


Southern Islands of Japan

china_sea copy, originally uploaded by amakusavibe.

A 20-hour ferry ride brought us to Naha, the capital of Okinawa prefecture. Next we were on another ferry ride this time another 500km and 12 hours to the southern most part of the prefecture. Destination: Yaeyama Islands.


10 day journey

trip_over, originally uploaded by amakusavibe.

To the very south of Okinawa Prefecture there is a group of islands known as the Yaeyama Islands. Among these islands the gem that really shines is one known as the Japanese Galapagos: Iriomote Island. Iriomote has a circumference of 130 km and is famous for mangroves, sea turtles, virgin tropical forests, Suonoki: a tree with huge buttress roots that appear to crawl on the ground, coral reefs and an endangered species of wild cat. Here is a rough map of where we paddled during our 10 day trip.


Okinawa Prefecture

okinawa, originally uploaded by amakusavibe.

Historically, the area now called Okinawa Prefecture was known as the Ryukyu Kingdom as they were once autonomous. Since the 15th century, the Chinese exerted influence over this area and used it as a major trade center and a gateway to other Asian nations. At the beginning of the 17th century the area came under Japanese dominion but still retained quasi-independence. It was not until 1879 that Okinawa became an official prefecture of Japan. This was fairly short lived however as after WW2 Okinawa came under the jurisdiction of the US government. In 1972, Okinawa became once again Japanese territory, although there still remains a strong US presence. This remains a sore spot among many locals. At the moment there are large protests against a new heliport, which is due for construction. Locals believe it threatens the fragile coral ecosystem and the safety of the residents.

Though part of Japan, the Okinawa people have created their own cultural identity, one of acceptance and peace. There is music everywhere often using the sanshin, a traditionally Chinese three stringed instrument plucked as rhythmical accompaniment to unison singing. In mainland Japan, traditionally people have their family sword mounted in a special alcove of the house. In contrast, the Okinawa people often have their family sanshin proudly on display. The artwork, crafts, dance and traditional dress are very vibrant and colorful. There are many young people absorbed in these traditional arts and they continue to grow and flourish.

Okinawans love to eat, and the food has a heavy Chinese influence using pork, spices and a lot of cooking oil. In fact, Okinawa prefecture statistically has the highest percentage of obesity in Japan. Ironically they also have the highest life expectancy in all of Japan. Perhaps it is because of their relaxed nature and open hearts.

The climate of Okinawa is considered to be sub-tropical with many typhoons passing through during the late summer to early fall, abundant rainfall and often stormy winters. While we were there the weather was somewhat unstable, with north, or northeast wind blowing up large waves. The temperature ranged between 14 and 23, which was quite pleasant for paddling, but a little chilly for snorkeling.

For more information about Okinawa and the Yaeyama Islands check out:


DSC02408, originally uploaded by vibromama.

It was in this setting and this particular island in mind that we embarked on our kayak trip. For 10 days we traveled, paddling everyday for 6 to 10 hours. In the evenings we set up camp on desolate beaches and prepared our much-anticipated dinner. This left us plenty of time to fish, trek through the jungle, snoop around the quiet sleepy fishing villages, and walk the deserted white sand beaches searching for treasures. It was interesting to find shells, coral and garbage washed up all the way from China, Korea and the Philippines. Apparently this year since the typhoon season was so harsh, the amount of garbage that litters the Japanese coastline was extraordinary. Still, in comparison to other beaches we have seen around Japan, it was fairly pristine; the perfect habitat for sea turtles, which we saw in abundance. Carefully navigating we were able to circumnavigate Iriomote and visit many of the outlying islands.


Mayagusuku Falls

DSC02414, originally uploaded by vibromama.

Scrambling around the jungle in the wild interior of Iriomote, we came upon many spectacular waterfalls.



DSC02436, originally uploaded by vibromama.

Suounoki, a wetland tree with large buttress roots.



DSC02417, originally uploaded by vibromama.

Mangroves; a precious ecosystem.


Taketomi Island

DSC02396, originally uploaded by amakusavibe.

We were especially charmed with the red roofed houses surrounded by traditional rock walls found on Taketomi Island.



Originally uploaded by amakusavibe.
Sea kayaks were quite an investment of our time, money and energy. However, after our first big adventure we find ourselves excited and looking forward to more trips on the sea. Although we are happy in Japan, we find that we have caught the Okinawa sickness "Okinawa Byou", which is a popular term coined for the enamourment and love that people feel for the area after visiting there. We find ourselves affected by this condition and are busy dreaming and longing to return.


Monday, January 24, 2005


islands, originally uploaded by vibromama.

These are some islands seen from the ferry. On the right is Kuchino-shima, and on the left, Nakano-shima. These are barely populated, desolate volcanic islands about 150km south of Kyushu.

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