Wednesday, June 04, 2008

This is Yonaguni - これは与那国

Please refer to other entries for the full story.
PART 1 Across the Sea to Yonaguni - 与那国まで海を渡って
PART 2 This is Yonaguni - これは与那国
PART 3 Pacific Atlantis - 与那国の海底遺跡

We grabbed a couple of hours sleep after our 4am arrival at Sonai in Yonaguni, but we were so paranoid about getting busted that we were up again at first light. Fortunately, nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening. The town was quiet; only the wind blew steadily. We called our Iriomote friends at 6am to tell them we’re okay, knowing they’d be up getting ready for another day of guiding tourists. And although we were planning to take the ferry back the following day, we thus began what was to be, interestingly enough, a rather sleepless and foodless six days on Yonaguni.

yonaguni map


Large tracts of Yonaguni Island serve as pastureland for cows and horses, both of diminutive size as if matched to the island itself. The sea is never too far away.

The Yonaguni airport serves as a convenient access point for tourists, yet only a few thousand visit here every year. The alternative is the 4-hour ferry which only runs twice a week, or of course, the sea kayak which sails at one’s own discretion.

By mid-morning the town policeman walked by our stashed kayaks with no particular reaction, so we forgot about all danger and rented a motorbike to give the 27km circuit around the island a spin. There was much scenery to see, usually dominated by the uninterrupted horizon of the sea. The island’s symmetrical shape gave the impression of being on a giant ship, with Cape Agari in the east as the bow, and Cape Iri in the west the stern. At the top of the tall cliffs of both capes there are lighthouses, and waves were breaking on reefs far below. To avoid some of the cliffs, the perimeter road would wind through the hills for a while, cutting alternately through woods, pastures, and fields, then break out into fantastic stretches along the rocky coastline with the wide Pacific beyond. It was simple but spectacular scenery and we liked it at once.

Yonaguni scenery is a rich green mixture of hills, pasture, and fields.


Local wildlife loitering about Agarizaki’s wind turbines, all to be admired by passing tourists.
The turbines provide useful electricity, but not without problems. Last year’s typhoon blew the blades off one machine; these flew the better part of a kilometer, coming to rest on a beach below the coastal cliffs.

Along Agarizaki’s clifftop, this steel and concrete railing too is no match for the salty winds that blow from the open Pacific. Here and elsewhere, nature seems constantly at odds with man’s efforts to tame it.

Lying on the very prow of the island, Leanne looks down upon the pounding surf sixty meters below. Rounding the cape by kayak in these conditions would not be easy.

The island’s woods teem with colorful butterflies like in some botanical garden.

Yonaguni’s southeast coast is perhaps best known for its cliffy scenery; the phallic Tategami Rock the island’s most famous natural icon.

The scenic coastal road winds among the island’s cliffs and hills.

Stunned by the island’s natural beauty, not to mention the previous night’s experiences on the sea, the Gumbies pose for a tourist shot.

By 3pm the bike was due to be returned and we ambled back to our kayaks. It was time to move over a few kilometers to the neighboring town of Kubura where after staying the night, we could catch the ferry. The sea along the north coast was windy but protected from swell by the island itself, so the going was easy. At Kubura, with fears of the authorities allayed, we set up camp at the port not far from the waiting ferry, and had a delicious dinner in a seafood restaurant that caters mostly to scuba-diving tourists, who are the island’s most frequent visitors.

Featured prominently in a popular Japanese TV drama about a young Tokyo doctor who came to work on an isolated island, this half-derelict concrete building is actually the reason why a good many of the island’s visitors come here at all. On request of friends back home, we too snapped the requisite picture.


An excerpt from a large mosaic map on the floor of the gazebo at Irizaki, Japan’s westernmost land, which shows helpfully (and more or less accurately, as far as we can tell) the motion of the sea currents around western Japan.

Before going to bed we made plans to paddle out to the ‘undersea ruins’ at the island’s southern extremity early enough in the morning to be back for the 10am ferry. But the weather at 4am was blowing and rainy, precipitating a key decision. We would stay five more days until the next ferry run. We’d be sacrificing an exploration of the coral reefs around Ishigaki and Iriomote, but this island, small as it was, seemed to offer enough to keep us busy. In particular, the undersea ruins, shrouded in mystery and described only by sources of questionable objectivity, seemed worthy of more than a perfunctory, hurried look.

On the way to Kubura, Leanne rounds Cape Umabana with its tall and bizarre limestone cliffs. True to its name (Horse’s Nose), ungulates could be seen grazing precariously on the very edges of the cliff.


At Kubura’s tiny restaurant “Hiko”, this fish in seaweed sauce was the first dish of a three-course, impeccably delicious dinner, accompanied by ample amounts of Okinawa’s own Orion Beer. A fresh vegetable salad with juicy sashimi and fish eggs followed, while fried rice covered with melted cheese capped off our happy stomachs. Highly recommended, especially if you have worked up an appetite diving or kayaking.




  • ok, i have been scanning back through the blog trying to get the whole Yonaguni story.
    I hate to sound hyberbolic, but it has been a riveting read. I hope you'll post more.
    So - if you were spotted by a freighter on the sea, what would happen? I thought maybe you were steering clear of them to avoid being run over, or getting caught up in the wake, but it seemed you wanted to avoid being spotted. Is this illegal?
    You guys are my new heroes. I gotta tell my friend this story.
    The whole post about the sea crossing was white knuckle for me. I kept jumping up and down from the computer to act it out for my girlfriend, and then sitting down to read some more.
    Damn - I thought I was a badass for flying to Yonaguni to scuba dive. I must come to terms with a new reality.
    One small suggestion to consider. What about adding labels to your blog, and a label list?
    Just because I didn't know where the Yonaguni story resumed (it seems interspersed with other blog topics).

    By Blogger Andre Rivas, at 3:16 am  

  • Hi Andre,

    sorry for the super-late response to your note...i wonder if you will ever read it! somehow it has escaped my attention though we did add labels to our blog to bring the story (and other) a bit more together, according to your suggestion. it's a bit of a deficiency in this blog format that it's not easy to make a browseable index of everything.

    anyways, we are thrilled that you liked the story; once again we must say that it's readers like you that come out of nowhere that make us put forth the effort to blog in the first place.

    as for the freighters on the sea, no, what we were doing is not illegal, but if we were spotted a bit of a circus could happen. we have no way of predicting what a sea captain would think of seeing us and it is kind of likely they would call the coast guard or something. then we'd get helicopters buzzing around us and so on for no particular reason. needless to say that kind of scene is better avoided.

    anyway, thanks for the positive comments!


    By Blogger Leanne and Rik Brezina, at 12:49 am  

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