Monday, November 29, 2004

OKI Islands - Nov. 6th & 7th

I became friends with Canadian/American JET Jodi during Tokyo orientation when we both had just arrived in Japan for the first time. She’s a really down-to-earth person and one of the nicest people I’ve met since being here. She got assigned to the OKI Islands, a small island group just off the coast of Shimane-ken, and furthermore to the smallest of the 4 islands - Chibu.

Her husband, Matt, joined her out on Chibu shortly after Jodi arrived in late July and I’d been meaning to visit them ever since we saw each other again at the prefectural orientation in late August.

JETs tend to fill up our weekends with assorted activities, so it wasn’t until the weekend of November 6th and 7th that our schedules meshed so I could plan on visiting OKI. My friend, Rusty, asked if he could tag along, and happy to have company, I planned on meeting Rusty over in Izumo and heading out early Saturday the 6th.

In order to get to the OKIs, you have to take a ferry that takes about 2 hours. The ferry only departs the Shimane coast twice a day - once at 9:30am and again at 3pm. We decided to try to catch the 9:30am ferry so we wouldn’t miss most of Saturday, but that meant getting a train to Matsue and then a bus from Matsue to the port where the ferry departs - a total travel time of about 2 hrs. Add to that the 2 hrs on the ferry and it was about 4 hours of traveling to get out to OKI, which may be one reason more JETs don’t ever visit. But they’re really missing out.

The ferry cost about $25 for a one-way ticket. It’s unusual in that there are no seats inside. Just wide, carpeted spaces with small blankets and pillows available. The idea is that you lie down and that helps combat seasickness. Many of our fellow passengers took a nap for the two-hour duration, but Rusty and I watched TV, played Game-Boy, chatted or walked about the ship. The Japan Sea was a bit choppy that day, but boats don’t really bother me that much so I was fine.

We arrived at Nishinoshima island at about 11:30 and met Jodi and Matt and Australian CIR Alana, who is the sole JET living on Nishinoshima. Alana was involved in an international day of sorts at her community center, so we hung out and got to sample the local delicacy of “squid balls.” OK - I didn’t try them, but Rusty and Matt did. Basically, they were balls of dough with a chunk of squid embedded inside with some other ingredients like mayonnaise and chopped green onions all fried up into a ball the size of your standard meatball. Chewy, but decent was Matt’s verdict. I got some yaki tori chicken strips and chowed down on those. Jodi didn't eat, as she is a vegetarian, but I try not to hold that against her. :)

Alana finished up and all 5 of us crammed into her little car and started our tour of Nishinoshima. Some great scenery and hiking spots. I hope to post some more photos that Matt took with his digital camera. Cows graze free and we often had to be careful not to hit one darting around on the narrow roads. We visited a shrine built into the side of a mountain, but I’ll admit I was a bit pooped by then and opted out of hiking up to see it. Alana taught us about the dangers of “swooping,” which apparently is an Australian phenomenon where birds swoop down and attack innocent pedestrians. We were on alert for possible swooping incidents the rest of the weekend.

Getting hungry and a bit tired, we headed for the inter-island ferry to take us over to Jodi and Matt’s home island of Chibu. $3 for each of us and $10 for Alana’s car, which it was pointed out by the gas-station attendant was only supposed to legally carry 4 total people, not 5. We thought he might call the police on us, but Alana wasn’t worried as she plays tennis with one of the only two police officers on the island.

We arrived on Chibu in no time and decided to head out to the island’s ONLY restaurant for dinner. Ironically, it’s a little family owned and operated joint that serves Italian food. The owner’s daughters do the cooking and I had steak for the first time since coming to Japan, while the others tried some of the various pasta dishes on offer. Delicious.
Chibu only has about 750 people, so it goes without saying that Jodi and Matt are the only two non-Japanese on the island. I think having her husband with her allows Jodi to keep it together in such isolation, especially since she spoke no Japanese when she first arrived 4 months ago.

We all retired to Jodi’s apartment, a roomy place in a complex overlooking a Chibu harbor. We had fun playing cards and the “name game” and a drinking game called “Kings.” Rusty and I kipped out on futons in the spare room that Matt uses for painting, a hobby of his that he’s very good at, and Jodi uses as a study. Their apartment is a more traditional tatami mat setup, unlike the hard wood floors I have at my apartment.

I awoke on Sunday morning to find Matt busy making pancakes from scratch and Jodi and Alana relaxing on the balcony enjoying the sun and very warm weather. It was about 70 degrees F that sunday, compared to the high 50s that awaited us when we returned to the mainland. Alana had to skedaddle off to attend to other business, so the 4 of us decided to explore a bit of Chibu and take advantage of the fine weather. Matt and I rode mopeds over to the beach and Jodi and Rusty followed on foot. They have an amazing beach - secluded and rather private. The water is very clear and blue, and according to Jodi is very warm in the summer. Matt enjoys fishing and they both enjoy snorkeling, so they’re well suited to life on this small island. I don’t know if I could be happy out there, but they’re having a good time, and being so close to the water has convinced Jodi that she wants to live close to the water when she leaves JET and returns to the world.

We had to make the Sunday ferry, which departs Nishinoshima at 3pm so we said our goodbyes and boarded the small inter-island ferry. After a smoother inbound ferry ride back to the mainland and a bus and train ride, Rusty and I made it back to Izumo at around 7:30pm, and hungry for dinner we hit the local MOS Burger for some tasty hamburgers and shakes.

All-in-all a great weekend. Rusty and I both plan on making it out to OKI in the new year. Jodi and Matt are traveling a lot right now. They just got back from Korea and are off to the Philippines for the Xmas holiday, so I’m sure they’ll have lots to tell us during our next visit. It was such a relaxing visit and a great and scenic place to stay, that I can’t wait to visit again.


1 comment:

K said...

Wow! Sounds like such a relaxing trip. Do you think it would be weird for me to send Jody an email??? I am also going to The Philippines for Christmas. It would be nice to chat with her. Actually, I think I met her at the mid-year conference...