As much as I was enjoying soaking up Okinawan culture, I knew that I had to move on. It was nearing the end of March; cherry blossom season was right around the corner. It would take me a few days to hopscotch up to Kyoto, of which I had had visions of cherry blossoms dancing in the wind around the innumerable temples of the once-capital city of Japan. However, I had only experienced life on a large island. The smaller islands were calling me. A friend recommended day-tripping my way to Kudaka Island before departing Okinawa.
Kudaka Island, or “Island of the God,” is a small island just off the east coast of the main island of Okinawa. Religious ceremonies were conducted on the island during Ryukyu Kingdom times. For as much importance and significance as Kudaka holds in Ryukyuan history, it is only 7.5 kilometers in circumference. A bicycle is all you will need to easily traverse this Japanese paradise.
The day I arrived on Kudaka, I had prepared myself for a warm adventure even though it was only late March. I had planned wrong. It was an extremely chilly day with a cloudy sky. The west coast was supposed to have the best beaches, but the wind was coming in from the west. So this was not an option. Still I rode around and explored the island on my antique cruiser-style rental bike.
There is a small town with beautiful houses, just adjacent to the port. The population spikes somewhere around 200 people, so you quickly exit the bustling downtown area and are left with nothing but wilderness. A dirt road exists to help you find your way. After riding around for about two hours, I eventually settled on a beach somewhere on the eastern coast. Dried remains of coral littered the beach and I located a rock large enough to help me escape from the wind.
There I sat for a long time, reading and enjoying the solitude. No one else was about on the island as per the chilly weather. As late afternoon was swallowing the day, the sun decided to break through the clouds and warm up my chilly feet.
The feeling of the sun shining down on me at that moment was incredible. I immediately made my way to the water and waded around enjoying the sun and cool water. On one side of me, a beautiful island. The other, nothingness. Over the horizon, only water was visible.
My friend, Mr. Justin D. Hancock, had just released his own album. It is one of the most incredible CDs that I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. I don’t go anywhere without my iPod and I decided that his music was the perfect soundtrack for this occasion. Walking around in the subdued surf, jumping from rock to rock with the sun shining down on me and Justin’s lyrical songs reverberating in my ear that day marks the most peaceful experience I had had so far in my trip and was the first time I was truly able to let go of all of the stress and frustration from the previous year.
As daylight continued to fade away, I made my way back to the main island. I awoke early the next morning to catch my ferry to the island of Okinoerabu. I found myself on a somewhat new ferry with a small, but comfortable spot to rest for the brief 7-hour journey. I was quiet excited at this point because in just two days time I would have to take another ferry, although this one would be more like 18 hours. If my next ferry was as comfortable as this one, then I would have a nice trip. Little did I know at the time how wrong I was about that next ferry.
So I slept for most of the trip and disembarked on a tiny, sleepy island. Although this island was much bigger than Kudaka, it still was pretty small. I managed to find a hotel. The quiet little hotel’s manager spoke zero English. It was time to test the minimal Japanese skills I had acquired. After some broken Japanese and a lot of gestures, I was able to get the price and inform the gentleman that I would be staying for two nights.
I settled into my room. Nothing special, but it was the first time I had a room to myself since I had moved out of my apartment. It was still early afternoon, but the weather was sub par and I had no idea of how to travel about the island. So I decided to wander a bit and find some dinner.
Most of the island was asleep or at least appeared that way. I ended up grabbing some food from a small supermarket and headed back to my room for a quiet dinner. The next day, I woke up early and took off to explore the island. I managed to find a bus that would take me to Oyama Suikyodo, Japan’s second longest cave. It was this 10km-long underground limestone cave that brought me to this island originally.
I had a 30 minute hike ahead of me from the bus stop to the cave entrance. There the nice, elderly lady babbled to me in Japanese, of which I didn’t understand a word except for the fact that for some reason I was getting 50% off of the entrance price. Maybe low season?
The cave was spectacular. I was the only person in this massive underground formation. I took my time and explored it slowly, methodically for a few hours. Upon exiting, I came across two Japanese men who had also just seen the cave. They spoke to me in Japanese, but I couldn’t understand them. They were trying to ask me if I had walked all the way to the cave from the main road where the bus stop was located, I finally gathered. It must have been pretty obvious since their car was the only one in the parking lot.
As I took off back down the road to the bus stop without any idea of how I was going to get to the next point of interest on the island, the two Japanese men slowly drove by and offered to give me a ride. They asked me where I was going and I pointed to a couple places on the map I had with me. They were headed to the exact same places, so they insisted I just tag along with them.
For the next two hours or so, they took me around to all of the tourist spots and beautiful scenery around the island. We hit a few places I had wanted to see plus many more.
One particularly interesting site on this island are the Fucha. Fucha are areas of rock formation where years of erosion has caused a spray cave to form capable of shooting water as high as 70m into the air. Apparently, from what my two make-shift tour guides were trying to explain to me, the people of Okinoerabu have destroyed all but one or two of these such formations because the salt water shot into the air via the Fucha ruins the crops on farms across the island. I was unable to see the water shoot into the air, but I can only imagine what a magnificent sight it must be in order to cause such devastation throughout the island.
Afterwards, they dropped me off at my hotel. I tried very hard to give them some money or anything I could offer as thanks, but they would have nothing of it. Their generosity is a reflection of the Japanese people and their culture. I have been hard pressed to find another culture in the world as willing to go out of their way to help out their neighbors.
Since I had an 18-hour ferry ride approaching the next day, I decided to have another supermarket dinner and get some rest.
My point of entry into the mainland would be Kagoshima. My ferry was set to leave in the early afternoon, so I explored the island a little more the next morning and grabbed what has become one of my favorite lunches in Japanese, Katsu Curry. It’s basically a big fried pork chop covered in Japan’s version of curry sauce and served on a large bed of rice. Curry was introduced to the Japanese via the British during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and takes on a much different flavor than that of curries found in India and Southeast Asia. I enjoy a nice curry from India or Thailand, but I also love the Japanese concoction that has become so popular in the land of the rising sun.
So with a full stomach, I headed off to the ferry terminal. Boarding this ferry was a bit of shock. Apparently there are two ships that run the Okinawa-Kagoshima line and I happened to be on the worse of the two for this longer leg. The sleeping quarters consisted of just a big floor with dilapidated mats and sketchy pillows that probably would’ve been considered cruel and unusual punishment during Medieval Times. So I ended up attempting to sleep on an undersized sofa in a common room.
My remaining hours in the islands were bittersweet. The islands I explored had all been wonderful, educational, and inspirational. I wasn’t quite ready to leave, but I also couldn’t contain my excitement. In just a few days, I would be surrounded by cherry blossoms in my favorite city of Japan. And I couldn’t wait…
Next time on This Is My Travel Blog: Two Days in Nagasaki: Cherry blossoms and atomic victims