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Amami Trip 2k19: A Photo Journey

Amami Trip 2k19: A Photo Journey

Ever since I arrived on Amami in August 2018, my family had been eager to plan a trip here. Every time I would send photos from the beach or my day to day life they would reply “So when can we visit??”

We finally landed on a date; after about a week in Tokyo, it was decided that they would come to Amami for one week in late September 2019. It would be their second time visiting Japan, but seeing as Amami is quite different from the mainland, we began planning months in advance. Although it wasn’t quite the peak summer season, the chance that hotels and activities might be booked early was high, so we made sure to take care of all reservations two months beforehand.

We flew to Amami from Haneda on Skymark Airlines, which connects flights in Kagoshima City. The flight was in the evening, so everyone got some naps in.

My parents Tomas and Andrea, my younger brother John, and my boyfriend Martin all visited, so we travelled as a group of 5 for the whole trip.

We had a feeling we would stand out a little…

After getting our rental car at the airport, we made the 45-minute drive to Naze, Amami City, and checked into our rooms at Hotel West Court II Amami. We then made our way to the strategically close Yanigawa street, a road that is considered the “bar street” of Naze. The izakaya, or Japanese pubs, on Yanigawa St. all have amazing Amami cuisine, which I had a feeling my family would want to try.

We sat down in Muchakana, one of my favorite izakayas. We listened to the ‘shima-uta’ folksongs play inside as we ate fresh local sashimi, ‘abura-zomen’ oiled noodles, seaweed tempura and other dishes; it just doesn’t get any more “Amami-style” than that!

We also had to try some brown sugar shochu. Brown sugar shochu, a kind of rice-based distilled liquor, is by law only produced in the Amami Archipelago. The brown sugar is grown in various parts of the island chain, and it has become one of the main industries of Amami Oshima.

Once we finished eating we ventured out onto the street to check out what was around. My parents noted how different it is from Tokyo; the exact opposite, one might say. This was just the beginning of our trip, though, so we turned in for the night instead of doing a bar-crawl, which is the usual activity of choice for many islanders.

The Next Day:

Being from the landlocked desert of New Mexico, USA, my family was itching to go to the ocean, so we set out to the western coast of Amami.

Our first stop was Ohama Seaside Park, which is about a 20-minute car ride from the main part of Naze.

This picture captured the first time my boyfriend had ever been on a beach and felt the ocean! A pretty great first-beach at that, if you ask me.

Ohama has an aquarium, multiple restaurants that overlook the deep blue sea, a therapy pool, and a souvenir shop; a great one-stop location to experience Amami.

My parents immediately set out to look for seashells and other treasures that are found on beaches; this is one of my mother’s favorite pastimes.

We had a quick lunch at Umigame Café (seaturtle in Japanese), then continued on towards Yamato, the town just west of Naze, Amami City.

We reserved some rooms as bed & breakfast ‘Sango Beach’ in Kuninao village, the first community in Yamato when coming from Naze, for the night. My dad couldn’t resist any more, so while we checked in, he hopped into the ocean by the beach in front of the village.

Then we walked up to Miyakozaki, a cape that is next to Kuninao. It is covered by bamboo thickets that have grown to about 1 or 2 feet tall; the strong wind here keeps them from growing taller!

The view is absolutely breathtaking. My soul just seems to be at ease whenever I come here; I knew I had to share this feeling with my family. I’ll just let the photos do the ‘talking’ for a bit.

We also caught the sunset, a picture-perfect end to the day.

Just when we thought the evening couldn’t get any better, we were greeted with a huge display of barbecue ingredients for our dinner that the owner of Sango Beach, Mrs. Ezaki, prepared for us.

It was so much to eat even for a family of 5, but barbecuing to the sound of the ocean waves in the summer evening with an ice-cold Japanese beer was just the best. Apparently barbecuing is the main activity of summer on Amami; we didn’t argue with that logic.

In true Amami-style we had deep purple dragon fruit for dessert, then headed to bed.

On the 3rd Day

By the time I had woken up that morning, my Dad had already gone for a quick swim in the ocean and had mysteriously donned an ‘Amami FM’ radio station T-shirt.

He has played and studied drums of the world since he was a child, so needless to say I was not surprised that he found one and began to drum.

We chatted with the kind and friendly Mrs. Ezaki and her son while we packed up to leave. We felt as if we could have stayed there for days, but we had plans to go to Kakeroma Island by ferry.

As I live on Amami, I am constantly reminded that the people here are so genuine and friendly, but this was the first occasion that my family had the chance to experience it. She had lived in the US for a time so she spoke about Amami to them in English, which is a bit more meaningful than just me droning on about it.

Mrs. Ezaki is the kind of person who remembers your name even after you leave; to this day she stills joyfully greets me whenever we happen upon each other.

We definitely will be staying here again!

( ‘sango’ means ‘coral’ in Japanese)

We took the scenic route, driving along the sea through Uken on the western coast, down to Koniya in Setouchi. Seeing as we planned to stay on Kakeroma Island (an island that has no supermarket) for two nights, we knew we had to stock up on snacks and drinks. Luckily there is a grocery store next to the port, so everyone went shopping as I took care of the paperwork to take our rental car on the ferry.

Loaded up with lunches, snacks and other supplies, we got on to the ferry and embarked on our 25-minute trip to Kakeroma.

Even though Amami Oshima is an island, somehow Kakeroma Island feels even more isolated. Amami Oshima is a hustling and bustling metropolis compared to Kakeroma, where there is only one main road, small shops like Mom-and-Pops, and restaurants that run out of food quickly.

The weather was incredibly sunny, though, so we ventured to the beach right outside of the bed & breakfast we would be staying at and cracked open a cold one.

Kakeroma Island is famous for its longstanding cultural festivals such as Shodon Shibaya, an event that is categorized as National Important Intangible Cultural Property. At the Kakeromajima Exhibition & Activity Center in Shodon village, my Mom tried on a sample hat from the Shodon Shibaya festival, and we checked out the small gift shop. My personal favorite was the ‘Sotetsu Man’ good luck charms; ‘Sotetsu Man’ is a smiley sago palm, and he is the official mascot of Kakeroma.

My Dad and brother immediately began jumping off the fishing pier into the crystal-clear sea.

We hit the first snag of the trip, however, when we realized that we didn’t have any insect repellant—and there are no shops that sell it on Kakeroma Island either. There were very many mosquitoes, even in late September, so my Dad had to take the afternoon ferry back to Koniya to get some. I couldn’t go with him, though, so I wrote out “insect repellant” in Japanese for him to show the supermarket workers.

That night we had our first dinner at Marine Blue Kakeroma, our lodging while on the island. My dad, brother and boyfriend were instantly drawn to the stage in the corner of the dining area-- my boyfriend has played guitar and studied music for years, and my brother makes rap music.

They had an impromptu jam session on the stage, with the permission of the owners, and my dad discovered that the drum set had been signed by drummer Terry Bozzio, who worked with artist Frank Zappa.

The following morning at 9:00 AM we set out on a snorkeling tour of the Oshima Strait with Natsuki, the son of the couple that runs Marine Blue. It was everyone’s first time snorkeling, myself excluded, and my boyfriend had to learn how to swim for the occasion. I translated all of Natsuki’s instructions into English for everyone, and we hopped right in! Carefully, though; fins are definitely difficult to move around in.

Anyone that has swam or gone diving in the ocean knows that it feels like you’ve entered another world, and this feeling overwhelmed all of us. The tropical fish swimming right under us, being so deep underwater—the sensation is indescribable.

We all felt that this this activity was the highlight of our time on Kakeroma, but the true hospitality we experienced at Marine Blue and with Natsuki is what made it special. At the end of the day, the people we made friends with during our trip, with the incredible scenic backdrop, is what will remain in our memories.

Once we got back to Amami Oshima, we headed to dinner with my coworkers from the Amami City Hall, and boy was it a party. It was held at Au pas Camarade in Naze, which features decadent, abnormally large portions of Brazilian-style meat dishes and other tasty sides. After the obligatory speeches and whatnot, we got to the real cultural exchange: brown sugar shochu shots for everyone! (Most Japanese drinks come mixed with chasers or as cocktails).

At the customary after-party, we partook in Japanese-style karaoke, which basically is just (badly) singing our favorite songs in public to forge companionship.

Since I was driving us back to our hotel in Tatsugo, and I was trying to recover from a sickness, I had to call it a night for us after that. Waking up to this view made it all worth it though:

Even after 5 days on Amami, the scenery was just as stunning. Now that we were in Tatsugo, we drove around the northern region of Amami, just taking in the view. One of my favorites is the coastline from Kyora-umi Kowbow, a souvenir shop and restaurant that overlooks the beach along Kasari.

We made some quick stops at some other spots along the way, such as the Hara Habuya shop that features products handmade from Habu snakes. The Habu snake is a poisonous pit viper variety that only lives in the Ryukyu islands of Japan.

We also stopped to check out Soliel Farms, a goat-product specialty shop; my favorites are the goat milk cheesecake and their smoothies made with fresh local fruits.

For our last night we stayed in a rental house just past the airport, complete with our own backyard entrance to the beach below.

We decided to cook for the night and experience an Amami produce section; my brother was amused at how difficult it was to find ketchup. Just like anywhere, living here has its advantages and challenges—but that is what makes it fun!

That afternoon we all went for a last swim, since we had to catch a flight back to Tokyo in the morning.

The next morning, we tried to enjoy the last moments of our summer on Amami as much as we could. We packed up our stuff into the rental car one last time, then headed back to the airport.

Concluding thoughts:

When I asked my family and boyfriend to rate the trip from 1 to 10, 10 being the best time ever, they all responded with a resounding “10!”

Any inconveniences or difficulties were so minor, they felt like they didn’t even need to be included in the final rating.

Traveling to Amami is truly like visiting the past—for better or for worse. Most izakaya still allow smoking indoors, and many restaurants do as well. There are not many English resources about Amami, so the trip may not have gone as smoothly if I hadn’t been there to make reservations in Japanese, research hotels in Japanese, and translate menus, signs, and conversations on the spot.

Amami is also hit by multiple typhoons a year, which blows massive trash from the sea onto the shore. There are beach-cleans and efforts to clean up the nature, but there is always room to improve in this sense.

On the other hand, everyone agrees that the cuisine is incredible; my boyfriend is allergic to gluten, but this didn’t impede us from finding enough food to enjoy. Having a rental car means you can access just about anywhere on Amami, which is helpful when you have a limited amount of time and want to experience as much as possible. Everyone welcomed my family enthusiastically with open arms, which, to me, is what sets apart a good vacation from an amazing vacation.

My parents are already planning their next trip back—everyone I know who visits Amami can’t seem to get enough of it. It is a place that keeps enticing you back for more.

Would you like to come see for yourself?

Rosemary White

Born and raised in New Mexico, U.S.A, Rosemary began working as a Coordinator for International Relations for Amami City in August, 2018. Between running the Explore Amami social media accounts, translating materials, writing articles, and more, Rosemary spends time snorkeling & scuba diving, visiting cafes, or taking photos in the wilderness of Amami.

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