Sunday, May 27, 2007

Himeshima Island/ 姫島

(Better Know a City)

(First a couple bloggy notes: Last time I added pictures to these "Better know a City" entries. This time I'm taking it a step further and adding video. Still fooling around and figuring out what I'm doing. I'm a bit unhappy with the grainy quality in which these videos have uploaded on the web, especially since I really wanted to show off the natural beauty of this place, but until I figure out a better way to do this I'm stuck with it.
Because I'm still working out the bugs with embedding videos, I'm including the links to the videos which you can use if the embedding gets screwy. )

Also, for your viewing pleasure, I offer the choice of watching all the Himeshima footage at once here (although, perhaps because of the size of the file, this ended up being especially grainy) or various smaller videos are inserted throughout if you just want to watch certain parts.

Now, onto Himeshima Island itself:
This is one of those places I've been meaning to get out to for some time, and never got around to. I like nice trip to an Island as much as anyone else, but of course making a trip out requires coordinating Ferry time schedules and planning ahead a little...not my strong suit. Those of you with long memories might recall this post from 3 years ago when Mike had a birthday party out on Himeshima Island, and I didn't get my act together in time to join the gang. Typical me.

But, thanks to this "Better Know a City" blogging project, I have no excuse not to go out this time around.

Himeshima is a small island off the coast of the Kunisaki Penninsula in Oita prefecture. The Kunisaki Penninsula is itself considered pretty out in the boondocks, and this Island, being even further out, is famous for being so remote. The image of this place I often get from talking to both Japanese and foreign friends (image mind you, not the reality) is that its kind of like the Japanese version of "Deliverance", where everyone on this Island is so inbred and isolated from society that they've all gone a little crazy.

Despite the fact that there is one JET stationed out on this island, someone told me a few years back at a JET conference that they had gone out to this island for a camping trip, and the Island people were so overjoyed to see foreigners that an old man bowed down to them and thanked them for coming to their island.

I believed it at the time, but after spending the day in Himeshima I've decided that either this story is a lie or its outdated. No one on the Island seemed the least bit surprised by my presence. Or at least, I didn't get any more stares than I usually get in my daily life here in Japan.

Because Shoko had the day off, and because I thought going for a day trip to the Island would be a fun thing to do as a couple, I persuaded her to come along with me on this trip.

Now, ordinarily when I do a "Better Know a City" day, I like to get up early, explore every nook and crevice I can find, and feel like I've thoroughly conquered the city before calling it a day.

However, I decided that one of the quickest ways to ruin a relationship is to force the other person to get involved in your insane projects, and then make them play by your rules. So we did things a bit more relaxed. We slept in till 8, didn't leave the house till 9, and didn't catch the Ferry over to the Island until 11. And then we caught the returning Ferry at 4:30, so we were only on the Island for about 5 hours. If you feel so inclined you can add an asterisk to this entry to note that I wasn't here for a full day. If I ever end up finishing this project and visiting every city in Oita, maybe I'll return here to make up for that last half a day.

But the Island was pretty small, and Shoko and I both thought we had seen pretty much everything there was to see in the short time we were there. In fact we even regretted slightly the fact that we had brought our car over with us on the Ferry. We could have easily done this Island on bicycles, and saved the extra $40 car Ferry charge. Live and learn I guess.

After looking at the map, the first stop we decided to make was at a small Temple on the other side of the island. We went around to the other side (something that ended up only taking two minutes) and parked the car and got out and walked for a bit along the beach.

We soon realized we were on the wrong path, but the water was crystal clear and there were lots of cool rock formations along the beach, so we walked around for a while and took some pictures and video. It was a really beautiful beach, and Shoko commented that the beaches reminded her of Okinawa. (I haven't been to Okinawa, so I can't comment).

Although it doesn't show up in the pictures or video, there was sadly a large amount of litter on the beach as well, which really kills you to see in such a beautiful place. Unfortunately this is all to common in the Japanese countryside. There have been books like "Dogs and Demons" which talk about the problem of littering in Japan. I started to get on my high horse about this.

"Don't start in on that with me," Shoko said. "When I went to New York it was the dirtiest place I'd ever seen. Besides most of the garbage here isn't tossed by the local people, its carried in by the waves from who knows where."

After that we got back into the car and got back on the main road (such as it was in this tiny Island). A Caucasian looking man, who I assumed must have been the Himeshima JET, was walking along on the side walk. We both stared at each other as I drove past. (We foreigners always complain about being stared at by Japanese people, but actually foreigners can be the worst for staring at other foreigners.)

After we had passed, Shoko said, "You should go back and introduce yourself. He probably gets really lonely on this Island and would be glad to talk to another English speaker." I realized she was right, so I reversed the car and headed back down the same road. The JET was nowhere to be seen. In the two minutes it took us to turn the car around he had somehow managed to disappear.

There were some signs for some sort of historical Japanese house, and we stopped the car and had a look around. Some sort of old Samurai lord or something. The house wasn't that impressive to me, but I guess in comparison to the usual old style houses it must have been quite something. "He must have had a lot of money to have a house like this way back then," Shoko commented. Shoko was also surprised that there was no one around. "Usually a place like this would have some sort of ticket gate at the front, but we can just walk in freely here," she marveled. We took a picture of me sitting in the historic house, and then moved on.

Shoko was very keen to check out the local shrimp, which apparently Himeshima is very famous for. They call them "kuruma ebi" in Japanese which translates to "Shrimp as big as a car". I was starting to get excited about the great pictures I could take, but then Shoko explained that they weren't really as big as a car, that was just the expression. They're just jumbo shrimp.

Apparently these shrimp are supposed to be eaten while still alive. You snap off their head and then eat the rest of it while it's still wriggling. It was safe to say that this was one delicacy I would not be partaking in, but even for the Japanese this is a bit unusual. Which was the main reason Shoko wanted to try it; just for the bizarre novelty of it.

Because the downtown area was so small, we kept the car parked and through the town to the Shrimp farms. On the way Shoko commented that, contrary to her image of Himeshima, many of the buildings looked new and well kept up. The supermarket was fully stocked, and we even saw a couple of young people and a few stray cats. (Given how small this Island is, I was surprised by all the private cars around, but I guess the Japanese are just as addicted to their cars as we are in America).

Unfortunately for Shoko we never did find a place to eat raw shrimp (according to some of the locals we asked, there was one restaurant which served it, and they were closed for the day). We did walk around the shrimp farms and watched the shrimp farmers at work. (For reasons I'm not completely sure of, they were driving a tractor around the fishery pond when we saw them).
I was obliging enough, but Shoko could tell I wasn't interested in it. "Don't you think this is interesting?" she asked.

"Maybe the things that interest Japanese people and the things that interest foreigners are different," I said. (Japanese people are famous for going on food tours, in which they will go to a location just for sampling the local delicacies).

"Where ever we go your only interested in the nature and hiking," Shoko said. "But that's the same everywhere. Aren't you interested in how the people here live?"

After seeing the Shrimp fisheries, we walked back to the car. (Stopped briefly at the supermarket to buy a lunch of Sushi, and eating it at a park bench) and then headed out to the East side of the Island.

There was something on the map about butterflies. I didn't really understand it, but we followed the signs down a side road, stopped the car by the beach, and walked along a path for a little ways.

A man, who I recognized from the Ferry ride over, was busy taking pictures of the butterflies. A couple other people were trying to catch butterflies in nets.

I took this video before we really understood what was going on,

but after I switched off the camera Shoko asked someone what this place was. He explained that for some reason this little area (not this Island, but this little section of the island) was a main stop on the path of migrating butterflies. He showed us on the map the path the butterflies took as far north as Gifu and as far down south as Okinawa, stopping over for a couple days in Himeshima for some unknown reason.

At the moment they were busy catching and marking the butterflies so they could better track their movements. (He showed us a butterfly in which they had written on the wings the date and the place). The unassuming man with the camera who had been on the ferry ride turned out to be a professor from the prestigious Tokyo University. He had come all the way down to Himeshima to study these butterflies.

"Isn't it amazing that a Tokyo University professor is studying all the way down here?" Shoko said.

"I think I got in the way of a couple of his pictures on the Ferry ride over," I said. "We were both trying to take pictures of Himeshima at the same time."

"Maybe the back of your head will end up in the next presentation about butterflies," Shoko said.

(Update: We actually later found out the professor simply studies butterflies as a hobby. His actual field is more in psychology, or something like that. Apparently he's quite well known inside Japan, or at least so Shoko tells me. Once we got home and she went on the internet she found some of his books on the power of the mind, and she claims to have read them when she was in college.)

Back in the car and onto the other side of the Island. (The East side of the Island actually looks like it was originally a separate island later joined by the man made road.) We got a bit of a view from the lighthouse at the top of a cliff (see video)

We were already getting to the point where we had seen most of the island. "Himeshima island is famous for having 7 strange things," Shoko said. "Why don't we check those out. It will give you something interesting to write about on your blog."

The first strange thing was a mysterious cave, the oysters from which were supposed to give you a bad stomach ache if you ate it, because they were shaped like ghosts. We didn't actually see the cave (it was on the other side of the cliff with no access paths) but there was a sign telling us about it.

Nearby was the second strange thing, a sign with a story about a rice field coming out of a snake long ago. (Shoko tried to explain the sign for me, but I was only half listening.)

"Are all the 7 wonders of Himeshima island going to be as lame as this?" I asked. "Let's forget about these, and just go back to looking for interesting things on the map. For instance I really want to see this lake in the middle of the Island. According to this map we already drove past it, but I don't remember seeing anything."

We went back the way we came looking for the lake. (Making a brief stop at a temple along the way: see video).

The lake was hidden from the road, which was why we missed it the first time. We found it the second time, but there wasn't much to see. In fact, instead of a lake, it was more of a man made pond. Shoko explains on the video here that it is used as a water reservoir because there's not a lot of fresh water on the island.

Back to the West side of the Island, we made a brief stop at the Nishimura Memorial park. (Shoko explains on the video here that Nishimura, local Himeshima son made good, was a member of the Cabinet in the postwar Japanese government).

With a half hour to kill before the departing Ferry, we made one more attempt to visit the Seaside temple (which we had seen, but not been able to get to, from the beach that morning).

In the end we were both really glad we did, because there was a little path going up the cliff which had a great view not only of the ocean, but of some of the rocks down below we had been climbing around on earlier in the morning. (Hopefully some of this comes through a bit in the pictures and video).

Link of the Day
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called on Africa's Anglican church to overcome its "obsession" with the issue of gay priests and same-sex marriages.
He said they should spend time on more pressing issues in the region.
In his usual forthright manner, Archbishop Tutu told the BBC that the Anglican communion was spending too much of its time and energy on debating differences over gay priests and same sex marriages - a subject, he said, that had now become "an extraordinary obsession".
He said: "We've, it seems to me, been fiddling whilst as it were our Rome was burning. At a time when our continent has been groaning under the burden of HIV/Aids, of corruption.

"There are so many issues crying out for concern and application by the church of its resources, and here we are, I mean, with this kind of extraordinary obsession."

...Unfortunately, this applies to more than just the Anglican denomination


Anonymous said...

I love Himeshima Island. Our ship MV DARSHAN was grounded on the island by cyclone "Mirelle" in September 1991.

Our ship listed 10 degree on her port side. (Left side is Himeshima Island).

It is a fishing villeage but one fisherman was kind enough to gave us a stingray to eat.

I was a Radio Operator.

Sein Myint Hlaing

Joel said...

I agree it is a very beautiful place. It sounds like you had an interesting experience there.

Thanks for the comment

Anonymous said...

Yes Joel...

You can view some of my pictures in and look for ;

I did not have a chance to land on the island. Only after 3 weeks, I was informed to transformed to transfer to another ship MV SARINDERJIT at Singapore. Then only I had a chance to land on that beautiful island and went to ferry station.

That was on the 24th October 1991, HIMESHIMA MARU NO.2 Orange ferry ship took me to Another island. And then took by agent's car to Fukuoka airport to fly back to Singapore.

May I know more about you?


Anonymous said...


You can also add me in


Joel said...

Not much to tell about me, actually. I'm an American who has been living and working in Japan for about 7 years or so. On my days off I try and explore different cities around Oita.