Amami Oshima Trip Diary
＜An island where you can get along with people＞
Chapter 1Amami Oshima–an island twice colonized
Our travel themes are “Enjoying Serendipity” and “Pilgrimage and Requiem”
Our trip to Amami Oshima began on Friday, May 19, 2023.
There are two themes for the trip.
The first is “to enjoy the randomness of serendipity without a plan.”
The second is “pilgrimage and requiem.”
“Pilgrimage” is a feeling of respect for the soul, regardless of one’s religious belief. It is a form of travel that involves visiting sacred places.
“Requiem” is an act of respect to the spirits of the dead. What is the meaning of “requiem” in Amami Oshima? Amami is now a well-known subtropical tourist destination, but it was colonized twice in the past.
Edo period: Ruled by the Satsuma clan and subjected to slave labor
The first colonization occurred in the Edo period. During this era, the Satsuma clan took control of the island and forced the islanders to produce brown sugar, an expensive and valuable commodity at the time. The islanders were obligated to convert most of their rice and vegetable fields to sugarcane cultivation. They were so exploited that they lacked rice for their own sustenance. The Satsuma clan played a central role in the Meiji Restoration, and its economic power was supported by brown sugar produced from sugarcane in Amami. The Satsuma clan also burned ancient documents and family registers of the Amami people to destroy their identity and thus strengthen its control over them.
Saigo Takamori immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the Satsuma clan. Amami provided Saigo with an opportunity to study. When Saigo, who was not an educated man, was exiled to Amami, he had nothing to do, so he repeatedly read the “Shunju Sashiden” and “Shiji Tsugan” to educate himself. The Satsuma clan did not like their samurai to study all the time, and Saigo followed the clan’s policy. If he had not been exiled to Amami, the circumstances at the end of the Edo period might have been different.
Saigo, who studied hard in Amami, was described by Ryotaro Shiba as follows: “By coming here, Saigo acquired his literacy experience. Amami Oshima Island was, in a sense, a university for him.” (This quote comes from a seminar given at Nase Community Center on July 11, 1986, published in the September 16, 2022 issue of Shukan Asahi). Amami also contributed to Saigo’s success in becoming a key figure in the Meiji Restoration. Despite this, the islanders were treated like slaves.
Showa period: Occupied and ruled by the U.S. after World War II
The second colonization of Amami was carried out by the U.S. military. From 1945, when Japan was defeated in WWII, until 1953, the U.S. military government occupied the island. When military governor Joseph arrived in Amami, he made it clear that Amami was under the jurisdiction of the military government, which was separated from Japan, and that this military government must never be interpreted as a democratic one.
Today, the islanders are friendly and cheerful, as if they live in a tropical paradise. Still, you will find a history of hardship and suffering if you look back through time. On our trip we visit the places where the souls of those who died in sorrow or as sacrifices were enshrined, offer prayers for their repose, and express our gratitude for their being the island's foundation.
(Map source: GSI)
(Map source: GSI)
Chapter 2A prayer for safe travel at Haneda Aviation Shrine
The trip begins with a visit to Haneda Aviation Shrine.
The first place that the eight members of our group headed to after gathering at Haneda Airport was the Haneda Aviation Shrine. The shrine is a bit secluded inside Terminal 1 and is dedicated to the “6,367 aviation personnel who have died in the line of duty”. The shrine enshrines the souls of those who laid the foundation for the development of the aviation industry.
Hence, our trip began with a requiem service.
The photo may look like a somewhat tasteless office, but check closely and you will see that there is a Shinto priest standing on the right. When we visited the shrine, it was in the middle of its regular grand festival, which suggests that the people who received the blessing ritual were those with essential duties at Haneda Airport.
The door is always open as indicated by the sign on the glass, which reads “Please feel free to visit,” and an altar sits in front of it.
We paid our respects from the outside. Needless to say, the protection we received was no less powerful no matter where we were.
Arrival at Amami Airport after 2 hours and 20 minutes
It takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to get to Amami. We had a bumpy flight.
During the flight, several times there was an announcement saying, “The plane is shaking, but there is no problem with safety.” We arrived at Amami Airport after receiving free drinks.
The weather forecast showed that the rainy season had started, but in reality it was only slightly cloudy. A perfect day for a trip. There was hardly any rain during the three days of our stay. Amami is an island with a lot of rainfall. It is rare to have fine weather every day during the rainy season. It was as though we were blessed.
Next, we introduced the eight people who were on the trip. Other than the leader, the other seven of us were meeting each other for the first time. Although we met at Haneda Airport, we didn’t know each other, so we only knew who would be traveling with us once the leader arrived. Of course, we still needed to find out about our travel companions and their jobs. The leader asked, “Who among you wants to go to Amami?” and those raising their hands gathered together.
The group seems to be having fun in the photo, but perhaps you can sense a certain distance and unfamiliarity?
- Fine weather at Amami Airport: a blessing!
- Information on the island’s bus routes at the airport lobby
Uninhabited Island Bus Information Center (LOL)
Renting three big American cars
We went to Coastland Rent-a-Car near the airport to get a car for our trip, thinking we would rent a microbus since there were eight of us. However, the leader decided to rent three American cars: two open-top Mustangs and a Hummer designed based on a military jeep.
“Let’s try left-hand-drive imported cars!” While we were deciding who would drive and going through the procedures, the ladies went shopping at Wano Shoten, a nearby store dealing in Amami folk craft.
They bought hair ornaments and earrings decorated with small pieces of Oshima tsumugi, a specialty of Amami Oshima, denim caps, earrings made of stones of similar shapes, and fans made of kuba leaves, and others, all full of Amami colors. There was also an Amami shamisen covered with the skin of Amami’s famous Habu snake.
- Handmade accessories from Wano Shoten, full of Amami colors
- Shells and accessories from the Amami sea
- A fan made of kuba leaves (yellow circle) and earrings made of Oshima silk thread (red circle)
- Amami shamisen for sale
We wanted to keep our luggage as light as possible, so we asked if the store was open on Sundays, but unexpectedly, they said they were closed on Sundays.
This is a popular store for essential Amami products that are not available at ordinary souvenir shops, so it was surprising to hear.
“It’s unusual that you are closed on Sunday, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s because Sunday is the day of the village dance festival, so we will close the store and go there.”
Putting community activities before work was a situation I encountered here and there on my trip. This is a characteristic of Amami.
People value neighborly relations more than anything else, and the bonds between them are strong. Communities have strong bonds of solidarity. I felt convinced that they survived the two colonial periods because of their solidarity.
- “The village dancing festival is more important than opening the store. I’ll close the store and go there! It’ll be fun,” said the lady at Wano Shoten.
Chapter 3The dramatic nature of Amami—the mysterious Tebiro Beach
A mysterious beach where a river shows up at low tide
A mysterious beach came into view.
Several rivers flow along the shore into the sea.
The rivers are only visible at low tide. At high tide, the rivers disappear. We just barely made it in time. It will be high tide in no time, so let’s take a dip in the water while we can!
The leader encouraged everyone to enjoy the moment by removing our shoes and getting in the water.
- Tebiro Beach, where rivers appear only at low tide
- A sign is located on the shore. This beach is apparently a surfers’ paradise. Heart Rock is in the circle at the top-right.
Take off your shoes, pull up your pants, and take a dip in the sea!
We all took off our shoes and socks, pulled up our trousers, and dipped in the “short-lived river” and shallow sea.
“Let’s express our feelings in single kanji characters,” the leader suggested.
- Mr. T, the coordinator, wrote raku (meaning “fun”).
- Mr. I wrote ten (“sky”) and imitated a flying bird.
- Mr. Y wrote haya (“fast”) and pointed to it. What does it mean?
Heart Rock is sinking!
Mr. F, one of the members, was a rock enthusiast. He was disappointed that he couldn’t see the famous Heart Rock. “What a pity!” he sighed.
Heart Rock, circled in red on the map, is a heart-shaped hole in the rock, with a heart pattern clearly visible when the sea water accumulates during low tide. The Amami sea sometimes shows a mixture of milky and green colors, which makes Heart Rock very romantic during that time. It gives hope that love might come true.
Our leader noticed Ms. F’s lamentation and said, “Let’s stop by on the way home. It’s en route to the airport.”
The coordinator, Mr. T, quickly checked the time of low tide on his smartphone, which he never leaves behind. “Yes, it should be fine,” he confirmed. “Let’s stop by.”
Mr. F looked elated.
After playing most of the day, we headed for a church to experience baptism. Unable to shake off the sand from our wet feet, we simply shoved our feet into our shoes.
Chapter 4The Amami church is friendly
Christianity became widespread during the American occupation
There are many churches on Amami Oshima Island. Driving through town, we often come across churches with a white statue of the Virgin Mary embedded in the wall, or a cross sign.
Christianity became widespread in Amami after the U.S. occupation in 1952. As part of Christian charity activities, an infant home and facilities for disabled children in Amami were opened after the war.
Oshima Taxi, one of the two taxi-hailing companies on the island, lists “Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart of Nase” as a tourist attraction at the top of its website. This may be because the church building won the grand prize in the urban design category of The 5th Kagoshima People, Town, and Design Award of Kagoshima Prefecture. The islanders think of the church as a humble place.
Those of us who come from Tokyo or Saitama tend to get a little intimidated when we think of going to church, but in Amami, the feeling is completely different. It’s so light.
Experiencing “vicarious baptism” at the church
We visited a church where we could experience “vicarious baptism."
However, it is strange for us non-Christians to be baptized out of the blue, don’t you think? It is typical for people with a Christian background to be baptized after a few months of birth or when deciding to become Christians after much thought and consideration.
According to the pastor, vicarious baptism aims to secure a place in heaven (like a nationality on earth).
Nobody knows when they will die; we may even die today. Therefore, we must cherish this encounter and undergo vicarious baptism. It is important to make a place for yourself in heaven.
He owns a ramen restaurant.
It seems that those who are to be baptized can be of any religious faith.
I decided to be baptized because I was drawn by the pastor’s simple way of speaking.
The whole baptism process was videotaped by the pastor’s wife (who is also a pastor) using a smartphone. I was a little surprised because there was no explanation beforehand.
In the post-baptism sermon, he said, “We are now brothers and sisters. From now on, I will call you Brother so-and-so.”
Chapter 5Enjoying a live performance of shima-uta songs at an izakaya
Naorai is a shima-uta (island song) izakaya
After the baptism, we went to Naorai, a local tavern. The live performance by Takashi Toyoyama, a shima-uta singer, was scheduled to begin here at 8:00 p.m.
Mr. T, who was coordinating the trip, impatiently said, “I really want you all to listen to his performance, so I hope we make it there on time!” As this was a rare opportunity to listen to an Amami shamisen player performing shima-uta, we rushed to the izakaya.
I thought that Mr. Toyoyama would be an older man in a kimono because he played shima-uta with an Amami shamisen, but instead, a handsome young man who looked like an idol showed up wearing a T-shirt.
- Mr. Toyoshima, a shima-uta singer with brown hair wearing a T-shirt, gave a lesson on the Amami shamisen.
With his high yet thick voice, he told us that Amami shima-uta is characterized by the use of a falsetto.
“Amami shima-uta is different from any other shima-uta. Usually, the falsetto is not used in shima-uta. They say that the falsetto is a deceptive voice. Only Amami singers use falsetto, for the purpose of expressing melancholy.”
The striking contrast between the exotic, modern-looking man and the traditional, down-to-earth shima-uta gave the impression of a new style of shima-uta.
“The verses in shima-uta are difficult to understand, and I have not yet mastered them,” he says humbly.
However, Toyoyama’s performances are not confined to the island. He has been invited to perform all over Japan and has toured the country. He sings not only at taverns but also at cafés.
“The masters of shima-uta are called utasha,’ and those above them are great masters called kuisha. It’s pretty much impossible to reach that level, but I’m trying my best to get there,” says Toyoshima, who may well become a champion who will develop a new style of shima-uta across the whole country.
Taiko drumming and dancing begin, with everyone participating
After singing a few songs, he asked the customers to join in, saying, “If you can play the taiko, please come forward.” He got them involved by asking them to play the Amami shamisen, and then he invited them and showed them how to dance.
The development that followed was uniquely Amami. At Mr. Toyoshima’s invitation, an elderly lady with long hair was the first to start dancing, followed by a well-dressed man, then a slender man, and so on, all dancing with lively movements. They swayed their hands and shook their hips, dancing like rock stars. The young women could only watch.
We also joined the dancing circle, not willing to be left behind.
Compared to the flexibility of the islanders’ hand movements, ours looked very stiff. Our body movements were so awkward that they were almost comical. Although we were terrible at it, we enjoyed it just as much as the islanders. The sound of Amami shamisen gave us the boost we needed, and we fulfilled the theme of our trip, “experience everything.”
Chapter 6Offering requiem prayers at a national sanatorium
A visit to National Sanatorium Amami Wakoen
Saturday, May 20.
We gathered at 9:00 a.m. in the hotel lobby and headed for a flower shop. We bought two large bouquets of lilies and other flowers. Today's first stop was the Amami Wakoen National Sanatorium for Hansen’s Disease. It is the second national sanatorium in Kagoshima Prefecture. There are 13 sanatoriums in Japan, and Amami Wakoen currently (as of April 2023) has the fewest residents, with 13 people living there. All of them are from Amami, and the average age of the residents is 87.
Hansen’s disease is now curable, less contagious, and leaves no after-effects. However, in the past, patients were severely discriminated against. When Amami was under American occupation, a fence was put around the sanatorium by order of the U.S. government to ensure that the patients were never allowed to leave.
We prayed in the ossuary. This is where those who lived in the sanatorium were laid to rest. The leader chanted the Hannya Shingyo (“Heart Sutra”), and everyone else prayed for the souls of those forced to live in isolation.
Residents were mandated to have a postmortem autopsy
We then went up the mountain road to visit the former ossuary, located about 130 meters away. It rains a lot in Amami, so the humidity is high, and the narrow mountain path, with no wind and no sunlight, was wet and soggy. Trees were twisting and turning in search of light, climbing over fences and encroaching on the path.
As we were heading toward the old ossuary, we came across a black granite monument engraved with the words, “Remains of the mortuary anatomical building." The information board next to it reads as follows:
Old Mortuary Anatomy Building
When residents were enrolled, they were required to sign a consent form for autopsy on their death. The building was completed in 1971 and used for about 20 years until July 1991. During this period, the number of autopsied bodies was recorded as 74.
- Remains of the Mortuary Anatomy Building with an information board
- Remains of the crematorium and an information board
An autopsy after death was mandated just because someone contracted a particular disease, making the person sign the autopsy before death. The patient did not get the disease willingly.
Perhaps due to fear of infection, the bodies were cremated at the adjacent crematorium. A black granite stone monument with the inscription, “Remains of the crematorium,” was also set up as a memorial.
Plenty of white butterflies in a well-maintained field
We found some well-maintained fields on the mountain road leading to the former ossuary. Many white butterflies were flying around in the fields where no flowers were in bloom as if they were flowers themselves.
They fly close to the ground and never seem to leave.
Even when we walked beside them, they would not leave us, as if they were attached to us.
I turned the camera on several times.
The white fuzzy things are butterflies. Can you see them in the photo? There is a belief that the spirits of the departed take the form of butterflies.
- Many white butterflies flying around the field
- Some say, “Butterflies are spirits that have changed their forms and come to us.”
The old ossuary was located across a river that runs along the valley. A bridge has been built across it, and the grass around it has been neatly cut so visitors can visit it anytime. It looks like a giant tombstone. The building was designed by Shuntaro Motoi, a sculptor from Nase, and the construction cost was covered by public funds. The construction work was carried out by 399 residents and 36 staff members.
- The former ossuary looking over the river flowing along the valley
- The old ossuary, shaped like a tombstone
Chapter 7Canoeing in Subtropical Mangroves
Mangroves are a group of plants forming a forest that grow in areas where seawater and freshwater meet…
We made our way down the mountain where the sanatorium was located.
After a short drive, we found ourselves in a different world.
We arrived at Kuroshio Forest Mangrove Park, where trees and flower gardens unique to this subtropical zone unfold, and mangroves can be found at the far end of the park.
While chewing on the irrationality of life after visiting the sanatorium, I remind myself that it is still my job to enjoy myself.
The main activity here is canoeing down the river while enjoying the view of mangroves on both sides.
Mangroves are a general term for a group of plants forming a forest that grow along the coasts and estuaries of tropical and subtropical regions, where seawater and freshwater meet. These plants have the special ability to process salt to survive in the presence of seawater. At present, there are about 110 species of mangroves.
“Mangrove” is not the name of a single tree, despite people often mistakenly thinking it is.
- Overgrown trees. A road sign for “Kuroshio Mangrove Park” can be seen near a screw pine tree that grows aerial roots from its trunk.
- The stylish black building is the “Roadside Station.” The mangroves can be found beyond the garden at the back of the building.
- A large screw pine tree in the garden, where we all tried hanging from the roots. There are also adan trees similar to the screw pine tree. You cannot hang from this tree because the aerial roots are curved, unlike the straight roots of the screw pine tree. The screw pine tree seems to blend in well with us.
- A river surrounded by mangroves on both banks.
We canoed down here.
- Maneuvering a canoe looks easy...
- The mangrove trees look so full of life and seem to be shouting, “We are going to live!”
- Their habitat is harsh and exposed to seawater, so they survive by voraciously extending their roots.
Trees living in mangroves expel salt from their leaves, so the leaves are salty.
If you pick up a fallen leaf that has turned yellow and chew it in your mouth, it will slowly ooze out a bitter, salty taste. If you chew it and swallow it, it tastes like the sea.
Their main habitats are the South Pacific islands and Africa. In Japan, they are also found in Okinawa. The northern boundary is here on Amami Oshima Island.
The river is about 10 meters wide and runs through the middle of the mangroves. The river flows slowly, but it is swift in some places. We cannot let our guard down. After all, it is a river that leads to the sea.
Struggling in a one-person canoe
Canoeing is a thrilling activity.
Canoeing at Kuroshio-no-mori is a challenging experience in which you have to navigate the canoe by yourself instead of riding a sightseeing boat with a boatman. On top of that, it is a one-person ride. Once out on the river, you must paddle back to the shore alone without anyone to help you.
The sporty members of our group looked excited as they exclaimed, “We’ll paddle down the Amazon River through the mangroves ourselves!”
After everyone had put on their life jackets, the guide, who was completely tanned, began his lecture by saying, “I will now explain how to use the paddle.”
“Turn the paddle side with the words on it toward you. When you want to go straight, move the paddle alternately to the left and right. If you want to go right, put the left oar in the water and paddle, and if you want to go left, put the right oar in the water and paddle. That way, you can get where you want to go.”
After the three-minute lecture, we headed for the pier, where the guide asked each of us to board a canoe.
Upon boarding, we found it difficult to get oriented. Many canoes were in the water, so collisions (?) occurred here and there. Each time this happened, the guide rushed in, rearranged the three or four tangled canoes, and pushed them in the direction they needed to go.
After we landed on a sandbar and took a break, the guide tied several canoes together with ropes and pulled us to the pier because the current was becoming too swift.
Chapter 8Habu is the guardian god of Amami
Viewing habu snakes at Amami Kanko Habu Center
After we exhausted from canoeing, we went to Amami Kanko Habu Center to see habu snakes and replenish our energy with candies kneaded with habu snake powder, which were served to us on a tray and offered free of charge. Just being told that the candies contained habu powder was enough to energize us. They were lightly sweet and did not taste like habu (?), but they refreshed us.
In the exhibition room, there are many large habu snakes that were captured and placed in formalin solutions. They come in various sizes. A lady at the Habu Center explained how to capture them.
They were scary enough even though they were not alive. However, this facility also has live habu snakes kept in large cages in the basement.
According to the staff, there are two types of habu snakes, venomous and non-venomous. Those on display are from both types. They keep the Akamata habu (non-venomous), the Hime habu (venomous), the Tokara habu (venomous), and, although not habu snakes, sea snakes.
- Habu snakes are kept at the Habu Center. A habu shrine can be seen at the back.
- The habu shrine housed at the Habu Center
“Have you ever been bitten while taking care of them?”
“Rarely, but even if you are bitten, we now have antivenin, so it is unlikely to cause death. In the past, we used to suck out the venom, tie up the legs so that the venom does not spread to the rest of the body, and wait for an ambulance.”
The reason for tying up the legs is that most bites happen on the legs.
“Mr. Nakamoto, who gave an explanation in the DVD, grabbed the habu snake with his bare hands, didn’t he?”
“Nakamoto was actually bitten about six times. However, he treated it properly, so he was fine. Nowadays, very few people die from habu snake bites.”
So, it seems that habu snake bites are not as scary as we think. However, we cannot be too careful. The Habu Center has a habu shrine where visitors can pray for safety. Although small, it is an authentic shrine with a small red torii gate and a Hontsubo bell.
Why is there a habu shrine in the Habu Center?
“Habu snakes are the guardian gods of the mountains. But visitors from outside don’t know much about them. We explain the precautions to visitors to the Habu Center so as not to be bitten by or bump into habu snakes while exploring the mountains of Amami. In addition, we have a habu shrine where our guests can pray for their own safety.”
Indeed, a habu snake slowly writhing in its cage is quite eerie. Visitors to the Habu Center probably share this feeling. Perhaps this facility was built to accommodate such tourists and answer their questions.
Habu-hunting and habu atari strengthen the unity of the community
Habu is one of Amami’s specialties. The word “habu” is associated with a frightening and poisonous snake.
Although this is the image people have of habu snakes, Amami people believe that they are guardian gods.
They do not carelessly enter mountains or pollute rivers for fear of being bitten by habu, and this has protected Amami's natural environment.
Habu snakes also played a role in bringing the villagers together.
The book Reprints of Amami Life History (written by Yoshimori Ehara and published by Nampo Shinsha) explains village events in which the habu snake effectively forced the people to be united, as follows.
In the past, there was a community event called “habu-hunting,” in which the villagers worked together to capture habu snakes. It took place in April and May when the snakes were active, and all men between the ages of 15 and 60 had to participate. After breakfast, they would gather with clubs, poles, and sickles in hand and wait in groups where they thought they might find habu snakes. When they found one, they would shout, “There it is!” to notify the others nearby, who would work together to capture it. Each group was responsible for capturing one snake without fail.
The same book also describes “habu atari." Habu atari means being bitten by a habu snake. If someone is bitten by a habu snake while alone outdoors, the person has to call out loudly for help. The villagers will surely come to help. That is the agreement. According to legend, the wound will be less severe if someone catches a habu snake that bites them. Hence, those who come to the rescue usually start by killing the snake instead of immediately caring for the bitten person. After that, they would carry the bitten person home on their back and take them to a doctor if seriously injured. This was when transportation was only possible by horseback or boat. There were no cars to go to the doctor, as there are now. That is why the mutual aid system was developed. People who owned horses would provide horses, and people who owned boats would carry people who had been bitten to the town doctor.
We may wonder why anyone would go to such lengths for the sake of others. However, since Amami is a land of steep mountains and narrow roads, and each village was isolated, people survived by virtue of the collective wisdom of strengthening self-governance and mutual aid within the village.
As the saying goes, “turning a negative into a positive,” the harsh terrain strengthened mutual aid. Even if the villagers had to take time away from work, they made it a habit to give priority to village events. It is evident that mutual aid requires compulsion and inevitability, not just sweet-sounding fun.
Watching the epic battle between a habu snake and a mongoose (on DVD)
The habu brought not only mutual aid. Habu's life force contributed to the people's health and the artistic craft of Oshima Tsumugi.
Various types of health food, such as habu liquor, habu oil, habu powder, and habu liver, were made by extracting the ingredients from habu snakes. The pattern of Oshima tsumugi is based on the scales of the habu snake. Like human fingerprints, no two habu scales are the same. This makes the design unique and original.
The Habu Center was established in 1974. Although the building is a bit outdated, the center has been recognized for contributing to the health of the islanders and tourists. It has received several awards, such as the Medicinal Merit Award from the Governor of Kagoshima Prefecture in 2007.
The lectures about habu shown at the center and the documentary of the epic battle between a mongoose and a habu were realistic. Although it was on a DVD, it did not feel outdated.
Eiichi Nakamoto, a devoted habu expert who wore a white coat, talked authoritatively about the habu. He talked about the life force of the habu, how it can survive for more than a year on water alone, and how that life force can be used to benefit human health. After that, a video of the battle between a habu snake and a mongoose was shown. Both are powerful animals. And just as the battle reached its climax, a strong fishy smell filled the air. We were surprised. Actually, this was a service (?) from the restaurant. It was staged to make the visitors’ experience more realistic.
- A pamphlet of Amami Habu Center. The photo shows Eiichi Nakamoto, who appeared on the DVD and explained the habu snake, holding one with his bare hands.
- A pamphlet of the Habu Center promoting the artistic character and life force of the habu
Trying habu ramen
“Please come to my restaurant. I’ll be waiting for you!”
So said Mr. B, whom we met at the church we visited on the first day of our trip.
Mr. B owns a ramen shop in Nagatabashi Market, a row of small stores and restaurants. The store is usually closed on Saturdays because of church services. Still, on this particular day, he was there to serve us dinner. We just had to go there.
- Entrance to Nagatabashi Market. Small stores are lined up in rows, with their counters and tables placed in the aisles.
- Island Ramen Restaurant “Hallelujah." The kitchen is located behind the curtain.
- The aisle is converted directly into a cafeteria. We gather chairs and set them up by ourselves.
The restaurant’s specialty is ramen noodles topped with thick slices of Amami’s famous Kurobuta pork chashu. Another specialty is habu ramen. It is said that drinking habu liquor would bring benefits later on, but how about ramen?
Surprisingly, only the women ordered the habu ramen.
We don’t know why.
How was the taste of habu ramen?
It was surprisingly light. It’s delicious. However, eating it took a long time because of many small bones.
Some said, “It took a long time to remove the bones, and the noodles became soggy.”
Recently, deboned mackerel and deboned horse mackerel can be found in supermarkets. One of the members, who aspires to be an entrepreneur, half-seriously suggested that if we adopt the same practice and sell deboned habu, it would sell well.
We had passion fruit for dessert. The fruit on a stylish shellfish plate looked a bit gross but tasted the opposite. It was sweet and refreshing. Even the seeds were edible.
Mr. B’s way of working is unique to Amami. There is a poster in the restaurant that reads as follows:
I am not here now. If you call me, I will arrive in 5 minutes.
Please come in and enjoy yourselves, Island Ramen B.
Indeed, this might be more reasonable.
In Amami, we sometimes find stores like this.
I heard this story from someone I know. In the evening, he was strolling along the shopping street. He saw a taiko that he wanted to buy through the store window and an Amami shamisen hanging on the wall. He wanted to take a quick look at it, but there was a sign that said, “Please call after 8 p.m.” and the store entrance would not open. He wrote down the phone number, returned to the hotel, took a rest, and called. He made the call, went to the store, and talked with the staff. However, he ended up not buying anything. He felt sorry for the store staff who went through the trouble of opening the store, but when he tried playing the taiko, he felt it wasn’t for him. It is hard to decide on an instrument until you actually touch it. The store staff, of course, were not disappointed but rather pleased that he had taken the trouble to come.
On the contrary, FamilyMart, whose number has been increasing recently, is open 24 hours a day without being influenced by the Amami culture. There are many customers and queues at the cash registers, and during busy times, there is a man in the parking lot to direct traffic.
It is certainly convenient and sells everything, but I do not want it to become too popular here. Well, I guess this is just a tourist’s ego talking…
Chapter 9Back to Heart Rock
Through a tunnel of tropical plants where we might find habu snakes, and straight to the sea
Sunday, May 21.
Finally, the last day of our trip.
Of course, we went to Heart Rock.
On the first day, we couldn’t find it because it was submerged underwater, and Mr. F was saddened by this.
The coordinator, Mr. T, assured us that it would be safe because it was at low tide.
A sign led us into a tunnel of dense vegetation.
Somebody must be taking care of it. The path is kept clear and straight and is not encroached upon by plants.
If it were not for this path, the scenery would resemble the Sea of Trees on Mt. Fuji.
We worried that we might find some habu snakes here.
We heard stories that they hide in the grass and are hard to notice because they blend in with the grass and soil or that they are so coiled up that they snap into a single stick and bite you like lightning. The neatly cut grass along the road may be a preventive measure against habu snakes.
Since they are sensitive to direct sunlight, we made sure to walk on the bright side of the road. The path seemed long.
Heart Rock found at last!
After passing through the tunnel, we reached the sea.
There it is!
It is indeed shaped like a heart, well-balanced and perfectly shaped.
How many hundreds of years did it take to be carved by waves into this shape? This photo was taken from the beach, but I wished I had taken it from above with a drone. I would have been able to capture a symmetrical, properly-shaped heart.
Mr. F was very excited.
He went right up to it, through the rocks, and dipped his hand in to sample the “sea of the heart.”
Ending the trip by taking a commemorative photo in a sugarcane field
After enjoying the sea as much as time allowed, we decided to end our trip at a sugarcane field, a specialty of Amami.
Sugarcane has been supporting Amami for better or for worse. We could see vast sugarcane fields on both sides of the road leading to the airport.
However, there was no one working in the fields. We first thought that Amami was indeed off on Sundays, but it was because the harvest season, which is from December to the end of April, was already over.
Sugarcane plants grow to more than 2 meters, and only the stalks are harvested. The stalks are full of sweet juice.
The harvested stalks are brought to the sugar factory, where they are crushed into small pieces, and the juice is squeezed out with a pressing machine to be processed into brown sugar. It is said that only 14-15% of the original sugarcane plant can be processed into brown sugar.
- An entire field of sugarcane. After harvest, the field looks different from the tall sugarcane fields.
A return visit to Haneda Aviation Shrine to give thanks for the trip
The plane departed on time, and we arrived at Haneda as scheduled.
We paid a return visit to the Haneda Aviation Shrine to express our gratitude for the trip.
After expressing our thanks for the many things that made our trip worthwhile, we took a commemorative photo before the deity.
Everybody has a look on their faces suggesting that it was a demanding but interesting trip.
We were eight people who just met for the first time at Haneda Airport several days ago.
But we look like old friends, don’t you think?
The slightly disoriented and reserved feeling they had at Amami Airport is gone.
We made such a strong connection after traveling together for only three days.
You can see that from the pictures, can’t you?
Amami Oshima is a place where everyone can get along with each other.
Tomorrow is Monday. The way we view the town may have changed a little.