Saturday, December 13, 2008

To the Island!

The love of islands! There was Santa Cruz Island and those days we spent there, wandering and eating and playing.
Laura looks over the cliffs.
The thrill of almost being blown off the cliffs!
We found Greece in an olive grove in a sheltered cove of the island and  snacked in the sun.
Fields made up of clumps of dead grass.
Now, a new island!  Part of my job is to visit Akusekijima island three times this year.  A little geography refresher - Kagoshima city is located in that bay across from the islandy peninsula (Sakurajima volcano).  If you click on this map to enlarge it, you can see that Akusekijima is in the middle row of all these little islands.
Akusekijima Island layout.
I boarded a ferry at Kagoshima's main port at around 12 am.   The passenger floors of the ferry are carpeted rooms where you sleep on the floor with a nice block for a pillow.  Surprisingly, Japan is full of squatter toilets (have I mentioned this?), and I suppose this is surprising because I always associate squatter toilets with... well, with India, and not with places like Japan or "the West." Ha, I thought it was tricky squatting in bathrooms on trains in India, but squatting on a toilet in a rocking ship!  

Trying to sleep in spite of the ocean doing that thing that it does.
I woke up intermittently through the morning to poke my head out on deck, catching sight of the other islands we stopped at along the way.  Above, my island comes into view.
Trying to shake off the seasick, catching some fresh air on deck and looking a little worse for the wear.
Ah! Akusekijima at last!  Akusekijima means something like "devil's rock island." 
And yeah, the volcano left lots of crazy rock formations and most of the island ended in massive cliffs.
Devil's foot?
These tiny people met the ferry at the dock.  Those two men at the ____ (what do you call that? boarding stairway? plank?) turned out to be the principals of my school, come to greet me and take me to the school.
There is one school on the island that has nine students from elementary school to junior high.  Once a student reaches high school age they are sent to Kagoshima city to board at a high school there.  School life was incredibly wholesome feeling - many classes were divided by age, but a lot of them included everyone, and we ate, cleaned, played sports and brushed teeth all together.  I showed them pictures of California and at several points in each class the teacher would announce "And now Kelly Sensei, the students will sing a song for you!" and all the students would stand up and sing a song in Japanese or something funny like "Ten Little Indians" (I didn't break it to them that the song was a little politically incorrect).
One of the main buildings of the school, looking islandy.
At lunch time the lunch lady set out bowls of food and the students served themselves and the teachers.  They had to wear all of this protective gear, like they were infected with the plague and serving our food.  As usual, a little excessive, but sure, better safe than sorry?  One hair in my soup could ruin my day!
One of the teachers painted portraits of all the teachers on this rock!  They all really did look this friendly!
A map of the island hanging in the school.
The bathroom shoes.  In many public places in Japan bathrooms come with bathroom shoes at the entrance and you trade your shoes for the appropriate bathroom shoes.  I suppose this serves the purpose of not soiling your shoes with the bathroom, but what I always think about is that I am wearing the shoes that some stranger splashed on and I would rather just deal with my own splashing.  So if I think no one will see me, I never wear the bathroom shoes and just keep mine on.  What a rebel, right?
Another school building.
Playing with the Jr. High kids.
At the ryokan!  A ryokan is basically the Japanese bed and breakfast, often run out of people's houses or usually in a home style.  They range from very cheap (like this one), to fancy and elegant with their own private onsen and gardens (For obvious reasons, I have yet to experience a fancy ryokan).  I have really enjoyed the ryokans I have stayed in so far for their homestyle feel and you can usually count on a grandmother and cute children being around somewhere! Above, the family's altar to their ancestors that was always burning some delicious incense.
My room.  A simple tatami room with all the fixings for my bed waiting for me to unfold and assemble them.  The kids whose parents ran the ryokan were also my students and they came up and sat in my lap and we watched cartoons together.
The first night I was there, a neighbor caught a few yellow tail and he brought one over to us still wiggling.  The fish was scaled and sliced right then and there and we all had the freshest sashimi.
This was my dinner before I was brought two giant fried fish.  It doesn't look terribly appetizing in this picture, but after the day of running around with island kids and boating saga, I devoured it all. (the pink stuff is the delicious sashimi served with thinly sliced mild onion)
There were a bunch of construction workers staying at the ryokan as well and we ate dinner together at a long table in the living room with the grandmother constantly giving us more and more food.  Stuffed to the point of pain and full of hot shochu I was then brought to one of the islands onsen by one of my teachers.  It was kind of a sulphery hotspring and scalding hot... oh to be stuffed with food and warm alcohol and then soak in hot water for an hour! Heaven, followed by immediate sleep!

Early the next morning I went walking all around the island with the woman who ran the ryokan.     I began dreaming of island life... it was so quiet there, and as she pointed out the island's only vending machine that lit up an entire street, I though "I love you island..."  Maybe my romanticization of Ojai as I see it from afar is getting to me, but I just loved how one of the teachers took all the island kids on hikes every day after school, and the grandmothers would go into the forests to pick bamboo shoots for dinner.  Above, next to one of the oldest trees on the island.
The entrance to a shrine near the ryokan.
One of my students whizzes by a mother goat.  The island even had goats!  How did the island know that I dream of raising goats and making cheese with some scruffy handsome farmer man?
Haha, so I guess for lack of a barn, these kids were living in a van that didn't run anymore.  I asked why the van and not a shed or something and the woman from the ryokan didn't seem to think it was very odd that they would live here. "This is a good home!" she told me.
Feeding them grass.  I asked if they have the goats to eat or make cheese with their milk and was told that no one on the island had ever tried goat meat nor did they like the idea of cheese, so they were just pets.   I decided then and there that I would move to the island, learn how to make goat cheese and start some line of much desired artisanal volcanic Japanese goat cheese! 
The lot with the van, overlooking the sea.  A pine tree that reminds me of the cypress trees along the coast in Santa Cruz and Monterey.
Sleeping! Cute!
I told the woman who ran the ryokan that I was interested in the island's history and temples and she offered to take me on a tour of all the shrines on the island.  I thought I was in for a couple hours of hiking, but it only took us a half hour to see them all.  Though Akusekijima is a sizable island (in terms of small, Pacific islands) people only live in a small area of the island that is sheltered by the volcano.  (Above, a cemetery monument)
The island's cemetery.
The shrines were all small, simple structures at the end of a path leading through the forest.

Oooh, island jungle road in the morning!
7 am hillside.  Cows graze and island cats follow me on my morning walk.
The ferry came to pick me up and I spent the next twelve hours of sea travel sleeping, eating ice cream from the ship vending machine and staring out into open ocean.  In short, what a nice island trip! I wish I could have stayed a few weeks and hiked up the volcano.  Next time... (Looking full of fish, miso soup, and rice breakfast here)


vanessa said...

oh kelly dearest, i wish i could have romped about that island with you. it looks like such a delight! also, every time i read your posts i just want to go out and spend a fortune on sashimi.

Dylan said...

Hi Kelly. It's great to hear that Burger Dude is getting some trans-pacific press. I'll continue posting them as soon as get them colored in.

Also, your pictures are really great. I can't help but think of Miyazaki films when I see them, and speaking of, I hear there's a new one that came out in Japan over the summer? I think it's called "Gake no ue no Ponyo" Check it out!