Kumejima- so close yet so far away

Hello Everybody,

I am back from my latest adventure, this one to Kumejima. Let me say before I begin that I will add a page just of the Korea vs. Okinawa Sumo as there were too many photos I have to put on there. And it was awesome, by the way!

On the ferry ride over I saw a  flying fish! I had never seen these in action before and I was amazed!  I apologize for the bad photo, but they are fast!

So, those of you who are on my Facebook page know that I had bought my tickets Friday night and planned a trip for Saturday, returning on Sunday. My friend Amanda had already been and I wanted to get there since arriving here almost a year ago.

sand bar near Ojima
A sandbar under the bridge to Ojima, where the sea turtle institute is as well as the campground, Tatami Beach and the Bade House.

There is so much to see. I knew before I left that I had to make plans to see what I couldn’t live without and plan to come back another time. Indeed, I will be return to Kumejima. I jumped on the 08:30 ferry and off to Kumejima I went. I had looked up guestrooms or minshukus where I could stay the night before and landed on a little place called Lucky Gate in Ifu Beach for $25 dollars a night.

I also decided that I would bring my scooter to explore the island in a more personal way. Yes, driving a car is good because you see what you want, but there are places a car can’t go, or should I say, park. I bought my scooter with this sort of thing in mind, getting to know Okinawa more intimately. I want to be welcomed into the side streets and wooed by its hidden beauty. I have not been disappointed. So I threw a change of clothes, a little bottle of body shampoo and a toothbrush into a bag that would fit under my seat. The important things, my cameras, went in the basket up front for easy retrieval.

As soon as I got squared away in my room, yes I say squared away now, that’s military-speak for the uninitiated, I headed over to Ifu Beach. It was named one of Japan’s top 100 beaches. I know that because there was a big rock that had that very thing carved into it.

kume coral
Coral on Eef (Ifu) Beach ..it looked very much like chambers of the heart to me. …’and in the end we were made to be apart, separate chambers of the human heart’…I couldn’t resist..a little Linkin’ Park.

I knew I was in a resort town because there were actually people in the water. I don’t usually see a lot of Okinawans in the water, they are usually under umbrellas on the beach and the Americans and other gaijin are the ones splashing away.

So, I had read before I came over that there was a Korea vs. Okinawan Sumo Tournament being held right where I was staying. Of course, I had to see it, but the poster said 3 p.m….I got there and it was moved back an hour. That’s okay, more time on my scooter to go wandering. I had gotten a map at the ferry office and marked out all the places I would go and the routes to take.  I decided to head toward the bridges for an overlook of the island.

On the way, I stopped my scooter to take a few photos. The people here are amazingly friendly. Not once did I encounter someone that did not at least nod their head and smile. Most came up and spoke to me. Notice behind us in the first picture the Garcinia Trees, I’ll add the explanation about them as found on the website: http://kumeguide.com/

“The garcinia trees were prized as windbreakers since they grow tall and can be formed into a kind of wall. Photos from the 1950s show the vibrant trees along roads thoughout Kume Island. These trees were important as farmers and common people were not allowed walls to protect their privacy and crops. The trees still serve their ancient purpose along some fields.”

Incredibly friendly people, she had her little dog out for a walk and we were able to chat, thank you University of Maryland Elementary Japanese course! And yes, I feel very tall over there!
a friend
She tied the collar behind the legs because it irritated her little dog’s neck.

I read somewhere that the population of Kumejima is somewhere around 8,500 people. That sounded like heaven to me. I wanted to be in nature and not necessarily with people. That being said, I do adore being around Okinawans who are sweet and friendly and never obtrusive.  I started shooting photo after photo, I could easily have taken five thousand photos. I restrained myself to about 1,500.

kume fields
On a side street near Ifu Beach.

So, here is my little tale of driving up this very tall bridge…

I made it back down as you can tell and lived to see another day. One of the features of being up there is that you can see the famous sand bar beach Hateno, which is only accessible by boat. That is going to be for the next trip, but I really want to go there!!

I attended the tournament and spent much more time there than I anticipated, it can’t be helped, the martial arts have always owned my soul. I was entranced watching and learning and photographing these athletes. It was incredible.

I ended up walking down to a fabulous little restaurant and was the only American in there, how lovely, and spoke with some of the locals about the tournament. I had my usual standby goya champuru! It was delicious. The cook gave me a  banana that was grown on island as a present.  How great is Kume and the people? It tasted so fresh and sweet, unlike any banana I had had before.

Back to my room and set the alarm  for 5:45 a.m. I fell asleep on my hard little bed that felt like the mattress was made of coral rocks. But that’s part of the fun experience, next time I will go to the campground on Ojima.

morning sunrise
At Tatami Beach first thing in the morning…

Speaking of which, this is Tatami Beach right next to the campground. When there is low tide, the rocks fit together and look like a tatami mat, hence the eponym. I felt like I was not alone and I looked to my right and there was another local enjoying the sunrise with me.

sand piper
I had company on the beach…this little sandpiper kept a safe distance but kept looking at me.

The Bade House and the Sea Turtle Institute were also right there, but it was 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning and they would not be open for hours. I was off.

the guardians
The guardians at sunrise, they were yelling at me so I moved on…

I encountered quite a bit of wildlife along the way, there were dragonflies everywhere, to the point that it felt a bit dreamlike. Some ravens were guarding a tomb, and a little gray cat studied me with patience and allowed it’s photo to be taken.

jake grey
A moment in gray…this young cat reminded me of my Jake.

On to the tropical fish site. It is said at low tide there are many different kinds of tropical fish that can be seen from the beach. I was all excited an then checked the tide charts, I was hours away from low tide, but what the heck. I decided to go down to the water and see what there was to see. I have found many, many interesting things I never would have encountered if not for these little side trips down roads I hadn’t planned on. This turned out to be a wonderful decision.

a road through the cane
Driving through the cane.

Well, I did not see any tropical fish, but I did see the little green crabs that I see everywhere I go on beaches in Okinawa. But it was just stunning. I was there by myself, and I stood on the rough coral and let the East China Sea cover my feet in soft waves while murmuring little secrets to me.

tropical fish place
Tropical fish like this area…at low tide however.

So I spent a little time, just being mindful and grateful for my life and started my  scooter up again to drive on to the next site. As I’m driving up the hill, I notice there is something moving across the road. I can’t stop in time and almost ran over…wait for it….a Kumejima Habu!!! I braked as fast as I could and turned my head to watch it going into the sugar cane. I turned the scooter around with my camera out, hoping that it was on the edge of the road. It wasn’t, it was gone and really fast…so in my mind I could see it, on my camera I could not. I had been hoping that I could get close enough to a habu that I could photograph it, but not so close that I had to worry about striking distance. I missed my chance. But there is always next time!

Onward and upward as they say, so I decided to go to the Uegusuku (gusuku, I believe means castle or fortress) remains. Now, I know enough elementary Japanese to know that ue means up or above….of course I didn’t realize until I got up there!  I looked up and saw this flat spot on the top of a mountain and said, no, there’s no road that goes up there. Well I was wrong and I have to tell you, my little scooter was awesome! I want a little sticker that says, this scooter climbed to Uegusuku, Kumejima. Just like those cars that always brag they went to the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that high, but I challenge you to get on a scooter and do this!

walls of time
Beautiful gusuku era construction, the walls are filled in with lovely greenery.
uegusuku above
As above, so below.

I noticed when I boarded the ferry and looked up, I could see Uegusuku and thought wow, if I were an approaching enemy I would know that I was being seen.

So, time was running fast, almost as fast as a habu on the road, and I needed to begin to work down toward the port, but I still had a few places to see. I headed toward the Uezu Historic House. I saw this little sign along the way and had to take a picture.

habu in katakana
Clearly stated and understood…Habu…you don’t need to read Katakana to understand, but if you do read it, which I now do…it reinforces it!

Being as I know someone with this family name, I thought it would be interesting to check out this site. Here’s the information from the website:

“Uezu House is a traditional Ryukyu Governor’s house dating back hundreds of years. The walled grounds contain gardens, a main house, and outlying buildings. The house is a quiet and peaceful look back into the history of Okinawa.”

another hibiscus
On the grounds of the Uezu Historic House. I will always be affected by the beauty of hibiscus, they draw me in effortlessly
uezu house
Uezu Historic House
uezu house fuji
Front view – Uezu Historical House.

And finally, before heading back to the ferry port, I wanted to see Gushikawa gusuku. Here’s a little history about this site:

“The Gushikawa Castle Ruins overlook the East China Sea from the top of a cliff. Built in the 15th century from Andesite and Limestone, this site is a National Cultural Treasure. The ruins are located on the north-west corner of the island.”

I have been to quite a few of these Gusuku-era sites and I’m sorry if I bore people but the thrill of being able to explore castles or fortresses as a common person is never lost on me. I imagine what life was like, and in looking around these sites, you don’t have to have a great imagination, the only difference that I can see is a paved road. It is amazing to be a person from a tiny town in the Adirondacks to experience these things.

Sometimes, as I stand amongst these ruins I wonder who else has stood where I am standing? What were they thinking about, what was their big concern? What was their source of joy? I am so grateful for my life and the ability to experience these things.

gushikawa and rock
Gushikawa another Gusuku  era ruin, this one near the sea and near Miifugaa to the right.
gushikawa overlooking
Inside the second enclosure.


To the right of Gushikawa is  Miifugaa. This was the only place I encountered other tourists….three of them in one car. I love traveling here.

Here is what the website says: “Miifuga’s unique shape has made it a place where women visit to pray when they want a child. This unique formation stretches high above, and you can see where water and wind has eroded through the upper arch. View this spectacular rock as it reaches out to the ocean.”

Nature is putting on a show.
mifugi from fuji
Miifugaa, legend has it that women who want children can come here and pray. I have noticed that in many places in Okinawa, women can go pray for children.
man rock
Men may want to come here to pray for….fertility also. Kumejima believes in covering the bases!

So, I drove around the little port town for a while, stopping at the shops and seeing what they had. As I was leaving this one little store (a suupaa -supermarket), I noticed all these people walking down the road. There were a handful of boys, maybe 8-10 years old and one or two little girls. I hear, ‘hello, hello!’ ‘good morning!’ It was the boys, I said well good morning to you! They smiled and laughed! So sweet! Then a young couple with a new born came up to me and showed me their baby. I told them how beautiful he was was and they smiled and hesitantly went on their way.

That is Kumejima to me, that small interaction. The sweetness and curiosity and friendliness, what a wonderful experience. I have no choice but to return.

traveling companion
My little scooter – Honda Today, it proved itself a worthy traveling companion.

I’ll post my other page in a little while….see you soon! And have a happy Labor Day!