Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

Tag: Ishigaki

Taketomi, then points North East

January 4th 2019:

The Tower

Rough night – very hot even with just a sheet over me. Kept it pulled up tight – every now and then something let out a loud ‘squeak!’ in the room, I have no idea what it was. Lots of wind and rain overnight.

Walked the village in the morning, it was really something – low coral walls, and traditional Ryukyu single storey architecture has been carefully preserved to show how life was always lived here, and to bring in decent tourist income. From the arrival of the first ferry, to the leaving of the last, the lanes are trafficked by cyclists and also by water buffalo drawn passenger carts. The local guide tells of the history place, and entertains the passengers with shamisen playing and traditional folk songs. The buffalo need almost no instruction by the driver – they could walk their route in their sleep, and indeed some appeared to be doing so.

Since the tower was in a bad state of repair it couldn’t be climbed, but for 100 yen a nearby café allowed you to climb to their observation terrace – a fine view of the island. Some excellent examples of shisa guardians on the rooftops.

That’s not right…

Decided it was time to change plans. Headed back to Ishigaki. Cancelled the Iriomote stay and car – though the sun had come out today, some rough days were forecast. Plus my forearm looked like one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s – didn’t really want to risk more bites.


Afternoon bus tour of Ishigaki, stopping off at some sightseeing spots. First stop was an amazingly decorated memorial (and actually a grave) of some Chinese people who died here in 1852. The Toujin Grave and Kannondo Temple commemorates Chinese labourers (in reality, little more than slaves) who rebelled and attempted to escape on Ishigaki, many were shot.

Didn’t realise that it included a glass bottomed boat ride off the most popular spots, Kabira bay, where we even saw giant clams and sea turtles on the reef. Some lovely views of the island as we travelled around. Then Blue Cabin again, and plan for flight to Tokyo tomorrow.

After getting off the bus, found a little izakaya with good local beef gyoza, and Elton John’s greatest hits – love this country.

January 5th 2019:

Checked out of Blue Cabin, and went next door to Blue Café for breakfast. Didn’t really have anything planned so decided to head to the airport early – couple of hours to kill there so caught up on writing this nonsense. Vanilla Air flight to Tokyo Narita.

Got a special discount ticket on the plane – Keisei Skyliner Express to Keisei Ueno, plus 3 days of Tokyo subway, 3200 yen. Bargain. Was staying at the APA Hotel Asakusa Ekimae, so plumbed that into Google Maps and away I went. I thought it odd that the hotel was right next to Tawarimachi station not Asakusa Station (station = ekimae), but was only 1 stop along so close.

That’s when the evening got weird. First thing was the hotel’s ‘self service’ check in desks – a huge Wacom touchscreen display which as I recalled didn’t work too well last year. It hasn’t improved, every terminal had a staff member helping guests. So they couldn’t find my reservation so I showed the guy my Expedia confirmation. He gets all apologetic, and gives me a printed map – showing that I was at the wrong APA Hotel, the APA Hotel Asakusa Tawaramachi-Ekimae. Pretty similar huh? And any search for APA Hotel Asakusa Ekimae only came up with this one. Turns out the one I’m in (close to the actual Asakusa station), doesn’t exist on Google Maps – even though it’s been open 3 months now.

AHA – further searching shows the problem. When entering the name of the hotel, Google Maps presents its usual list of results. Default one it jumps to is the Tawaramatchi one. The actual one I needed was fourth one down – yes, there are actually 4 hotels called APA Hotel Asakusa <something>. Nightmare.

So one stop on the Metro and a 5 minute walk later, I’m at the correct hotel – and they still can’t find my reservation at first. Their first try was to scan my passport – no match. Then put in Peter Kavanagh in the name search – no luck. Gave him my Expedia confirmation number – still no luck! Guy had to go and check another system, then come back to carefully enter Peter P Kavanagh – which finally worked. Turns out it needed an exact match to my name on Expedia – no partial matches would work. Who designed this thing???

Beer? Nearly…

By now it’s nearly 9pm and I’m thirsty. Asahi Sky Bar at their HQ was 5 mins away so head there – it’s bloody shut early! Last chance – head to Campion ale. Success! Golden ale just the ticket. Then early night before an early start for Tokyo Tower tomorrow.


Ishigaki: Due South….

2nd January 2019:


Early start, took a shinkansen to Fukuoka and subway to the airport. Flight to Ishigaki, where it was cloudy and raining on arrival. Not unexpected in the winter season, the temperature difference was notable: 20degC versus the ~5degC in Kumamoto. Mind you, we were now 1130km south of there, and a whole 1950km from Tokyo – and nearly 3000km from the most north westerly point in Japan! This place is pretty big…


Checked into Blue Cabin again, simple but comfortable, and the shisa (guardian lion creatures) were suitably bonkers alongside the New Years decorations.

Beers and tapas in a little wine bar called Umi-BAL while planning the next week. Plan currently is to visit Taketomi island, then Hateruma (most southerly point in Japan), then spend a few days on Iriomote. Yonaguni (most westerly point) probably won’t happen on this trip.


Walked on a bit and found Against the Grain – a Louisville Kentucky brewery that has opened up an outpost here in Japan. A very good saison and some edamame to finish off dinner. Absolutely chucking it down on the walk home, not sure that the optimistic forecasts for the days planned on Iriomote will come to pass…

3rd January 2019:

Late up. Raining, not as bad as last night, definitely trying to warm up.

Spent time at the port, figuring out the coming days. Very helpful tourist info guy, called and booked me one night on Hateruma, and sorted my car rental for Iriomote. Plan is to take the ferry on Sunday to Hateruma for one night, then Hateruma->Iriomote the next day.

Traditional Ryukyu house

Took a walk out to see some of the traditional Ryukyu buildings in the city. Some lovely examples, but equally some that need some serious TLC. Strolled round the markets, local beer at the market café, was very tempted to buy a beautiful blue noren (the curtain typically seen over restaurant doors in Japan) to hang inside the front door. Was a print of a shisa, the lionesque guardians seen all over Okinawa and the Yaeyamas. I have a pair on the mantelpiece from the trip last year.

Against The Grain again for a late lunch, local sausages and chips!

Oh a life on the ocean wave…

Ferry to Taketomi in the afternoon. Only takes 10 minutes, very powerful engined catamaran. Funky whale design glass bottomed boat in the harbour. Browsed a couple of posters listing some of the living things that could do me serious harm during my trip. Then spotted some feral cats hanging around, very cute. A small minibus arrived and the cats obviously recognised it – they made a beeline over to it, and the driver got out to give them their lunch!

Got the local bus (big minibus really), and drove along narrow coral sand streets between low walls made of coral – it was like stepping back in time.

Prodigy FTW.

Spotted that the bus driver’s change box had a logo for ‘The Prodigy’ on it – I commended him on his choice of music, so he promptly changed the soundtrack to ‘Invaders Must Die’!

He dropped me on the corner where I could walk 2 mins to the ‘Guesthouse Taketomijima and JeTaime’. Opposite was the ‘tower’ – highest point on what is a very flat island – only 30m above sea level! Worrying thing was that the tsunami level on this very flat coral atoll was also 30m – so basically if this place ever gets hit it is likely to be wiped clean. Sobering thought.

Home… sweet home?

Guesthouse wasn’t….exactly… what I expected. A basic hostel room with bunkbeds, very basic facilities, and an outside loo – but that still had the funky electronic loo seat! Guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I’m in a room for two which would be about £16 each per night. I have a feeling I may only stay one night, there isn’t a lot here to justify staying longer. Walked out to the old pier at the west of the island, would have been a stunning sunset if it weren’t for all the clouds.

Dinner at a little place along the road that did excellent Taketomi soba noodles – chunks of pork rib meat that were just melt in the mouth.

First insect bite of the trip. Little bastard.

Japan Again!

Twice in one year… this is becoming a habit!

Decided I’d save the bulk of my hols, and take a proper long trip this time. One week in, and finally getting around to uploading some comments and photos.

Saturday 7th/Sunday 8th

My chariot awaits

Uneventful trip through Amsterdam, but as we neared an on time arrival at Kansai International (in Osaka) I started to realise I might be cutting things a bit fine. Disembarked at 08:50, connecting flight at 10am… Immigration was a breeze, took all of 10 minutes. Then the baggage belt: A 20 minute wait (enlivened by the manic antics of the handlers of the contraband detector dogs, lots of running around and verbal encouragement) left me exiting customs at 09:20, with absolutely no idea of where my connecting flight would go from – and KIX is not a small airport! As luck would have it, escalator up one floor, and 10 minutes later I was through security – phew! Hence no photos of the airport 😀

So on to my third plane of the day – NU0083 to Ishigaki. First class – that meant paying £73 instead of £62, nice wide seat with recline and footrest. Service very attentive as it always is in Japan, feeling very chilled despite the fact I’d been travelling for about 20 hours by the time we landed. Ishigaki is the third largest of the Okinawa and Yaeyama island chain, and the furthest south with an airport.

Immediate signs of being in a tropical environment on arrival at Ishigaki Airport – awesome tropical fish tank, plus palm trees inside the terminal by the bar. Also, instant condensation on my beer glass, and on stepping outside realisation that it was about 34degC and humid as hell.

Bus to Ishigaki port and found my accommodation for the night – the cabin hotel Blue Cabin Ishigaki. Similar to the capsule hotels we stayed at in Tokyo, but full size (small) single bed in its own floor to ceiling ‘cabin’. Comfortable and good value, my neighbours were mostly laid back surfer types – apart from one geeky looking guy who apologised (‘gomen’nasai!’) for leaving his huge aluminium suitcase in the middle of the hall. Had a look around the port building, spotted a photo of the ‘Yamaneko’ – or Iriomote mountain cat – very difficult to spot, but very cute! Sadly I’m unlikely to see one on my trip this time.

730 Monument

Dinner after a stroll around town, café with pretty good local beef burgers – went healthy, rice and salad instead of a bun. Spotted this rather unusual monument on my wandering. It commemorates the day in 1978 when the islands reverted to driving on the correct side of the road, 6 years after they returned from American to Japanese control.

Monday 9th

The greatest?

Early start, good buffet at Blue Cabin. Not a bad view from the café. Wandered down to book my ferry ticket, and spotted this fellow at the wharfside – a local boxing hero  called Yoko Gushiken from 1976-1981 (WBA Light Flyweight), lots of people stopping for photos.


Transport of delight

And so to the ferry. I’m heading to Iriomote, the second largest of the Yaeyama islands, and just about as far south and west as you can get and still be in Japan – at this point, it’s 1000km from the south coast of Kyushu, but only 200km from Taiwan. It’s about 45 mins to Uehara port on the north coast, the route is often cancelled due to high waves (as it was the day before), meaning you have to go to Ohara port in the south and take a 50 min bus ride north.

The intrepid traveller

I opted to stay out back, and we pulled away from the dock and headed out toward the breakwater. I love the smell of diesel in the morning… It seemed quite a sedate ride, and we passed a massive liner moored in the harbour – looked like a city block on the ocean. However once we left the shelter of the harbour wall, the captain seemed to remember he was actually a power boat racer and put his foot down – massive rooster tail of spray, and I was very glad I had noise cancelling headphones with me! The small boy in the photo actually nodded off at one point, reinforcing my observation that the Japanese can – and will – sleep anywhere given half a chance. Also, I was rather taken with their recycling bin slogans:

“They will be resources if it divides.
It will be garbage if it mixes.
Resources are limited.
However, there’s no limit to ideas of human beings.”

Hear hear – and recycling bins for 4 different materials on one small ferry!

Arrived in to Uehara port, and was picked up by the owner of ペンション星の砂 – pronounced Penshon hoshi no suna, translates as Pension Star Sand – the beach out front often has tiny start shaped shells from the coral reefs. Arrived to be greeted by this sight from the decking out back of the restaurant/shop:

Imagine my sense of crushing disappointment 😁

Simple accommodation, just concrete bungalows with tatami mat rooms and futons, but perfect for a seaside break.  Went for a walk along the beach, spotted some sea snake trails – not one you’d want to get nipped by! The rock formations are fascinating, underlying layers are sandstone, topped with old coral and then soil and plants, leading to weird shapes as the different material erode at different rates.

Dinner at the Pension, curry, rice and prawn katsu (deep fried prawns in panko breadcrumbs – yum!). Was pleasantly surprised when the waitress complimented me on my skills with hachi (chopsticks).

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