5 Reasons you should visit Kakeroma Island, experience a slow life in Japan
Today, I’d like to introduce Kekeroma island, a small island near Okinawa, where you can experience a unique and slow Japanese life, different from other Major tourist destinations such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Mt Fuji and Niseko (for Skiing).
Where is Kakeroma Island?
The reason we visited the island was we had our friends, who migrated to the island from Tokyo after the Fukushima disaster. Sasu, who became an eco tourism guide, offering a cross island touring around the islands including trekking, kayaking, Padobo and snorkelling. Yagi, who became a farmer and grow Tankan, a sweet orange like citrus.
Kekeroma has just over 1,000 people live there and most part of the island is mountainous and surrounded by beautiful coral sea and another small islands as a continuation of landscape. In the map below, you can see the island and surroundings used to be a single island and separated over a period of time.
Brief history of Kakeroma (Amami Guntou)
Kakeroma is a part of Amami Guntou (archipelago, a group of islands) and culturally more similar to Okinawa than main island of Kyushu such as their dialect, clothes, food, buildings, dance and music.
Okinawa, including the surrounding islands used to be Ryukyu Oukoku (a kingdom of Ryukyu) and has a unique culture which is quite different from the main islands of Japan. They are the people of ocean and travelled and traded with surrounding nations including Japan, China, Taiwan, Philippines and South East Asia (Vietnam, Thailand etc.).
In 1609, just after Edo period began in Tokyo, Satsuma, the strong nation of Kyushu (who later fought against England by themselves in 1863), invaded Ryukyu Oukoku and colonised Amami Guntou. Since then Amami Guntou became part of Kyushu and forced to follow the main land customs and produce sugarcane, (which made a wealth for Satsuma who later became the main body of Meiji restoration).
For the historical reason, you can see the mixture of the 2 cultures and a sense of sorrow and isolation in these islands.
Tokyo ~ Amami Oshima ~ Kakeroma
We caught a flight from Narita airport to Amami Oshima (2 hours). Amami Oshima is the main island of Amami Gunto, much larger island compare to Kakeroma and it offers not only beautiful beaches but also a variety of facilities including restaurants, shopping, resort hotels, cheap hostels and some night life, just like any other beach island resorts.
As soon as we arrived Amami Oshima, we felt the feeling of being in a tropical island, the colour of the sky, the humidity, banana trees, papayas and colourful flowers every where.
We stayed a night near the airport and then headed to Kakeroma island next morning. The main transport of the island is to hire a car（2160 yen for 6 hours).
It takes around 3 hours to drive from Amami Oshima airport to Konya, the port town opposite of Kakeroma island. We drove through beautiful landscape and a lot of tunnels. It’s amazing how mountainous the islands is and the weather changes from blue sky to a dark cloud within a short distance, typical micro climate you see in the mountains.
On the way, we stopped at Oshima tsumugi mura where they make a traditional silk weaving fabric, Oshima tsumugi. It is a 100% hand made by the skilled workers, shokunin, and takes around 10 months to make a size of weaving used to make 1 kimono!
We had a tour and watched the entire process of how it is made, from the initial design pattern on a paper; shimebata, making the pattern onto the silk thread; mud and sharinbai (native tree) dying to produce the beautiful indigo colour; and finally the hand woven to produce the tsumugi that matches with the design.
It is the most incredible and detailed craft work I ever seen in my life.
Sesou is the main port of the island, located in the middle of the north shore. There are ferries and water taxis from Konya every 2 hours (8am ~ 18pm) and it takes about 20 minutes. We did a big grocery shopping at A-corp super market as there is no super market but just only a few shops in Kakeroma.
We caught a water taxi, as a ferry was cancelled for some reason, with he locals who come to Konya for shopping or school. They are all friendly and smiling looking at Kiyomi and Sachi (our children).
We stayed at Oshikaku, a small shuraku (village), 15 minute drive from Sesou. It’s an old minka (residential house), located just opposite of a private beach front, there is no shower or bath or even hot water service. I was curious to see my girl’s reaction by looking at the house and pleased to see they looked very happy and excited at a house, very different from any other places.
Padobo and Snorkelling
One of the highlights at Kakeroma island is to enjoy the beach and island hopping. Sasu, our friend, who is an ecological tourist guide offers a range of activities such as Padobo (Stand Up Paddle Boards), snorkelling and kayaking.
We went for Padobo in Nominoura, which was a little cove that was shallow and surrounded by a hilly forest so you got less wind. We had a brief instruction and jumped on straight away. We never tried it before but it didn’t take us too much to go around the cove. Kiyomi (7 year old)loved sitting in front of me but Sachi (4 year old) was little too scared to try.
The water was so warm and we didn’t feel cold while padoboing. Sasu said he often take his customers to near islands on Padobo when they became confident and could be even faster than kayaking.
There are many beaches in Kakeroma where you can see the corals just off the shore, even without any snorkelling gears (You can hire the snorkelling gears easily too). Suri hama, and Ankyaba (North East) are 2 of the great beaches for snorkelling, you can see the colourful corals with a lot of fish swimming around and you might even see a sea turtle following you!
Kakeromajima Island - Kakeroma Snorkeling
The Oshima Channel (大島海峡) that separates Amami Oshima Island (奄美大島) and Kakeromajima Island (加計呂麻島) is blessed with…
Kedomi Yado 花富宿
One night, we went to a shuraku (village) called Kedomi, the southern part of the island,15 minute drive from Sesou.
We visited Koji-nii (Brother Koji, how the islanders call the elders by adding nii after their name), who is a village headman and also runs an accommodation called Kedomi yado.
It is an well maintained minka (residential house) with a pizza oven and goemon buro (五右衛門風呂) in the garden. Goemon buro is a traditional Japanese style bath, made of a steal bath tab, heated directly underneath by making a fire just like boiling a water in a kettle. You place a wooden panel when you get in so you don’t get cooked inside and keep adding water to control the temperature. We all loved it and felt so relaxed having a bath full of water and steam around.
The Kokutou Shochu (Muscovado based Japanese Spirit)
After having a bath, we’re welcomed with Akebono no Sato (Kokutou shochu) and Kakeroma Gibier feast. Kakeroma (and Amami) is famous for their drinking culture. People like drinking in general, sing Shima-uta (Songs of the islands) and dance their traditional dancing.
Kedomi was famous for Shima-uta singing and dancing and Koji-nii shared some of his songs, the sound of Shamisen (three-stringed traditional Kakeroma musical instrument) and his high-pitch voice and their unique rhythm touched deeply our soul and made us naturally dance with it.
Ryukyu inoshishi only lives in Amami Guntou and Okinawa islands and much smaller than the Inoshishi found in the main islands. They live in the mountains and eat mainly acorns, just like the famous Iberian pigs of Spain.
In Kakeroma, they have been treated as vermin as they often eat the veggies and fruits in the fields. The locals hunt them for mainly controlling the numbers and just BBQ or even discard them in the mountains.
Sasu and Yagi wanted to contribute to the island community and started this business, called Kakeroma Gibier Kenkyukai (study group). They hunt the Inoshishi (guns and traps) and make cured meat like sausages, ham, bacon, pastrami and even liver pate.
The meat is tender and has really nice flavour unlike the Inoshishi meat in the main islands, which are generally hard. They believe the acorns make their meat flavoursome.
My favourite time on a holiday is to look at the sunset and appreciate the life is still continuing. Kakeroma offers a beautiful sunset n the west end of the island, near Saneku. The contrast of the islands, ocean, cloud and the sun change every minute and make us all smile somehow.