Paradise moment on Kerama islands

Waking up early Friday, January 15 to take the ferry from the port of Naha to reach the island of Aka. The Kerama archipelago or Kerama shotô  about 2 hours ferry Naha brings together fifteen small islands, the largest making 15 km². Only five islands are inhabited including Aka-jima (3.96 km²) and Zamami-jima (6.71 km²), my two destinations for the next two days. At 15 minutes by boat from each other, the two islands shelter barely 700 people. True paradisiacal spaces covered with lush tropical forests, long beaches of white sands and living in a peaceful atmosphere, these are perfect sites for leisurely strolls or for diving or snorkeling.

 

I arrive on the island of Aka-jima under cloudy weather but I like the peaceful atmosphere and the tiny village instantly. The lady from my guesthouse came to pick me up at the harbor. A young German who landed by the same ferry is also in the same place as me. Her name, Kristin, is 36 years old and is in Japan for about forty days. Our Kawai Diving Hostel is located at the very end of the village (only 7 minutes walk from the harbor), on the beach! The place is soothing tranquility. The rooms are huge and the toilets and showers outside. The owners, a couple in their fifties, also organize diving trips. Having initially planned to walk and bike on the islands (the outputs and the rental of equipment costing too much for me), I still let them try to convince me to go see the whales organized by the association from Zamami the next day. Indeed the archipelago Kerama is one of the places where the humpback whales gather in winter to give birth to their young! In summer, they migrate to the Bering Sea to feed on large quantities of Krill.

Once the registration is done, I rent a bike and go discover Aka. First stop: the only restaurant open on the island, for a rice curry lunch on the beach. I meet a French couple of about forty years with whom I discuss a long time. Laure and Didier manage an exchange association between French and Japanese and regularly come to the island. They offer me to come see the manufacture of tofu the next day! I accept with great pleasure. We separate and I go back to my bike parked in front of the entrance of the restaurant. No need to hang it with a padlock, nobody will steal it. Cycling along the beach and despite the gray weather, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of freedom and joy. I tell myself that happiness should probably look like this: a bike ride in a beautiful environment and bathed in a peaceful atmosphere.

The water is a beautiful color: turquoise along the beaches and deep blue after a dozen meters. I walk in the sand looking for shells, enjoying the melody of waves crashing on the beach. At a turn I come face to face with a group of deer. Called Sika of Kerama, they are the descendants of deer brought from Kagoshima by the Satsuma clan during their conquest of the Ryukyu archipelago in 1609 (see previous article for more information). This species is found only on the islands of the Kerama archipelago. They are smaller in size and darker in color than the continent’s deer and are a protected species.

Nishibama beach overlooking Zamami - Island Aka - Kerama Shotô - Okinawa - © Claire Blumenfeld

In the late afternoon, I climb to the observation point of Nakadake, almost in the center of the island. The bike ride is laborious and I finally get off the bike to continue on foot. I am alone in the middle of nature surrounded by birdsongs. Odors of pines, flowers, moisture, sap come by strong puffs intoxicate my sense of smell. Going down from the observation point, I go to see the “secret” beach that the lady of the hostel told me. Indeed a small trail winds for about fifteen minutes in the middle of the jungle before leading to a beautiful beach. As night falls, surrounded by animal sounds, the journey is impressive.

Sounds of Aka – peaceful atmosphere (the sound is not very loud):

 

Sunset beach - Aka island – Kerama shotô – Okinawa – © Claire Blumenfeld

I go back to the inn, right for dinner. It’s a real treat waiting for me. The owners of the inn being fishers, we are entitled, Kristin and myself to several kinds of fish catch the morning! Fish salad starter, smoked fish with mashed potato, Okinawa sweet potato soup (purple color), the main course (I forgot to take a picture of it) made of tuna with mashed potato and vegetable bellows and pasta and for dessert another specialty from Okinawa: Mochi (sticky rice cake) made from purple Okinawa potatoes, coated in banana leaves. The set is very good although a little heavy for a dinner. The mochis have a special taste that comes from banana leaves.

The next day, wake up at 6am to join Laure and Didier around 7am to go see the preparation of tofu. We join the house of an old lady already at work who prepares tofu in a traditional way like her mother before her and her grandmother before her. The know-how is passed from generation to generation and the next girl who will take over the torch has already been decided. I watch her activate, mixing soy milk by following centuries-old gestures.

To summarize, the production of tofu is obtained from soya beans that are crushed to form a puree. The puree is then filtered and pressed to obtain the soymilk. The milk is cooked for half an hour, stirring constantly, then adding salt and other natural coagulants. The pulp is then pressed and molded and becomes tofu on cooling. My breakfast being at 8am I am obliged to leave while the milk begins to cook. I would have liked to see the entirety of the creation but the whale watching is waiting for me.

Traditional preparation of tofu - Aka Island - Kerama Shotô - Okinawa - © Claire Blumenfeld

I return to the hostel by taking some pictures of the village, the guesthouse and the beach, the weather seems to be good. I swallow one of the best breakfasts I’ve had since I was in Japan, homemade bread being a real delight and go with Kristin to reach the island of Zamami where is the departure of the whale watch.

Guesthouse Kawai Diving and village - Aka island – Kerama shotô – Okinawa – © Claire BlumenfeldBreakfast - Guesthouse Kawai Diving - Aka island – Kerama shotô – Okinawa – © Claire Blumenfeld

It is under sunny weather (finally!) That we leave on board a small boat, group of about ten people, to observe the whales. The companions are very friendly. The trip to the sea where we observed three whales, filled me with joy. Sitting almost on the bow of the boat, I welcome the boat’s bounds on the waves with happiness. Unfortunately, the observation is not very fruitful. In three hours we only manage to see a few clouds of steam and a few fins. A little disappointed (I was expecting to see whales graze our boat, perform jumps or tail shots, it does not correspond to my expectations!). Perhaps they are bored or frightened by the many boats that come to watch them. I console myself by looking at the beautiful patterns of the clouds of the sky and enjoying the boat ride.

To read the rest of the article, click on page 2.