Amami Oshima

Amami Oshima

The island is blessed with the cobalt blue sea, colorful coral, tropical plants and flowers. As many island's special animals and plants, the island is called as "Oriental Garapagos Island". The island is famous for its traditional textile "Oshima Tsumugi Silk". The textile is mainly used for kimono materials, ties, hand bags. Amami Oshima is a mecca for marine sports ike wind surfing and scuba diving.

Located about 380 km south of the island of Kyushu is the subtropical paradise of Amami Oshima. When I first arrived here three years ago, the beauty of this island blew me away. Forested hills cover this island ringed in white sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs. The colour of the sea is a turquoise that I had thought only existed in pictures. If you are looking for a tropical getaway this summer, I highly suggest a weekend away in Amami Oshima.

Amami is split up into 7 towns or cities, with the largest one being Naze with a population of about 42,000. It is the regional centre so is well equipped with shopping, fast food, hospitals, and even a movie theatre. Naze is where the ferry terminal is if you should be arriving by ship. The airport is located about a 45-minute drive to the north of Naze, in the town of Kasari.

Because of its clear blue seas and numerous beaches, marine sports are very popular in Amami. From swimming to diving, surfing, fishing, wake boarding, and pretty much anything in between, the needs of most ocean-lovers will be easily met in Amami. Diving and snorkelling, especially in the southern town of Setouchi and neighbouring Kakeroma island, you can see beautiful coral reefs and tropical fish of all descriptions.

Although the island is also covered in forests and hills, very few people venture into the woods because of the poisonous habu snake that is indigenous to Amami. While you can drive through Kinsakubaru (the primeval forest in Amami), hiking, other than on old roads is pretty much out of the question. There are no real hiking trails to speak of.

Instead of hiking, you can enjoy kayaking through the virgin mangrove forest in Sumiyo village, just south of Naze. It is Japanユs second largest mangrove forest, second only to the one in Iriomote, in Okinawa. There are several companies that run guided kayak excursions through the forest and they are worth the money for the close up view you can have of this interesting area.

Having once been a part of the Ryukyu kingdom, and not Japan, Amamiユs culture is quite unique and distinct from that of mainland Kagoshima. The snake-skinned shamisen (三味線) is popular here, and if you are lucky you might get to catch a Shima uta (島唄) concert while you are here. Shima uta, a traditional type of music and singing from the Ryukyu region has become quite popular in the past few years, thanks in part to the success of artists such as Hajime Chitose, who hails from the southern part of Amami. It is really a unique and beautiful sound that is well worth a listen if you have the chance.

You can also learn about Amamiユs culture at the relatively new Amami Park museum located in Kasari, near the airport. Although most of the written explanations are only in Japanese, the displays are very visual and can be appreciated regardless. Admission is 400 yen and includes entry to the Tanaka Isson memorial art museum as well.

While visiting Amami, I suggest having a taste of Amamiユs local cuisine. One of the best specialties is called keihan (鶏飯), and consists of chicken, egg, nori, and other various ingredients placed on rice and covered in chicken broth. It is tasty and usually quite reasonably priced. One of the most famous restaurants for keihan is called Hisakura (ひさ倉) and is located in Tatsugo on the way from the airport into Naze. There is an excellent restaurant in Naze called Kitahachi (喜多八) that also specializes in local cuisine, and for 3000 yen you can enjoy a set menu and all the local kokuto shochu you can drink.

A 15-minute ferry ride from the southern town of Koniya is the beautiful Kakeroma island. There are some great beaches for swimming, diving, or snorkelling, and it is a quiet place to get away from it all. Only about 20 km long, you can easily drive the length of the island, and even bike it if you are energetic. You can camp at any of the beaches and there are also a number of pensions and minshukus so that you can make your trip to Kakeroma an overnight one. The ferry runs between Koniya and Kakeroma, takes about 15 minutes and is about 260 yen for passengers and a whopping 3000 yen each way for a car (a regular car). It is also possible to rent cars in Kakeroma and although there is a local bus service, it is probably a bit difficult getting around without some other form of transportation.

Between the natural beauty of Amami and its cultural heritage, I think that you will agree with me that it is an amazing and beautiful place that tugs at your heartstrings, drawing you in. I have a feeling that if you come here for a visit, you will want to return again and again.

(2004. July)
ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher.
They work in local government organinzations throughout Japan.

Web http://www.amami.com/
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